New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals

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Hiking in the Pine Barrens. Photo by Felysse Goldman.

Interested in pursuing a career in New Jersey’s environmental field? Want to learn more about what types of jobs are out there? Or do you want to go hiking with a group of recent grads who love the outdoors and craft beer? Check out New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals on Facebook!

Back in March of 2015, a group of “emerging professionals” got together during a forum at an environmental conference. Everyone enjoyed their time at the event and wanted to continue hanging out and talking about career goals, challenges that young professionals face, great birding locations in the Garden State, etc. Soon, our Facebook group was formed.

We post community events, create our own  like Birds and Beers, we visit a birding spot and hit a local brewery afterwards and we recently started organizing weekend retreats. In early April 2016, a group of us spent the weekend kayaking down the Batsto River in the Pine Barrens with Pinelands Adventures and hiking in Franklin Parker Preserve.

New Jersey Emerging Conservation Professionals also participate in volunteer events, like helping out at amphibian crossing nights with the Friends of East Brunswick Environmental Commission.

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Spotted Salamander in East Brunswick, New Jersey

Check us out on Facebook and join us at our next event!

Nature Notes: Early Spring on Sandy Hook

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Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Birding on Sandy Hook, Highlands, New Jersey

Today, I enjoyed a beautiful, warm and sunny, early spring day on Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey. After the winter we had, today seemed like a long awaited miracle.

I chose to spend my morning and early afternoon birding with a friend. We joined Monmouth County Audubon Society‘s walk and saw a ton of early spring migrants!

The most exciting moment of the walk was when a large group of gulls on the Bay took off flying and cleared the sand bar they were sitting on. A few seconds later, soaring through the sky, came an immature Bald Eagle! The leaders of the walk estimated that the eagle was about three years old.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Gulls on the move before an immature Bald Eagle flew over the Bay.

Today also brought three new additions to my life list! The Black-crowned Night-Herons we saw sitting in a tree above Nike Pond, the male Northern Harrier (known to birders as the “Gray Ghost”) flying over our group and the Blue-gray Gnatcatchers my friend and I saw on a later walk to North Beach were all life birds for me.

"Gray Ghost" Male Northern Harrier

“Gray Ghost” Male Northern Harrier

We estimated at least twenty ospreys have returned to Sandy Hook, many were carrying fish in their talcons and some were carrying sticks to do some “housekeeping” on their nests. We saw a number of Northern Gannets diving offshore as well.

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

Northern Gannet by Gavin Shand on Vimeo

A full list of the birds that we saw today:

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

Birds of Monmouth County Checklist

  • American Crow
  • American Kestrel
  • American Oystercatcher
  • American Robin
  • Bald Eagle
  • Black Scoter
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Brant
  • Bufflehead
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Fish Crow
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Horned Grebe
  • Laughing Gull
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Northern Gannet
  • Northern Harrier
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Osprey
  • Piping Plover
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Sanderling
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Surf Scoter
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture

Walks led by local Audubon Society chapters are great for beginning birders! I would recommend them to any 20-something environmentalist looking to learn more about birds. Find a chapter near you!

Nature Notes: Birding on Sandy Hook

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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

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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

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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.

Spring Weekend on the Farm

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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:

Birding…For Science!

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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!

Nature Notes: Birding in Northern Jersey

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As any bird nerd will tell you, migration months are the best time for birders to see so many species! Warblers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, and other migratory birds, including shorebirds have flown thousands of miles from Central/South America and the Caribbean to nest in my home state of New Jersey, or to continue on to the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska. These mass migrations allow for more bird species to be observed in NJ than any other time of the year.

My friend and fellow birder Dana and I made plans to get outside and do some birding this weekend. We brought along our friends and family and headed to a few different spots in Northern Jersey.

Wood Turtle

The Wood Turtle is a threatened species in NJ

Our first stop was New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville, NJ. Turns out, a dear friend of mine from my days as a nature camp counselor was leading our walk!

Miss Stephanie guided us throughout the property as we searched for the Blue-Winged Warbler. During our walk, the group learned that skunk cabbage is able to generate its own heat in order to grow and flower while snow is still on the ground. How cool is that?!

 

We also found a Wood Turtle, which is classified as threatened in New Jersey. AND at the end of our walk, we were able to spot a Blue-winged Warbler in the tallest branches of a beautiful tree.

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Here’s a list of the other birds we saw (birders LOVE lists):

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wood Thrush

If you are curious about any of the species of birds listed, check the National Audubon Society’s website for more information about them.

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Next, we went for a hike through Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There we saw a number of bullfrogs, painted turtles, cowbirds, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. My favorite was the Yellow Warbler that we saw in its nest above the water of the swamp. It was such a beautiful and striking bird, bright yellow among all the green.

 

 

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

After lunch, my sister and I took a drive over to The Raptor Trust. The Trust, located in Millington, NJ, provides care to over 3,500 injured and orphaned wild birds each year. Many of them are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. My sister and I saw so many birds of prey, we even circled back through the area where the birds live to make sure we didn’t miss seeing anyone. Our favorites were definitely the owls.

I’m so happy to have spent such a beautiful day outdoors and in nature among friends and family. I am looking forward to purchasing my own pair of binoculars and going birding more often. It was revitalizing to step away from my computer and desk and get back into nature! I truly believe in the restorative power of nature. Do you?

New Year’s Resolutions: Stay Curious and Live Passionately

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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 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.

Full Circle

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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

Effects of Mountaintop Removal on Appalachian Wildlife

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Changes to the water, air and land in coal country have caused trouble for vast amounts of biodiversity in the region.  The biodiversity of the Appalachian headwater streams is second only to the tropics.  The southern Appalachian mountains are home to the greatest diversity of salamanders on the globe, accounting for 18% of the known species worldwide.

Salamanders and other herptiles, birds, and mammals have all been struggling to adapt to the changing environmental conditions caused by mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining in the Appalachian region. Salamanders become significantly less common in areas with many MTR sites.  When the forests are clear cut for MTR coal mining, the woodlands are converted into grasslands.  Grasslands do not provide salamanders with loose soil and a lot of ground cover, habitat characteristics required for their survival.  The conversion of woodlands to grasslands has also affected bird populations in Appalachian.  West Virginia is home to native woodland bird species like the Red-Shouldered Hawk and the Broad-winged Hawk, but as the number of intact forests decline, so do the number of native hawks.  Since the expansion of MTR coal mining, native hawks have been outnumbered by an increase in open-country species like the Northern Harrier and the American Kestrel.  A 2003 study showed an increase in other grassland bird species like Grasshopper Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Horned Larks and Savannah Sparrows.  The increase in Grasshopper Sparrows was explained by the fact that it colonizes most successfully in grassland habitats.  Unlike Grasshopper Sparrows, interior forest songbird species native to the Appalachian region require a large amount of intact forest to survive, something not found in areas with MTR sites.  MTR sites are affecting the survival rate of salamanders, native hawks and songbirds and mammals through the conversion of lush forest to clear cut grassland.

Mammals are deeply affected by the expansion of grassland areas in Appalchia due to the vast amount of reclaimed MTR coal mining sites in the region.  A 2002 study of small mammal communities on reclaimed MTR sites showed that while small mammals can continue to thrive, species from the Peromyscus family—types of rodents that frequently make their homes in grasslands—are most abundant.  Other mammals lose “traditional migration routes, travel corridors, and food sources” on reclaimed MTR sites.  Reclaimed MTR sites make it difficult for native woodland species to thrive.  According to EPA’s Fine Particle Emission Information System (FPEIS) study, deforestation and forest fragmentation from MTR coal mining disrupt the Appalachian forest and are harmful to forest-dwelling wildlife species.  Wildlife species like, Eastern chipmunks, Woodland Jumping Mice, Woodland Voles, and Northern Short-tailed Shrew showed significant populations decrease once their wooded habitat was transformed into grasslands.  Grassland transformation harms West Virginia’s state animal, the Black Bear, too.  As MTR coal mining displaces bears from their forest home, they need to find another place to live.  This leads to the now-frequent occurrence of bears in residential neighborhoods looking for shelter and food in garbage cans.  The residents are put in danger and the bears are most often put to death, leading to dramatic declines in population.  It is time for stronger environmental legislation that will allow for economic expansion in Appalachia, while protecting native and the species that inhabit them.

Sources:

Burns, Shirley Stewart (2007), Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities, University of West Virginia Press, Morgantown.

Epstein, Paul R, et al. (2011), Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1219: 73-98.