Why an Environmentalist is Living Below the Poverty Line for 5 Days

Wow! It has been awhile since I have written for my blog. Since my last post in December, I started a new job and have been getting settled into my new digs. Based in Union Square in Manhattan, I now work for a global nonprofit called The Hunger Project. The Hunger Project works to empower women and men to end their own hunger in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Our mission is to end hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, grassroots, women-centered strategies and advocating for their widespread adoption in countries throughout the world.

Since accepting my new position, a lot of folks have asked me why I left my work in environmentalism. I couldn’t disagree more with the premise of this question. I believe that everything is connected and that — in order to most effectively and sustainably save the environment and foster environmental awareness among all people on the planet — we must first ensure that no person on the globe is living in conditions of hunger and poverty. We must work tirelessly to empower women and promote gender equality, and healthy nutrition for children around the world, and hold our governments accountable.

I have recently started reading Howard G. Buffett’s novel called 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. In his book, Mr. Buffett chronicles his journey through life, where he began as an endangered species and nature photographer and became a farmer and started his career working to improve the lives of farmers around the world.

As I read through the pages of this book, one line has stuck out in my mind: “no one will starve to save a tree.”

Photo Credit: underthetuscangun.com

Photo Credit: underthetuscangun.com

At work, with this thought in mind, I began to think about The Hunger Project’s recent partnership with the Global Poverty Project on a campaign called Live Below the Line. After taking a depth breath and reminding myself of that line in the book, I decided to join the Live Below the Line challenge.

I am standing with thousands of people around the world who are taking the Live Below the Line challenge to raise funds and awareness for the 1.2 billion people in our world who live in extreme poverty.

From April 28-May 2, join me in spending $1.50 a day on food and beverage for 5 days to change the way people think about extreme poverty – all while supporting The Hunger Project’s work in villages worldwide.

I’m looking forward to joining my team at The Hunger Project in experiencing what its like to live below the poverty line and spending only $1.50 a day on food/drink for 5 days. I stand in full partnership with people living in hunger and poverty throughout the world and I hope this campaign sheds light on the conditions they face. I share The Hunger Project’s vision of a world where every woman, man and child leads a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity. – See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/lindsaymcnamara#sthash.8GSd3s3W.dpuf
I’m looking forward to joining my team at The Hunger Project in experiencing what its like to live below the poverty line and spending only $1.50 a day on food/drink for 5 days. I stand in full partnership with people living in hunger and poverty throughout the world and I hope this campaign sheds light on the conditions they face. I share The Hunger Project’s vision of a world where every woman, man and child leads a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity. – See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/lindsaymcnamara#sthash.8GSd3s3W.dpuf
I’m looking forward to joining my team at The Hunger Project in experiencing what its like to live below the poverty line and spending only $1.50 a day on food/drink for 5 days. I stand in full partnership with people living in hunger and poverty throughout the world and I hope this campaign sheds light on the conditions they face. I share The Hunger Project’s vision of a world where every woman, man and child leads a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity. – See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/lindsaymcnamara#sthash.8GSd3s3W.dpuf

I want to experience what it is like to live in poverty and the choices (or lack there of) my fellow human beings on the other side of the globe (and right here in New York City) make every day.

I recycle, even separate my bottles and cans from paper and cardboard. I don’t drink bottled water. I take public transportation to work. I bring my canvas bags to the grocery store. I try not to consume too much. These small actions pale in comparison to the reduction my carbon footprint will have as I try to eat and drink on $1.50 a day for 5 days. My fellow environmentalists, I encourage you to Live Below the Line with me and take a hard look at all that you consume in 5 days.

In 40 Chances, Howard G. Buffett explains how all farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. He applies this principle to life in general. If you had the opportunity or the chance to change the world and be a part of the Live Below the Line dialogue, to see yourself as a member of the planet as a whole, would you take it?

I encourage you to take this challenge with me. Live Below the Line for 5 days to learn more about the lives of other human beings on the planet, but also to learn more about yourself and the life you lead.

How can you get involved?
lbllogo

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New Year’s Resolutions: Stay Curious and Live Passionately

cu·ri·os·i·ty
Noun: a strong desire to know or learn something.

Concretions

Concretions in Susanna’s music room

Ever curious about the world around me, I picked up some of the rocks on the table in Susanna’s music room and turned one over and over in my hand.  Immediately, I began asking Susanna a series of questions: Where did you get these?  How are they formed?  Can we go get more?

Susanna — herbalist, organic farmer, owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, and the amazing woman who said yes when I asked to volunteer on her organic farm earlier in the year — patiently answered all of my questions in the music room of her house that sits on 250 acres of beautiful farmland in upstate New York.

I learned that the rocks are called concretions and Susanna had visited a woman named Stephanie a few miles down the road from her farm to pick out a few.  Susanna and my other friends from the farm, Yoav and Thomas, explained that no one is quite sure how the rocks are formed, and that they are only found in certain parts of the world.  Some believe that the energy of each planet is held in place by a mysterious grid and that the concretions mark this grid of energy.  Other theories have to do with concretions being fairy stones or serving as the currency of aliens.  Clearly, there is a wide spectrum of speculation on the matter.

Susanna and Yoav had brought home dozens of rocks and together we marveled at their simple, yet complex beauty.  Before the end of my visit to the farm, I promised myself I would visit Stephanie to pick out my own concretions and hear her thoughts on their existence and formation.  A few days later, Thomas, more farm friends Ashley, Peter and Ben, and I went to visit Stephanie who we referred to as “the rock lady.”

Stephanie and her concretions

Stephanie and her concretions

We pulled up to her quaint, white house off one of the busier streets near the farm.  Stephanie had set up all of her rocks for us on the porch in containers organized by price.  I learned that the rocks are monetarily valuable and that Stephanie makes some of her living from selling the concretions to museums and collectors on the internet.

Her passion for the rocks came through in her excited voice and wide eyes.  Stephanie explained how the thousands of concretions that she holds dear were found in creek beds of Schoharie Creek tributaries.  She would not tell us her secret concretion spot though and explained how some folks are so interested in finding the rocks that they threatened to GPS her location.

Also on her porch were rocks that resembled turtle shells.  She said that they are  extremely valuable to collectors because of their connection to Native American folklore.

The myth of the “Great Turtle” or “Turtle Island” is believed by Northeastern Woodland tribes including the Lenape and the Iroquois.  The Iroquois believe that Sky Woman (also known as Atahensic or Ataensic, who is the sky goddess that was carried down to Earth by the wings of birds at the time of creation) fell down to the earth when it was covered with water. Many animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle, which grew into the land we know today.

Concretions

My turtle shell concretion (front, right)

I thought the story of the ‘Great Turtle’ was beautiful and I chose a concretion that had a turtle shell pattern on the top from Stephanie’s collection.  I was thankful that I had asked so many questions about the concretions and that we all went on a journey to learn more about them and their origins.

In 2014, I resolve to stay curious about the incredible world that we live in and continue to ask plenty of questions each day.  I resolve to learn new things and stay informed and aware of global issues.  I will write letters, sign petitions, speak at public events, attend rallies, make phone calls and spread the word about problems that need attention.  I will advocate for causes I am passionate about: the environment, education, sustainability, real food, organic farming, and social equity.  I will volunteer; I feel that I am my best self when I am serving the community.  I ask you all to join and make impact on the world we live in.  Together, we can make 2014 a year for the books.

If you prefer a geological approach to the formation of concretions click here and for turtle rocks click here.

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This #GivingTuesday ‘Color The World’ with The Pulsera Project

#GivingTuesday is a day for giving back, to write a check to a worthwhile cause or to donate your time and expertise to charity. Today, Tuesday, December 3, 2013, is the second annual #GivingTuesday, where global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more have come together to shape a new movement. Join the national celebration and learn more here.

This #GivingTuesday, consider making a global impact with The Pulsera Project.

In 2009, a group of friends traveling in Nicaragua discovered a shelter for ex-street kids in Managua.  The young adults made beautiful woven pulseras (Spanish for bracelets), but had no market to sell their artwork in Nicaragua.  Some of the friends went home, spread the word about the bracelets, sold them at two US schools, and soon The Pulsera Project was born.

Since that fateful trip, US college students are helping to brighten the future of Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, without leaving campus.  Students are selling pulseras made by young adults in Nicaragua to support The Pulsera Project’s community empowerment programs.

Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

The Pulsera Project is now a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that educates, empowers, and connects Nicaraguan and US youth.  To date, volunteers at more than 450 US schools have sold colorful, hand-woven bracelets made by community members in Nicaragua.

These Pulsera Project volunteers have raised over $700,000 to help create a ‘more just and colorful world’ by supporting programs in the fields of education, micro-loans, shelter support, fair trade, workers rights, and environment.

20-something Environmentalist was blown away by The Pulsera Project’s incredible mission and history, but was particularly interested in their partnership with environmental programs.

The Pulsera Project financially supports The Solar Women of Totogalpa, a cooperative of 19 women and two men that work to bring renewable energy to Nicaraguan communities.

Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

The group seeks to develop their community sustainably, so that they can “generate dignified employment that promotes renewable energy and protects the environment.”

They “strengthen the self-esteem of female members and create professional development opportunities to encourage leadership and community participation, as well as to raise awareness of the benefits of renewable energy and sustainable life within national and international communities.”

The Solar Women of Totogalpa is a small “off-the-grid” mountain community that is powered entirely by solar energy. Sources like the solar cookers pictured above are the heart and soul of a small restaurant managed by the women in the community. To learn more about this project, click here.

20-something Environmentalist had the privilege of speaking with Colin Crane, Co-Founder of The Pulsera Project, about what continues to motivate him and inspire him four years after deciding to ‘color the world’ for a living.

The Pulsera Project Co-Founder Colin Crane Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

The Pulsera Project Co-Founder Colin Crane Photo Credit: The Pulsera Project

Mr. Crane said, “It’s been extremely rewarding for us to see not only the impact that pulsera sales have on people in Nicaragua, but on people here in the U.S. as well. The Pulsera Project has shared with tens of thousands of students the idea that people with less money than us can have incredible spiritual and cultural riches to share—things that we don’t normally take into account when using the word “poverty” in a purely economic sense.

“Through the uplifting stories and art of this project, we’ve been able to open students’ eyes to a new way of thinking about poverty and service, one that recognizes that we have just as much to learn from people in other areas of the world as we have to offer them.

“Seeing that idea spread over the last four years has really been one of the most important things for us, and really keeps us motivated to keep working on coloring the world both in Nicaragua and here at home.”

***

Please consider The Pulsera Project when making your year-end gifts this #GivingTuesday and throughout the holiday season. Help them Color The World.

To learn how to get involved with The Pulsera Project, click here. Follow The Pulsera Project on social media.  Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.

Posted in Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why Having Pets Makes Us More Human

Note the 'Cool Cat' shirt

Note the ‘Cool Cat’ shirt

When I was in grade school, I wanted nothing more than to have a cat.  I begged and begged my parents.  I watched all kinds of cat shows on Animal Planet to learn as much as I could about being a pet owner.  Finally, after my younger sister turned one, my dad took me to get a cat.  I was so happy I wore my ‘Cool Cat’ shirt (with a picture of a cat also on it, to clear up any confusion about my excitement) from Limited Too and gladly hopped in the car as my dad drove us to his friend’s house.

After what seemed like forever, we arrived.  There were several black and white kittens running around this man’s home and I couldn’t believe one of them was going to be mine!  All of the kittens were very playful and friendly, but there was one that stayed with my dad and I even when all of her brothers and sisters went in the other room to play.  That kitten was the one for me.  I loved her immediately and we took her home to meet the rest of my family.

My parents named her ‘Trixy,’ after one of the characters in The Honeymooners.  Over the course of time, she got used to her new home and found lots of ways to make all of us smile.  She sat on the ledge of the bathtub whenever my sister took a bath and drank water from a yellow smiley face bucket.  My sister got into a lot of sticky situations when she was a toddler and Trixy was her partner in crime.

Trixy loved Christmas time and enjoyed sleeping underneath the tree and playing with ornaments until they fell down.  She would always come down to the kitchen when my mom was making turkey or roasted chicken…or when we shook the bag of her treats and asked if she wanted a ‘yummy.’

After a new arrival to our family, Luke the dog, moved in, Trixy was not too thrilled, but she still cuddled with us every night and purred when you rubbed her whiskers or pet under her chin.  She was a happy cat who enjoyed making all of our nice furniture furry.

Trixy in Sea Bright

Trixy in Sea Bright

When I moved out on my own to my apartment in Sea Bright, I was a little lonely at first.  My parents suggested Trixy move in with me.  Trixy became a beach kitty almost a year ago, in late December of 2012, at the age of 14.

Over the course of the last several months, Trixy and I became closer than we had ever been.  We grew up together.  She was one of my first hellos when I came home from college.  I judged all of my boyfriends based on whether she liked them or not.  That’s what happens when you have a pet since you were eight years old.  I can’t imagine how different my life would’ve been growing up without her.

A lot of folks have strong opinions about cats, like them or dislike them, but I will always think of Trixy as one of my best friends.  She was there for me when I was upset and would put her paw on my hand to show me that she knew I was sad.  She would greet me at the door when I would come home from work.  Trixy loved to cuddle and would often bite my laptop if it was on my lap instead of her.  She begged for food like a dog and was particularly fond of my Sunday morning omelets.  She was a constant source of support, always listening and never judging.  She was someone to come home to and someone to take care of, which is important for a single girl living alone, especially when she helped me try to kill bugs.

I grew accustomed to having her around.  I didn’t shut my bathroom door all the way at night so she could use her litter box if she needed, and I pulled my bed sheets down in the morning before work so she couldn’t sleep under them and get everything (even more) furry.

My friend passed away on Thursday at the age of 15.  I have thought a lot about our friendship since then, and through all of the tears and the heartbreak, I have found that having a pet makes us more human.

Trixy coexisting with my goldfish, Rajah.

Trixy coexisting with my goldfish, Rajah

They challenge us to be as selfless and loyal as they are.  They teach us responsibility when we are younger and the importance of trust.  Our animals rely on us to feed them and take care of them and in return, they ask for a simple belly rub or to cuddle up on the couch.  I think our connection to animals is strengthened by the fact that we don’t speak the same language.  It makes us get to know one another on a deeper level and really understand their feelings.  They do become part of your family, but in most cases, they are better than family because they tend to be more likeable.  Our animals are a constant source of love and joy and make us laugh at any chance they get.  I think if everyone acted a little bit more like their pets; the world would be a better place.

At night, I still don’t close my bathroom door all the way and I still pull my bed sheets down before work in the morning.  I don’t think I will ever stop.  It reminds me that although Trixy is not here, she will always be with me and she will always be a part of my life.  I will always think of her as I strive to be a good person and to make a positive impact on the world.  I hope anyone who has lost an animal – a cat, dog, horse, hamster, rabbit, fish or lizard – cherishes the time that was spent in their presence and tries to be a little more human every day.

When Trixy passed away, I donated some of her items to the Monmouth County SPCA’s Pet Pantry.  Created to meet the needs of pet owners displaced by Superstorm Sandy, the Pet Pantry now feeds more than 350 pets monthly.  Plans are developing to build a permanent Pet Pantry on Monmouth County SPCA property.  Please consider MCSPCA when making your year-end gifts this holiday season.

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Keeping the ‘Garden’ in ‘Garden State’

photo2

Sea Bright One Year Ago

Today is a weird day.  I feel thankful, blessed, guilty and angry all at the same time.  It is the year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  I rent an apartment on one of the Barrier Islands in New Jersey – a small shore town 3 miles long – called Sea Bright.

One year ago today I evacuated from Sea Bright back to my parents in North Jersey.  Safe and sound, without power but among family and friends, I anxiously awaited my return to the shore.  I had just moved to Sea Bright three weeks before the storm and was beginning to make the town my own.  I had met a few locals who took me, The Benny, under their wings and showed me the ropes.  I couldn’t wait to go back.  I didn’t think Sandy would be that bad; all I did to ‘prepare’ was buy two bottles of wine.

Then Sandy hit.

Though the two bottles of wine did come in handy, in retrospect, a few other preparations, like filling my car with gas, would have been helpful.  The house I rent out of took ten feet of water in the basement, but my landlord was able to fix what needed to be fixed and I moved back within three weeks of the storm.

I immediately began volunteering in town.  I felt guilty that I was able to return to my apartment, while families who had lived and worked and owned businesses in Sea Bright for generations were displaced, their homes and livelihoods forever changed.  And I was angry at the bureaucratic processes that my fellow New Jerseyans had to go through to get help.

National Guard - 'Tent City' in Sea Bright one year ago

The National Guard – ‘Tent City’ in Sea Bright

I’m not sure what I expected volunteering in town to be like right after the storm, but what I experienced was unbelievable.  The National Guard had posted up in Sea Bright, making the town look like a war zone.  Trailers of supplies were in rows for folks to take what they needed or to drop off what they didn’t. Sea Bright was busy: police officers, the National Guard, volunteers from all over the US, locals trying to rebuild their lives, the press, and elected officials all attempting to navigate their way around town.

I learned that despite what aid comes in from the local, state and federal level; New Jerseyans and Sea Brighters take care of their own.  Like my Sea Bright Rising sweatshirt says, we were “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”  Even among the confusion, anger, and bewilderment of everyone in town, Sea Bright residents came together and formed their own support network through community.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.  I felt good energy in town and I felt that slowly but surely Sea Bright would be okay.

A year later, 40% of Sea Bright residents still have not returned home after Superstorm Sandy.  This holds true for many other towns throughout the coastal community up and down the Jersey Shore.

If you would like to help the Jersey Shore’s ongoing recovery process, check out volunteer opportunities with Occupy Sandy NJ or Coastal Habitat for Humanity.

So what do we do now?  What have we learned?  How do we prepare for the next storm?

A lot of folks are talking about talking about rebuilding more resiliently and sustainably to keep New Jerseyans safe from the next storm.  Many of these discussions focus on Barrier Island towns like Sea Bright.  Do we retreat and let the land be reclaimed by nature?  Did we have a right to build on Barrier Islands in the first place?  Should we all migrate inland?  Now, I am extremely biased because I love Sea Bright, but I think there are solid points on both sides of this controversial argument.

All folks should be able to make their own decision about where they choose to live, raise a family or own a business.  However, I think in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it is vital for everyone to understand the risks of living in a flood plain and the vulnerabilities of the New Jersey coastline.  It is especially important for folks to understand these risks as they relate to climate change and sea level rise.  The climate system is changing and will continue to change as humans continue to interact with it.

For more information about climate change and sea level rise in your area, check out ClimateCentral.org and resources from the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance.

A lot of these issues; climate change, sea level rise, responsible recovery, land use planning, resiliency and so on were raised at a conference I attended today.

The topic of buyouts came up in every session of the day.  Regardless of your opinion on where folks should or should not live, state acquisitions of properties in certain floodways that are prone to flood or storm damage could help New Jersey prepare for the next storm.  I’m certainly not saying that every resident on the Barrier Islands should retreat so that the land can return to nature or that we should all migrate inland tomorrow, I am merely entertaining the idea of buyouts because I know that climate change and sea level rise are occurring.  As a 20-something environmentalist, it is important for me to keep track of these trends so that I can prepare myself for the years to come and to plan for my own future.

Moving on to a less controversial topic along the same lines…

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

Open Space in Monmouth County, NJ

More natural buffers, like marshlands, could help mitigate floodwater from future storm events.  Increased plots of open space in North Jersey could help reduce pollution runoff into local waterways and ultimately the ocean.  Less impervious surfaces could help rainwater to be absorbed back into the groundwater table and reduce local flooding from smaller storm events.  Farmland and sustainable farming practices could also reduce soil compaction.   Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events, all the while filtering toxins out of rainwater before it recharges the groundwater table, and therefore the water that we drink.

Sounds great, right?  Except…New Jersey currently has no money for new projects like these.  All of the open space funds from the last voter approved ballot measure in 2009 have been allocated completely.  The Assembly has not held a hearing that would allow for voters to choose to renew funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation programs.

New Jerseyans: Call your two State Assembly representatives and tell them that open space, farmland, and historic preservation are important to you. 

  • Ask them to urge the Assembly Speaker to post the open space funding bill, ACR 205, for a vote before the end of this year so that you can have a chance to vote to renew open space funding in the November 2014 election.
  • Then, please call Speaker Oliver directly and ask her to schedule the open space bill, ACR 205, for a vote this year.  Find your legislators here.

For more information about the critical need for a stable source of open space funding and to keep the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State,’ please check out New Jersey Keep It Green.

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Filling an Empty Page

“A writer is a person with the courage to fill an empty page,” Chris Satullo told a group of concerned citizens, including myself, in one of the conference rooms at Ocean County College a few Saturdays ago.  I had found myself in a breakout session at the first of three events in a series organized by The Citizens Campaign called Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm.  Mr. Satullo, vice president for news at WHYY/NewsWorks had me hanging on his every word.

The first event in the series entitled Information Matters: Getting the Real Story took place a few Saturdays ago and featured expert presenters leading sessions on Newswriting 101, Factfinding and Reporting, Photojournalism and Engaging the Community.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

One of my favorite sessions was Newswriting 101 with Chris Satullo.  He encouraged us to not only fill an empty page but to fill it with well-written language that will command attention.  He explained that in his field—radio—he is constantly looking for ‘the driveway moment.’ The driveway moment is when a listener has pulled into their driveway, but is in park with the radio on because the content is too compelling to be turned off.

He taught us to paint a vivid mental picture with our writing and told us to “make him feel how the weather was.”  As a blogger, I found this session extremely helpful and have tried to incorporate Satullo’s “Seven Tips on Writing Well” into my work.

Here are his tips:

  1. Writing is scary; never forget that, but never let that scare you.
  2. Don’t let anybody else see it until you’ve read it aloud to yourself.
  3. Show, don’t tell.
  4. Use simple, powerful words, and respect their power.
  5. Kill the little darlings.
  6. Don’t be “passive” – get active.
  7. To write well, read, read, read people who write well.

Mr. Satullo said that sometimes the best question to ask as a citizen journalist in an interview is simply “tell me what happened.”  In another session, I was privileged to meet someone who has done just that, over and over again, until he cultivated his own audience of over 200,000 readers.

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Photo Credit: Lindsay McNamara

Justin Auciello, editor and founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a bottom-up, two-way news outlet, led a session on Factfinding and Reporting, where he spoke specifically about covering the recent Seaside boardwalk fire.  A lifelong resident of South Seaside Park, Mr. Auciello tried to explain how it felt watching his “childhood literally go up in flames” while he was reporting.  He said that despite all of his feelings, he had to remind himself of his responsibility as a citizen journalist and an objective observer.  Even when he could see with his own eyes that the fire appeared to be spreading, he waited until he received confirmation from local officials to post an update.  Mr. Auciello spoke about his passion for reporting the facts and his desire to not create added fear or panic among the people.

Despite not having a formal background in journalism, he told all of us who attended the session about how is passion for reporting started at a young age.  He used to jump on his bike whenever he heard the sirens as a child to go see what was happening.   Mr. Auciello spoke with humility about the 200,000+ followers of Jersey Shore Hurricane News and said that “all of the sudden everyone is listening to me.”  He was funny, relatable and knew his stuff, and showed us the tools he used to successfully report on breaking news, traffic and weather at the Jersey Shore.

One of the handouts from Information Matters: Getting the Real Story had a quote about citizen journalism that stuck with me.  Jay Rosen said, “When the people, formerly known as the audience, employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another,” that’s citizen journalism.

All of us are an expert of something!  Pick your topic and start writing!

The goal of the series Citizen Journalism: How the Internet Will Cover the Next Superstorm is to prepare people to become community reporters.

To learn more about Citizen Journalism, attend the next event Its Takes a Village: Working Together Online on Saturday, November 2nd from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

If you choose to attend, you will be given more information and resources for:

  • Where can to post your news and pictures
  • Key questions to ask local officials, nonprofit groups and citizens
  • Tips for better visuals
  • How to cover a breaking news event as a citizen journalist
  • Basic tools for real-time reporting

The final event in the series Eyewitness Reports: Are We Ready or Not? will be held on Saturday, November 16th from 8:30 am – 1:00 pm at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ.  For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

Photo Credit: The Citizens Campaign

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Interested in Volunteering on an Organic Farm?

Herbalism
Permaculture
Self-sufficient living

Interested in any of the above?  Consider volunteering at Raven Crest Botanicals! An organic farm located in Upstate New York, Raven Crest Botanicals is looking for two volunteers who can commit to the full season from April/May 2014 through September/October 2014. A couple or two friends would be great!

Here is more information from the owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, Susanna:

Photo Credit: Susanna Raeven

Photo Credit: Susanna Raeven

  • “We are a beautiful micro scale medicinal herb farm, worked with organic, permaculture and some biodynamic methods, tucked into the hills in upstate NY, a 45 minute drive from Albany.
  • In addition to working our herb gardens, we own 250 acres of pasture and forested hills on which we wild craft herbs and medicinal mushrooms with love and respect for mother nature and all her creations.
  • We grow over 80 varieties of medicinal and culinary herbs for our tinctures, creams, balms, salves, oils, herbal teas and honeys. We have a pond fed solar irrigation system and grow our herb seedling in an earth sheltered greenhouse without the use of fossil fuels. We solar dry our harvests and the greenhouse is used as a drying space during the summer months.
  • There are 100 vines that will give enough grapes to make wine for the first time next year.
  • We have two bee hives on the farm for pollination, honey and propolis harvest.
  • Our large vegetable garden feeds us through the summer months. We cook healthy and delicious vegetarian meals, occasionally organic local meat.
  • All medicinal plants are grown from seed, harvested, dried and processed on our farm. Herbal products are made in our own processing room. We visit local farmers markets on the weekends and offer occasional herbal classes on our premises and at near by locations.
  • We are in the process of adding additional permaculture growing space and somebody handy with wood working/building experience would be a big plus. Some permaculture experience would be great as well.
  • We are currently building a wood fired bread/pizza brick oven and you are encouraged to learn how to bake.
  • We are fermenting a lot of foods and you can explore the art of fermentation and add more foods to the list.
  • We have an extensive library on herbalism and plenty of educational DVDs to watch. I am always available to answer questions and teach. You will learn the healing power of medicinal plants and how to connect to the plant world with respect and in balance with the earth.”

Volunteer responsibilities include: greenhouse work, planting, tending, watering, weeding, harvesting, wild crafting, drying, and garbling of herbs, blending teas, making herbal products, weekly visits to farmers markets, and preparing and mailing web page orders and CSA packages.

Additional planned projects for 2014:

  • Raven Crest Botanicals planning to host herbal class retreats with yoga, sound healing sessions and raw food.
  • They inoculate medicinal and culinary mushroom logs in the spring.

Accommodations:

  • A swimming pond and a yoga platform to practice and meditate lays behind the house.
  • A pickup truck you can drive is available, but your own car is preferred.
  • Speak English and German.
  • No pets please. They have a cat that is shy around other animals. Smoking only outside the house, non-smoker preferred.

Some More Fun Information:

  • The Howes Caverns are nearby, which are fun to explore. The next movie theater is a 45 minute drive away. A Tibetan Center of Wisdom and Compassion with weekly open meditation classes is close by. Otherwise, there are a lot of woods and fields to enjoy.
  • Susanna is a Mother Earth News Blogger. To learn more about Susanna’s background and Raven Crest Farm click here.

To Learn More About My Experience as a 20-Something Environmentalist on Susanna’s Farm, Check Out the Posts Below:

If you are interested in volunteer at Raven Crest Botanicals,
please e-mail Susanna at susannarae@earthlink.net.

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Good Things Are On The Way

longvalleynj

Long Valley, NJ is the big red pin.

Coming from the Suburbs of New Jersey, born and raised in the small, not terribly diverse town of Long Valley, my household is like most in the United States.  We have electricity, running water, cable, wireless internet.

My mother cooks meat most every meal and we often eat American-Italian dishes.  We drive our own separate cars and socialize with other Long Valley residents within the same socio-economic bracket.

I opened my world to a brand new social and cultural environment when I became a volunteer with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).  WWOOF is a program connects people who would like to learn more about the organic movement with farmers who want to share their knowledge.

Raven Crest Botanicals

Raven Crest Botanicals

The phrase “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” comes to mind whenever I think of Raven Crest Botanicals, the organic herb farm in New York that I visited.  There is no cable at the farm and many of the visitors are learning how to live entirely off-the-grid.   I have never felt farther from Long Valley, New Jersey, in the best way possible.

Susanna, my host farmer, is from Germany, her partner is from Israel, and some of her house guests were from Denmark, others have traveled to Spain and Chile.  There are often a number of different languages and idioms being discussed, and music always fills the air.

The first night I was there, I listened to Susanna play the didgeridoo and the Shruti Box, and acquainted myself with Tibetan singing bowls.

I put my iPhone away whenever anyone was playing and immersed myself in the new music.  Any of my friends could tell you that I am quite talkative, but while I was on the farm, I felt it was best to listen more, so I could learn from everyone and become a part of their world.

Thomas and I

Thomas and I

Another volunteer Thomas and I became close after a few days.  At first, he would often hand me a flower blossom, root or leaf and ask me to “Eat it,” when I asked what it was, he would simply reply, “Do you trust me?”  I always ate what he gave me and I haven’t died yet.  I also ate every meal Susanna made, raw food, meatless meals; it was all new and delicious.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my experience on the farm, the work that I do to help protect the ocean and stop ocean pollution, and how I want to impact the world.  Having a birthday coming up tends to do that people.  I have spent time reflecting on the last year and what I want to accomplish this next year coming up.  I’ve thought a lot about a quote from Soledad O’Brien’s The Next Big Story, a book my parents got for me right after the journalist spoke at my University of Delaware commencement: “I can’t change the entire world, but I can work on my little piece of it.”  This quote calms me and makes me feel more satisfied with the impact I have made thus far, and motivates me to keep dreaming big and promoting positive social and environmental change as I continue through life’s journey.  Good things are on the way.

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Full Circle

With the windows down, sunny blue sky on the horizon and Third Eye Blind on the radio, I drove up the New York Thruway the first week of August for my second visit to Raven Crest Botanicals, an organic herb farm.

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Monday

I arrived Monday afternoon to the open arms of Susanna and Thomas, eager to have more help harvesting the over 3,000 medicinal and culinary herbs and plants on Susanna’s property.  Before going out to the terraces to collect calendula, chamomile, blue cornflower, Mauritian mallow, I passed some interesting looking rocks on the table in the sun room.

While collecting herbs, I learned that, depending on the time of year and the type of herbal remedy needed, there are different parts of the herb that are harvested: aerial parts, root, blossoms, leaves, and buds.  Thomas explained that midday is the best time for harvesting because it is when all of the chemical processes and energy is present in the plant.

Thomas and I

Thomas and I

Also on Monday, Thomas gave me a tour of the strawbale house on the property.  It was an existing structure when Susanna and Yoav bought the farm and a few friends are clay plastering the walls.  The building is made of straw, sand and clay.  It is a breathing, natural house and it is beautiful.

Susanna and Thomas spoke with wide eyes about Burning Man throughout the day, a spiritual celebration on the Playa in the desert that they were attending in a few weeks.  Later that night, we talked about “the lost language of plants” over a bonfire and I listened to Susanna and Thomas play the didj and Susanna sing and play the Shruti Box.  I couldn’t have been happier to be back.

Tuesday

Shortly after I woke on Tuesday morning, I learned why farmers love the rain; watering crops takes a long time!  I watered the permaculture beds, tree guilds, strawbale gardens, vegetable garden and potted plants for almost two hours that morning.  I enjoyed it though.  It was soothing to be among the honey bees, butterflies, locusts, hummingbird moths and all different types of birds: Cedar Waxwings, warblers, goldfinches, and hummingbirds.

The Rainbow Goddess at work

The Rainbow Goddess at work

I spent some time reading on the hammock outside under great, big trees and met Susanna’s friends Ashley and Peter that day.  Peter is from Denmark and has the kindest eyes I have ever seen.  He listens to every word you say with genuine interest and sincerity and has a remarkable aura.  Ashley, his soul mate, goes by “Rainbow Goddess” when she is cooking her amazing raw food, but I think she is more like a ray of sunshine.  Her happiness is contagious and her presence can brighten any room.

Thomas and I harvested some holy basil and thyme and planted some herbs in the pasture.  I swam in the ice-cold pond water and we went up to The Vines to humanly take care of the Japanese Beetle problem on the grapes.  We would tap them off the leaves and into a bucket of soapy water.  The soap in the water breaks the surface tension and creates a painless exit for the invasive species.

Wednesday

By Wednesday, I had settled into a morning routine.  I would get up around 7-8 AM, post a few photos on Instagram, go for a run on some country roads of Albany County, and then come back to the farm and water the herbs.

Thomas and I harvested sage and chamomile and “garbled” the herb Eclipta (the oil is great for hair).  Garbling involves removing the stems of dried plants and crumbling them into smaller pieces for storage…and it’s so much fun!

View from the ATV

View from the ATV

Racing alongside deer on the ATV, Thomas and I went up to The Vines and to the pasture.  Susanna, Thomas and I went on a peaceful walk through Susanna’s natural “medicine cabinet” in the pasture.  Although none of the herbs felt ready to harvest, we did befriend a praying mantis.

On Wednesday, I met Ben, a natural builder from the East Coast.  We got along right away and he told me how he went to “university” in the UK as we humanely got rid of Japanese Beetles on The Vines.  Ben explained how he has been in the construction trades for around a decade, but got started in natural building a few years ago when he grew tired of “pouring concrete all over the world.”  He is currently helping to organize a community farming project in upstate New York and plays some mean Led Zeppelin on guitar.

I had one of many full-circle moments on the farm on Wednesday when I realized I had harvested almost all of the ingredients of my favorite tea that Susanna makes, her Happiness Tea, made from anise hyssop, Tulusi, and calendula blossoms.  On my first visit, I had planted some medicinal herbs, now I was watering and caring for them and also harvesting and drying them.  I was slowly seeing the whole process come together.

Thursday

View on my run

View on my run

After my morning routine, Ben, Thomas and I began putting lists together and calling stores for the supplies we needed to build the new rocket mass heater.  We were looking for recycled and refurbished items where possible, although one store did tell us, “If it ain’t kick your ass beautiful we ain’t got it.”  We didn’t go there.

It took all day to find the supplies we needed; even specialty stores told us that our do-it-yourself project had a “weird set up.”  When we stopped for lunch half way through the day, it took us a good twenty minutes to find a restaurant that wasn’t a corporate chain.  Look for small business owner restaurants next time you’re on a main road; it will take longer than you think.

It was an exhausting day, but it was fun driving the pickup truck around Troy and broin’ out with Thomas and Ben, and we came home to an incredible raw food dinner with raw lasagna and cucumber and zucchini noodles.

This is not spaghetti and meatballs! It is raw food! Zucchini and kelp noodles!

This is not spaghetti and meatballs! It is raw food! Zucchini and kelp noodles!

Friday

Middleburgh, NY

Middleburgh, NY

On Friday, it finally rained!  No watering for me.  Instead I got to make some medicine, Elder Wisdom tincture and aromatherapy sprays; Lovely Lavender Facial Mist, Peace and Calm Facial Mist and Sacred Mountain Facial Mist.  I made some jewelweed oil with Susanna, which is used to treat poison ivy, skin irritations, rashes and insect bites.  As we made medicine, we talked about fracking and what it would mean for Susanna’s farm if they opened Upstate New York to the natural gas industry, the Obama Administration and the pace of society.

Susanna received some excellent news on Friday, so I went into Middleburgh, NY to the liquor store to get some wine.  I had no idea I would be driving right into the town that time forgot.  It was refreshing to see families out on their front porches and folks walking from mom and pop store to mom and pop store.

Saturday

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On Saturday, I hung out in the strawbale house with Thomas and Ben and we listened to The Beatles. Yoav arrived later that night and made me laugh like a crazy person, as he usually does. That morning though, I had an epiphany while eating breakfast alongside a ruby-throated hummingbird.

On Susanna’s front porch, there are two rocking chairs and a hummingbird feeder hanging on a post near one of the chairs.  After my run in the morning, I liked to eat my granola and yogurt breakfast on the porch and watch the hummingbirds.  On Saturday morning, a particularly bold hummingbird kept flying over near where I was reading, about three feet from my face, stare at me, and fly off.  He would come and go, cock his head to the side at me, like a dog, and fly off.  As I watched him, I realized he was as curious about me as I was about him.  In that moment, I was made to feel small by a creature no larger than my palm. Not in a bad way, in a mind-opening kind of way.

Yoav and Susanna

Yoav and Susanna

We coexist with millions of beautiful creatures on this planet who are just as curious about our existence as we are about theirs; and that is something we must always keep in perspective.

Sunday

On Sunday, after visiting the rock lady (more to come soon), running and watering the plants one last time, I left the farm to go back to New Jersey.  I drove away with an insatiable appetite to contribute to the world and make it better, and I have my friends at Raven Crest Botanicals both to blame and to thank.

 

As Seen On MotherEarthNews.com

As Seen On MotherEarthNews.com

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Guest Blog: Saving the Environment, One Local Pond at a Time

Guest Blog By: Linda Grand

Linda Grand is an incoming senior at the University of Delaware majoring in Environmental and Resource Economics.  She is vice president of Students For the Environment on campus and is participating in undergraduate research at UD.  On 20-something Environmentalist, Linda writes about her experience educating folks on the water quality of her favorite pond growing up.

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People ask me all the time how I became the environmentalist that I am today. I would never know how to answer this question and would just ramble on about liking the outdoors and nature. However, now that some aspects of environmental activism have been closer to home, I have come up with a better response to this question.

I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey in a town called Hillsborough with a pond across from my house. Not only did I learn to ride my bike along the path that circumscribes this pond, I’ve walked around that pond more times than I can count, and in the winter, I would ice skate on it and sled around it. Therefore, this pond is very dear to me, and I think growing up next to it was what started to get me entranced with nature and protecting the environment.

A couple of months ago my neighbor, Katherine, reached out to me asking if I would be interested in helping her with a new project aiming to save the pond. She called the project “The Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative.” The project has two key focuses: to create a broader close-knit neighborhood and to educate people about the stormwater pollution that is causing algal blooms to develop in our pond.

When rainwater goes on impervious surfaces such as driveways, streets, paths, and sidewalks, instead of seeping into the ground it is referred to as stormwater. Stormwater pollution occurs when that rainwater becomes polluted with litter and excess sediment that runs off of impervious surfaces. Polluted stormwater was running, untreated, into storm drains that lead straight into our local waterways, like the pond near my house!

The pond is currently suffering from algae blooms.  Excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus from lawn fertilizers and pesticides) flowing into the pond create algal blooms that deplete the dissolved oxygen on which the ecosystem depends.  The excess nutrients can be traced back to neighboring housing developments and Canada geese that feed on the mowed lawn areas that surround the pond.  The algal blooms are not only detrimental to fish and aquatic wildlife, but they tend to be smelly and are not aesthetically pleasing.

As soon as Katherine proposed the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative, I jumped on board. We worked together with a local non-profit organization called BoroGreen to plan a Family Fun Day to make the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative a reality. The goal of the Family Fun Day around the pond was to create an atmosphere where one could meet new people and learn about how they can take simple steps to help protect the pond. After months of planning this event, it was a huge success with over 30 people from all sides of the pond in attendance.

Activities during the day included: face painting, a gift giving game, hula hooping, music and more. One event that was a huge hit was learning how to make a window farm to plant herbs out of some tubing and used plastic water bottles. Then, while enjoying a potluck full of delicious food, we casually talked to people about the state of the pond and what they could do to protect this cherished public good.

People left the event with biodegradeable soap samples and fliers about how they can help the pond. Topics discussed included: rain barrels, lawn care tips, and how to prevent stormwater pollution. Rain barrels catch rainfall on rooftops, thus reducing runoff in heavily developed areas.  Water collected in the rain barrel can be used to water plants and lawn. In addition, we asked our neighbors to lower their lawn fertilizers use.  We advocated for them to do a soil test on their own lawn to help find out the appropriate amount of fertilizer to apply to their lawn.

Overall, the Family Fun day was a huge success. It was grassroot organizing to the core. I am excited to be working on the Neighbors and Stakeholders Initiative, and I am hopeful for it to expand and grow in years to come.

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