Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count on Sandy Hook

Standard
Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Counting birds on Spermacetti Cove, Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

Today marks the start of National Audubon Society‘s 115th Christmas Bird Count (CBC)! From December 14 through January 5, thousands of volunteers across North America are invited to go out, count birds and contribute data to an early-winter bird census.

When looking at the CBC Map, you will see that every state offers a significant number of local counts, which cover about a 10-15 mile diameter circle each. Since every CBC is a real census, and since the 15-mile diameter circle contains a lot of area to be covered, single-observer counts are not allowed. To participate on the CBC, you need to join an existing CBC circle. You can find one near you online!

All data from the local counts across North America gets compiled, reviewed and documented. The Christmas Bird Count allows researchers, conservation biologists, and interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

For example, in the 1980’s, CBC data was used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck. Conservation measures were put into effect shortly after, to reduce hunting pressure on the species.

Learn more about how the CBC data has been used recently in Audubon’s Birds & Climate Change and Common Birds in Decline reports.

I joined the local Sandy Hook Count this morning, which covers a 10-mile radius around Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit in Highlands, New Jersey.

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

White-winged Scoter. Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Ken Phenicie Jr

The Sandy Hook Count is split up into smaller territories, since there is such a large amount of bird habitat to cover in the park. I joined members of Monmouth County Audubon Society and helped count birds in the South Sandy Hook territory. We scanned Sandy Hook Bay for waterfowl and gulls, walked to Nike Pond and looked for songbirds, and we also traveled through the ancient Holly Forest, where we saw a few raptors. Many areas of Sandy Hook that are usually closed to the public were open to us for the CBC.

In the short three hours that I joined the group, we watched a number of Harbor Seals sunning on Skeleton Hill Island (!) and saw and heard a number of great birds:

  • American Black Duck
  • American Crow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada Goose
  • Carolina Wren
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Herring Gull
  • Horned Grebe
  • House Finch
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • White-winged Scoter
Bufflehead. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Bufflehead Photo: AllAboutBirds.org © Brian L. Sullivan

Wondering how this incredible citizen science initiative all got started? The first Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was completed on Christmas Day of the year 1900 as an “alternative activity to an event called the ‘side hunt‘ where people chose sides, then went out and shot as many birds as they could.” The group that came in with the largest number of dead birds was declared the winner of the event. Frank Chapman, a famous ornithologist, recognized that over-hunting would only exacerbate declining bird populations, and proposed to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them.

To get involved in this historic event, visit The National Audubon Society’s website.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

Counting waterfowl on Sandy Hook Bay.

#GivingTuesday 2014: Celebrate All Things Winged with The Raptor Trust

Standard

Scoured the shelves for deals on Black Friday? Gearing up for gadget buying on Cyber Monday? Don’t forget to honor the most important day of this week (after Thanksgiving, of course), Giving Tuesday.

Giving Tuesday is a call to action, a national day of giving around the annual shopping and spending season. The third annual #GivingTuesday will take place on this coming Tuesday December 2, 2014.

GT_Street-wall_2014#GivingTuesday is a day for giving back, to write a check to a worthwhile cause or to donate your time and expertise to charity. #GivingTuesday, where global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more have come together to shape a new movement. A movement so compelling that the White House has taken notice.

A day that inspires personal philanthropy and encourages bigger, better and smarter charitable giving during the holiday season. A day that proves that the holidays can be about both giving and giving back.

Show your support for Giving Tuesday by taking a photo and uploading it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UNselfie. For more information, check out the short YouTube video below or visit #GivingTuesday on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

On Giving Tuesday 2014, I have decided to give back to the birds in my home state. One of my favorite organizations working specifically on avian rehabilitation and education is The Raptor Trust. My sister and I visited the Trust back in May of this year and had an incredible day. Everyone on staff was extremely friendly and enthusiastically answered our questions about the birds of prey in their care. Even the volunteer working the at gift shop was proud to discuss the history of the Trust and their birds with us.  For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. We were able to see these residents up close and personal. The birds were so beautiful that we walked through the Trust twice to be sure we didn’t miss anybody!

Vilma, The Raptor Trust's Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization's educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Vilma, The Raptor Trust’s Barred Owl plays a key role in the organization’s educational programs. Photo by Joy Yagid.

Officially founded in 1983, The Raptor Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and one of the premier wild bird rehabilitation centers in the United States.

Located in Millington, NJ, the Trust property includes a hospital with state-of-the-art medical facilities, quality exterior housing for several hundred birds, and an education building. For three decades, the Trust has worked tirelessly to fulfill it’s mission:

  • To provide free care and assistance to injured, sick, or orphaned wild birds.
  • To educate people about wild birds, especially birds of prey.
  • To provide a humane example for others.
The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

The Raptor Trust Director Chris Soucy. Photo Credit: NewJerseyHills.com.

20-something Environmentalist sat down with Director of The Raptor Trust, Chris Soucy, and asked what continues to motivate and inspire the work that he is doing.

Chris explained, “One of the greatest rewards in our work is to be able to release a bird back into the wild after we have cared for it. The birds come to us sick, injured or orphaned bird in great numbers – as many as 4,000 each year.  It takes a huge team of dedicated volunteers, along with a medical staff, veterinarians, educators and administrative help to run the center. These caring people put their hearts and souls into the work we do. Because we are successful more often than not in releasing our patients back into the wild where they belong, the rewarding feeling that comes from it happens all the time – for our staff and volunteers, for the people who find injured birds and bring them to us, and no doubt for the birds themselves.”

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust's Facebook page.

Red-Tailed Hawk Release. Photo from The Raptor Trust’s Facebook page.

Chris went on to explain, “In our 32+ year history we have cared for over 90,000 wild birds and released more than half of them back into the wild. On site, we have a full-service medical center and a education center where we present programs to thousands of visitors each year about birds, wildlife and conservation.  Our center is open to the public year round, and visitors here can see hawks, falcons, eagles and vultures up close and learn about what amazing and ecologically important creatures they are.”

Please consider The Raptor Trust when making your year-end gifts this #GivingTuesday and throughout the holiday season. Help them help all things winged.

To learn how to get involved with The Raptor Trust, and for more amazing photographs of birds of prey, like them on Facebook.

Here are a few other excellent New Jersey organizations working on
wildlife issues:

This #GivingTuesday, Tuesday, December 2, 2014, consider making an impact on the world. Choose an issue that you are passionate and donate your time or funds to organizations that are part of the solution. Be a force for good.

GT_logo2013-final1-1024x85

Nature Notes: Birding on Sandy Hook

Standard
Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

Fields Near an Old Tennis Court on Sandy Hook

The bird nerd that I am, I decided to join a New Jersey Audubon field trip on Halloween today. It was a cold and overcast morning as we walked along the fields and trails of Sandy Hook.

New Jersey Audubon does a great job of providing every birder (regardless of skill level) with an excellent, informative program. I highly recommend their guided walks for any beginner (like me). The community of birders, in my experience, has always been extremely welcoming and energized by a new person on their walks. I learned so much about identifying different types of sparrows, warblers and other song birds from everyone in our group.

Today, we saw a wide array of species. Dark-eyed Juncos and both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were out in high numbers. The crowd favorite was a Winter Wren. Usually, Winter Wrens are heard but not seen because they hide in brush and at the base of trees. We were able to see one up-close along the wall of an abandoned building.

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Winter Wren Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

The Kinglets were my personal favorite. They are the second smallest type of bird (hummingbirds are the smallest) and were adorable hopping around in the fields and trees.

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Golden-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: Wikipedia

ruby_crowned_kinglet_1

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

I do know all birders love making lists, so here’s one of all the birds I saw today:

  • American Kestrel
  • Black Phoebe
  • Brown Creeper
  • Canada Goose
  • Chipping Sparrow
  • Common Loon
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • European Starling
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Gray Catbird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Mallard
  • Merlin
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Winter Wren
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler

The New Jersey I Want for My Kids #VoteYeson2

Standard

Last year, on the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, I encouraged New Jersey residents to call their State Assembly representatives and ask them to post open space funding bill ACR 205 for a vote before the end of 2013. If passed, ACR 205 would have allowed residents a chance to vote for a renewed open space funding source on the November 2014 ballot. I was hoping that voters would be given the chance to have their say in keeping the ‘garden’ in ‘Garden State.’

That day has come. Thanks to a tireless effort by Keep It Green, a coalition of over 180 New Jersey organizations, the State Senate and Assembly passed a measure to put open space on the ballot this November 4. This Election Day, New Jersey voters will have the opportunity to decide if a stable source of funding should be established for open space, farmland, and historical preservation throughout the state by voting on Public Question 2.

There is a great need for this stable source of funding, since all funds from the statewide bond that voters approved in 2009 are fully allocated. You read that right, there is currently no new money left for preservation programs in the most densely populated state in the U.S.

According to a report by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, over 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect land and water resources, and to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for an ever-increasing population.

“Funding for the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program is critical to keeping the garden in the Garden State,” said New Jersey Farm Bureau Executive Director Pete Furey. “By voting yes on Public Question 2, New Jersey residents can ensure that families continue to have access to fresh, nutritious, locally grown food for generations to come.”

It is no surprise that the New Jersey Farm Bureau supports a stable source of open space funding. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, more than 350,000 acres of additional farmland must be preserved to support a dynamic agricultural industry in the state.

Morris County, NJ

Morris County, NJ

But how does it work? Where is the money coming from?

Public Question 2 would ensure that long-term, dedicated funding is available to protect and preserve New Jersey’s open spaces, waterways, farms and historic sites. It dedicates a small percentage of existing state revenues, without increasing taxes, to replenish the now-depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, and continue funding to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground storage tanks, and clean-up polluted sites.

If passed, Public Question 2, a state-wide referendum, will reallocate 4% of the Corporation Business Tax to fund open space, recreational opportunities, farmland, historic sites, polluting underground storage tanks and hazardous discharges. There will be no new taxes for corporations or residents. The 4% dedication of corporate taxes will increase to 6% in 2020. It is slated to generate over $70 million a year and will rise to $117 million dollars a year after 2020.

Where is the accountability? Who will be monitoring the effectiveness of the preservation programs?

The Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) will be charged with monitoring and reporting on program expenditures. GSPT is an Independent authority that includes five citizen representatives.

Have more questions? Check out Trust for Public Land’s FAQs page.

While it is not perfect, I fully support Public Question 2 and a stable source of open space funding for my home state. Though controversial, due to its reallocation of state funds, I agree with the referendum and believe it is a strong compromise. Given our current political climate, I believe it is imperative to create a long-term source of funding for open space without creating any new fees or taxes.

As mentioned in The New York Times Editorial, “once open space is gone, it is virtually impossible to get it back.” I am extremely fearful of the consequences of Public Question 2 not passing. There are no proposed alternatives. We cannot sit back and wait for years and years while another long-term funding option is proposed. I believe the time to act is now. I will be voting yes on Public Question 2 on November 4.

4openspace

Sea Bright, NJ

This Jersey Girl is #4openspace in her state! Coastal resiliency and storm surge protection in shore towns like Sea Bright depend on open space. 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. Creating areas of open space that support native plants could help to filter runoff and slow down the rate of flooding events.

Did you know that New Jersey is second only to Louisiana for rate of severe repetitive flood loss in the U.S.? Preservation projects that include floodplain acquisition and flood mitigation have seen a 5:1 benefit to cost ratio in Morris County, according to Morris County Preservation Trust. The organization also found evidence to suggest that for every 1% of land preserved, there is an increase of $1.50/square foot in land values.

For more information on the economic benefits of open space, visit:

I love open space. I love experiencing all of the different types of landscapes in New Jersey. From the coastal communities of Monmouth County, to the mountains of Morris County and the woodlands of Hunterdon County, I think I live in a beautiful state. I love going hiking and bird watching in New Jersey. I love our farmland, open space and historic sites, our clean drinking water and all of the progress that has been made to clean up our polluted sites. I love the wildlife that call New Jersey home. This is the state I know and love. That is why I can’t wait to vote yes on Public Question 2. I want the same New Jersey I have for my kids.

How can you protect open space in New Jersey?

This blog explains my personal viewpoint on this issue as a 20-something Environmentalist. As always, all views are my own.

Jersey Girl Joins over 300,000 Activists at the Historic #PeoplesClimate March

Standard

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have never seen so many people in the same place for the same cause at the same time in my twenty four years on Earth. The #PeoplesClimate March blew my mind. In the best way possible.

My good friend and fellow 20-something environmentalist, Carrie and I made plans on my birthday to travel to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March. I had seen a ton of social media outreach with great photos and inspiring stories encouraging people to attend. I was hopeful that the march would double the Forward on Climate March from last February and bring 100,000 concerned citizens to the Big Apple.

We arrived in New York from NJ Transit on time (for once) and found ourselves in a crowd of activists waiting for the C train to Central Park West. When we watched three trains pass full of more activists, we were excited about all of the people that had shown up. When we flooded the subway station with hundreds of other people climbing up the stairs to the City, we thought this might be big.

And then. We went. Outside. I have never seen so many people in my life.

Most of the activists were in good spirits as we waited at 72nd Street and Central Park West for the march to begin. Carrie and I looked at all of the creative signs and the diverse crowd before us as we waited to move.

We started to march and chant with all kinds of people, artists, students, families, vegans, older activists, scientists, foodies, labor unions, solar activists. It was incredible to see so many people coming together to act on climate. Marching bands kept everyone in step and dancing and smiling. The music was personally one of my favorite things about the march. Carrie and I got stopped by a lot of folks who wanted to take pictures of our signs. We took a ton of photos of other people’s signs and works of art. I was proud whenever someone shouted “Hey Jersey!” or “Yeah Jersey Girl hold up your sign!” We felt like we were among friends. Carrie and I talked to activists from New Orleans, saw a woman from Alaska, even a group from Minnesota, all out because they want their world leaders to act on climate.

The most astounding aspect of the People’s Climate March for me was the sound. An avalanche of sound would gather behind me, I could feel it, building, coming towards us, louder and louder until it arrived to where we were marching and I realized it was the sound of the hundreds of thousands of people around me cheering. I shouted and cheered, pushing the tidal wave of sound in front of me, onto the group of people leading the way.

Once Carrie and I got back to my apartment in Sea Bright, we read the headlines and found out that we were two of over 310,000 (or 400,000 depending on the source) people that rose up and joined together for climate justice. What an unbelievable feeling to be included in a crowd that was over four miles long.

The People’s Climate March made such a bold statement. Even on our way into NYC, folks saw our signs and thanked us for going and explained how important a clean energy future was to them. An older female activist said to Carrie and I with stars in her eyes that was “wonderful, just wonderful” to see so many people marching for climate change as we rolled through Times Square. We felt the same way as her and we felt hopeful.

Youth contingent: Our Future Our Choice

Youth contingent: Our Future Our Choice

Oh, and climate change made national news:

What the Hell are We Eating?

Standard

“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” – Alfred E. Newman

I’ve been trying to eat less meat lately, especially after a study released in late June revealed that going vegetarian can halve your diet’s carbon footprint. After challenging myself to eat only one meal with meat (not counting fish…baby steps) a day, I set out to find some sushi. Pleased with my environmentalist effort, I happily purchased a California roll. And then, I read the label. Dun-dun-duuun. The first ingredient was “imitation crab stick.” What the HELL is imitation crab stick?! Here I was, trying to do a good thing, and I ended up eating imitation crab stick, which, by the way, is “kamaboko, a processed seafood made of finely pulverized white fish flesh (surimi), shaped and cured to resemble leg meat of snow crab or Japanese spider crab.” Um, gross.

My little lunch adventure got me thinking. What else am I really eating? After a lot of research, here’s some basic tips I’d like to share with you all.

The word “NATURAL” means nothing in the realm of food packaging. Do not fall for this.

Unlike organic foods, the FDA has never actually created any regulations for what “natural” even means. Surveys have shown that shoppers read the word to mean “more nutritious” and “healthier.” Are Cheetos any better for you if the word natural is on the bag? Think about it and beware.

If you are going to eat meat and you want it without antibiotics or hormones, make sure the packaging says plain and simple “no hormones administered” or “no antibiotics added.”

The USDA has gone a bit farther than the FDA in its attempt to define the word natural. However, the agency allows fresh meat, like chicken and turkey, to be labeled all natural when it’s been injected with salty broth. Also, “natural” fresh meat does not necessarily mean that it has been raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. In order to guarantee that, the label needs to say straight-up “no hormones administered” or “no antibiotics added.”

Know the difference between hybrid and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Thanks to GMO Inside, here’s a simple description: “Hybrids are NOT the same as GMOs. The simple difference is one is made in nature with nature and the other was manipulated in a lab. GMOs could never occur in nature! GMOs are currently created by chemical companies and are also reliant on chemicals to grow. A double dose of chemicals is what you’ve agreed to if you support or ingest GMOs.” Learn more about GMOs here. Many GMO products are currently not labeled as such. Scary stuff! Get involved with groups like Food and Water Watch to fight for your food to be labeled.

1454906_791296807576798_2687917909122501776_nIf GMOs totally freak you out, look for Non-GMO verified products. Learn more here. The logo for the project looks like this:

Revised-Seal-copy

Finally, what is the difference between cage-free, free-range, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and dairy products?

These definitions were found on Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide. Check it out for details.

Cage-free refers to hens that are not raised in cages, but it does not necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors. There is no standard definition of “cage-free,” but it generally implies that the birds are free to perform natural behaviors. Many cage-free claims are not certified, though some cage-free eggs are certified by American Humane Certified label.

Free-range: In the United States, this term applies only to poultry and is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. It indicates simply that the animals have been “allowed access to the outside.” The USDA does not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.

Grass-fed refers only to animals fed a diet of natural grass and other forage, not grain. Some companies that market their meat as “naturally raised” or grass-fed actually feed their animals grain for significant periods. USDA’s grass-fed marketing standard requires only that animals “must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” It does not necessarily mean that the animals spent their entire lives in pastures or on rangeland. Some cattle marketed as USDA grass-fed actually spend part of their lives in confined pens or feedlots.

Pasture-raised (This one is the best one! Look for this!): Animals raised in a pasture can roam freely in their natural environment, where they are able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest. Products with an Animal Welfare Approved label must be raised on pasture or range. Certified organic meat must also come from animals that have continuous access to pasture.

In short, go to a local farmers market. Shake hands with your new friend, the farmer and ask him or her questions about your food. That’s the best way to truly know what the hell you are eating. And you get to tell your friends that you’re a localvore.

20 Tips for Young Professionals to Keep in Mind at Their First Job

Standard

Congratulations, Class of 2014! Whether you are headed to a nonprofit, government agency, or private company, here are some tips that I feel are worth sharing.

Photo Credit: www.comsoc.org

Photo Credit: http://www.comsoc.org

    • Always bring a notebook and pen/pencil to a meeting, even if it’s a short, informal discussion.  You never know when you will need to write something down.

 

    • During each staff meeting, take down your ‘action items’ on your meeting agenda. These are items that you need to act on after the meeting, whether it is something your supervisor asked you to look into or follow-up on or a task that you volunteered for. This way you know exactly what you’re responsible for completing.

 

    • It’s also not a bad idea to keep a ‘daily activities log’ and record what you complete each day.  It will help you stay organized and multitask efficiently.

 

    • Don’t be late…but if you are going to be late, send a text/email or call the office.

 

    • If you aren’t sure how to dress for a meeting or conference, dress more formally than you think you need to. Better to be overdressed than under-dressed, especially as a young professional.

 

    • Be careful what you post on your personal social media. If it feels like you maybe shouldn’t post that photo or status update, don’t. You are a young professional and want your colleagues to take you seriously, so keep that in mind when you are on the internet.

 

    • If you aren’t sure about something, or something doesn’t feel right, ask before you do anything.

 

    • For your first couple of months on the job, do as much listening as possible, that way you can learn about the organization’s work and office culture.

 

    • Don’t eat during meetings, unless it is explicitly said that it’s okay or everyone else is eating.

 

    • If you are available, check your e-mail over the weekend if you have a couple minutes and pick up your phone if one of your colleagues calls you. This will show that you are responsible and dependable.

 

    • Give interns meaningful projects and give them context and background for those projects.  Explain to them why they are doing what they are doing, so they can learn and build their skill set. As much as they are helping you, you should help them too.

 

    • Don’t drink at work events. If everyone else is having a drink, have one and sip it.

 

    • Don’t eat lunch at your desk…once you start, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll be much more productive in the afternoon if you take some time to change your surroundings. Going for a short walk on a nice day was always one of my favorites.

 

    • If you need help or are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help in a calm, professional way. It will help you in the long run.

 

    • Take on new projects with enthusiasm.

 

    • Learn as much as you can from your colleagues. You are surrounded by amazing talent and expertise.

 

    • Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Read your writing aloud to yourself.  Print a copy and take a red pen to it. Ask someone for another set of eyes on it. Always, always, always check your links in any email or document.

 

    • Remember that you are a representative of an organization with an excellent reputation.

 

    • Take photos and notes at conferences, events, and meetings.

 

  • Make lists, keep records and files, color code. Stay organized.

Spring Weekend on the Farm

Standard

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From May 17-19, I celebrated a special kind of anniversary. I had been WWOOFing (volunteering on an organic farm) for a year. After making 4 visits to the same organic farm, Raven Crest Botanicals, its safe to say that I am in love. My friend Susanna’s beautiful, natural nook in Berne, New York will always have a place in my heart. Since I am so in love with her farm, the sense of community it brings, and all that Susanna stands for, I decided to bring my boyfriend for a weekend.

Friday Night

After over four hours in the car, driving through constant downpour from New Jersey, we arrived in upstate New York…and went right to sleep.

Saturday

Since I was a kid, I have gotten cold sores. Nowhere near a conventional pharmacy, but surrounded by nature’s pharmacy, I asked Susanna for an organic remedy after a cold sore appeared Saturday morning. She made a mixture of echinacea, lavender, St. John’s Wort, and lemon balm that sent me well on my way to healing. I was so thankful to have a healer for a friend!

After Susanna made my medicine, we went into the village of Schoharie and walked around. Then, we all got lunch and carrot cake from the Carrot Barn, which was absolutely delicious! Next, we went to get some strawbales for strawbale gardening from a farmer near Susanna’s land. We made friends with some of the animals at Willaine Shropshires.

Once we returned to the farm, we (my boyfriend Jeff) dug holes for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Then we planted the babies with soil, compost and organic fertilizer. To learn more about the organic fertilizer that Susanna uses, read another one of my posts.

Our berry plants all in a row!

Our berry plants all in a row

On Saturday night, we all enjoyed a beautiful dinner made by the Rainbow Goddess Ashley! We had raw soup made hot by blending for 10 minutes, roasted veggies and couscous, and kale salad. Yum!

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess

Sunday

According to Susanna’s biodynamic calendar, Sunday was not a good day to plant anything into the Earth. Her biodynamic calendar takes into consideration lunar phases and astrological influences to determine whether a particular day is appropriate for soil and plant development.

Instead of planting, we mulched and weeded around our berries. On Sunday night, Jeff and I went into Albany to see The Grand Budapest Hotel with Susanna’s full-time seasonal WWOOFer Lisa. Lisa is a lovely person with great, positive energy and a love for crystals and music. She also has a really awesome SUV that we drove around in quite a bit during our stay at the farm.

On Sunday, we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries You can see the mulch line in front of us.

After we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries. You can see the mulch line in front of us.

Monday

On our last day, Jeff, Lisa and I went to the Middleburgh Diner and visited our friend, Jane. Jane felt a cold coming on and needed some of Susanna’s medicine to feel better before a fun weekend she had planned. We were so excited to see Jane’s home and felt so honored when she showed us a breathtaking view of the Catskills Mountains from her property.

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane's house

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane’s house

From drinking Chaga tea, to eating duck eggs and homemade bread while looking at the hidden messages of water, Jeff and I had a wonderful time on the farm. I was so happy to bring someone I care about into Susanna’s space and continue to spread her message of love and wellness. We can’t wait to go back again soon!

For more posts about Raven Crest Botanicals, WWOOFing, and organic farming, check these out:

Guest Blog: What We Can All Learn from Laguna Chicabal

Standard

Guest Blog By: Kelley Scholl

kelley3

Kelley grew up in lovely Northborough, Massachusetts, but is now lucky enough to have pieces of her heart scattered the world over.  Her interests are: politics, kind people, pretty places, and good beer.  She attended University of Delaware where after approximately 80 majors, she graduated with degrees in Sociology and Biological Sciences.  A few weeks later, Kelley left for the greatest adventure… Peace Corps Guatemala!  

Currently, Kelley lives in a small, indigenous village in the Western Highlands where she facilitates a Healthy Schools program in 14 schools.  The idea is to utilize schools to promote health in the greater community.  Kelley works with the health centers, parents groups, teachers, principals, and her favorite – groups of 5th and 6th grade peer educators.

Please check out her blog to learn more about her experience and contact Kelley with any questions you may have about Peace Corps or Guatemala!

“It’s really difficult for me to write about life in Guatemala. It’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to tell my very best friends about it. When I left for the Peace Corps 17 months ago, trouble sharing my experience was not on my radar as far as developing world difficulties, yet it is something that I think of nearly every day now.

The reason it’s so hard to share my experience is that Guatemala is a place I both love and hate. Like any culture close-up, it is one of contrast. It’s a land of poverty, yet that’s not what is truly holding it back. It is a land where women are generally in charge of the family’s purse strings, but have no reproductive rights or even the right to walk down the street safely. People are kind, but not friendly. It’s a land of extreme Christianity, and also a place where alcohol abuse and adultery are rampant. In a cruel, ironic twist, its children have the 6th highest rate of malnourishment in the world, while its adult population has the 10th highest rate of obesity.  It’s a land where I am impressed by how respectful and hard working the children are, but truly saddened by how quickly they must grow up. It’s a land where people wake up before the sun to farm, but government workers will not stay a second past their workday, no matter what the benefit may be to their community. It’s a land that centers its tourism industry on being the ‘Land of the Maya,’ but allows 73% of the indigenous people to live in poverty.

image001Even the beautiful, traditional Guatemalan dress (at left) – or ‘traje’ – is a point of contention. Those who wear it do so to respect their past and their indigenous heritage. Others point out that the traje is not truly Maya, but something forced upon the Maya people by the Spanish conquistadors in order to contain and oppress them.

So, when people say, ‘Tell me about Guatemala,’ I want to tell them everything and nothing at all. I usually tell them nothing, which is a shame.

Recently, I’ve begun to think that the only thing worse than misrepresenting Guatemala is not even trying to share my experience in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring.’

Despite my own inability to wrap my head around my experience in Guatemala, let alone my inability to share it, there are still beautiful lessons that everyone should learn from Guatemala.

One of these lessons can be learned at Laguna Chicabal (pictured below), a sacred, crater lake, nestled in the forest of San Martín Sacatepéquez, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

image002

However, Laguna Chicabal is more than just a pretty place; it is one of the most important sites in the Maya Cosmovision and a place that receives the highest reverence from its inhabitants and visitors.

So, here’s how the story goes… A long, long time ago, the lake was lower down on the volcano. Today hikers pass by this dry crater on their way up to the current lake. However, the people who lived by the lake did not take care of it. They washed their clothes in it, bathed in it, and did not understand what a sacred gift the lake was. So, the gods took away the lake and when they gave it back, they relocated it to higher up on the mountain. Since then, the people around the lake have vowed to preserve it, to keep it clean, and to protect it.

While Guatemalan rivers are typically filled with trash, Laguna Chicabal and the area surrounding it is pristine. Swimming in the lake can get you kidnapped (supposedly). In a part of the country without much in the way of resources, the community has dedicated themselves to watching over this sacred gift, this lake. People don’t toss trash on the lake’s beach, and if they do there are daily trash pick-ups to clean up the mess. There are many beautiful places in Guatemala – volcanoes, beaches, forests – yet; I have never seen Guatemalans take such an interest in maintaining an area. Community members care for this part of the world better than they care for their own backyards. With not much to give financially, locals dedicate hours of hard work and give their upmost respect to this parcel of sacred land and water. The sign below greets visitors on their way into the park.

image003

What is so amazing about the protection efforts at Laguna Chicabal – unlike many of our own attempts at environmentalism – is that it isn’t rooted in a political movement, or a need to increase tourism, or a desire to preserve enough resources for our grandchildren, or concerns about changes in weather. It’s simply a way of life. The people who watch out for Laguna Chicabal do so because of a deep, profound respect for the land. They have known for a long time what the rest of us should figure out – the Earth is a gift and that’s the only reason we need to protect it. We must defend the Earth, not because of a catchy slogan or even scientific facts; we should watch out for the Earth because we respect it and it is our duty.

I guess if can view only a few experiences and lessons from my time in Guatemala with total clarity, a reverence for the Earth is not such a bad thing to learn.

Now I just need to expand this view from Laguna Chicabal to the rest of Guatemala to everywhere else. Wanna help?”

image004

Birding…For Science!

Standard
Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Do you love birding? Can’t wait to add to your life list or ID a new species? Consider taking your love for all things with wings to the next level: volunteer with the National Audubon Society‘s Citizen Science program!

Citizen Science projects recruit volunteers to collect ecological information. For example, the New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science program asks bird nerds to help them develop information data sets on the abundance, distribution and demography of bird species throughout the state.

With GPS coordinates provided by NJA, volunteers can set out on an adventure, tallying different types of bird species they see, while noting information about habitat, weather and tidal conditions. The information is then collected by NJA to provide a basis for managing bird populations, promote habitat preservation and improve knowledge of state ecology.

For more information and to learn how you can get involved, find an Audubon Society near you!