Cranberry Musings

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Cranberry Musings

Senior year of high school can get pretty weird: it is, after all, an end and a beginning all in one, with a lot of potentially disastrous hormones at play.

My best buddy and I picked the jobs we most wanted to do as ‘grown-ups’, which, not coincidentally, were also strikingly unusual and out of place in relation to where we lived.

My choice? A cranberry bog farmer. Why? (I had to explain this multiple times as an 18 year old, and I was very good at it.)

The reasons:

  1. It was unusual. This seemed to matter.
  2. It struck me as essential. I liked cranberries. I especially liked the word “bog” (I dare you to say it outloud a few times. It’s fun!) What would Thanksgiving be without cranberries? The women in my family cooked up amazing cranberry sauces and I loved the tart/sweet combinations. The tradition continues to this day, with variations and evolutions (a finishing dram of orange liqueur, perhaps?)
  3. I would spend as much time as I could outdoors, working with nature, gently. This was essential and I knew it.
  4. Many of our cranberries are grown in cooperatives, and I liked the idea of working with community and the interdependence both acknowledged and required.
  5. Cranberries are one of our native fruits.

As it turned out, I didn’t become a cranberry bog farmer (yet). But I am still fascinated by the story of one of our commercially-farmed native fruits.

(Quick quiz: what are the three commercially-raised native-to-America fruits? Blueberries, cranberries and Concord grapes.)

If you don’t know the story of how cranberries are grown and especially, harvested, check this out http://bit.ly/1ydiUTA It’s fascinating and really, beautiful.

And enjoy the cranberry sauce at the table tomorrow—I know we will!

–Anne Sorensen

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Planting Wellness in the Workplace

YTP-5936

As a student studying public health, I am constantly reminded that the state of health in America is anything but acceptable. For too long, the United States health care system has focused on treating people after they become sick instead of preventing diseases before they occur. Investing in disease prevention is the most logical, effective and efficient way to improve health outcomes. Lifestyles are shifting and with increasing stress in the workplace, people are finding less time and motivation to proactively take care of their health. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and an inactive lifestyle – that accounts for over 16% of deaths in America. Changing behaviors and adding fresh fruit and vegetables into our diet should be major public health priorities. So how do we begin integrating health and wellness back into our lives?

With millions of Americans going to work everyday, corporate America is one of the best places to start addressing our national health care crisis. Workplace wellness programs are on the rise. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows for new provisions for wellness programming and now is the time to shift our relationship with health from one where health is something thought about and “practiced” annually at the doctor’s office, to one where our focus in health is built into our daily routine through lifestyle tweaks and behavior change. Most existing workplace wellness programs involve standard components such as fitness programs, health screenings and insurance incentives.  However, there isn’t as much emphasis on employee well-being during the actual workday. Organizational policies and activities should be designed to facilitate healthy behaviors both in and out of the workplace in order to bring meaningful change to employee lifestyles. Corporate wellness gardens, nutrition workshops, yoga, participatory cooking lessons are all ways companies are shaking up their traditional employee wellness programs. America is increasingly bringing nutrition and wellness into the workplace with innovative initiatives. Initiatives like this should become the new standard. Small lifestyle changes could have a huge impact on our national health and investing in workplace wellness could help get us there.

One day, I certainly hope that wellness programs will exist in every workplace and this country is well on its way to successfully adopting preventative health measures into everyday practice. I chose to work with Yellow Tractor this summer because it is working to address this public health crisis and spread wellness one garden at a time. People need to realize the power that healthy habits can have on their lives. Organizations like Yellow Tractor are the catalyst for change, but it is up to individuals to add wellness into their lifestyle. It’s as simple as making the time.

How are you incorporating health and wellness into your lifestyle?

~ Neelam Patel

The Seeds of Health and Wellness Took Root Early

My father and me, taken at our home in Massachusetts, summer of 1997.

My father and me, taken at our home in Massachusetts, summer of 1997.

I will never forget the warm summer evenings of my childhood, where my family would spend hours tending to our garden. In fact, some of the earliest memories from my childhood are from times spent working in the garden with my parents when I was just three or four years old. It was in those early moments that my appreciation for gardening was born and has continued through to early adulthood. As a family, we enjoyed hand-picking fresh fruits and vegetables from the small-scale gardens on the side of our house, as well as from local berry patches and apple orchards in our community. I had everything I needed to be young gardener: my own set of gardening gloves, a miniature trowel, a small hand cultivator and—most importantly—an insatiable hunger for fresh fruits and vegetables.

I still remember the cold wet soil in my hands and the feeling of the silky leaves between my fingers. I reached down into the leaves of the plants looking for the garden floor, hoping to find a large ripe cucumber or squash, but instead my hand grazed the thin black soaker hose. The hose was snaked around the largest plants, so it is no surprise that I instantly thought it was a snake in my garden! I jumped back and away from the garden as quick as I could. I half expected the ‘hose’ or ‘snake’ or ‘mysterious monster’ to follow after me.

After that near death experience in the garden, I grew more interested, but also weary of the garden. I could see tiny rolly pollies (or pill bugs) scurrying over the natural ridges in the soil. Dozens of earthworms would emerge after a thorough watering and tunnel back into the soil when the surface dried. My four-year old self became incredibly aware of the life force within the garden. Not only were the plants alive and growing taller and thicker everyday, but there were also insects and worms that lived in this very soil, that feed from our plants, and that nourished the soil in return. It wasn’t until I heard my father’s frustrated grumbles that I realized our lettuce and bean stalks had been nibbled down by furry visitors. The garden was home to plants and animals alike. It was a source of food for not just me and my family, but other animals such as rabbits and deer that happened to wander by. The garden was alive with foreign sounds and smells. As I sat in the soil, crouched on all fours, I saw a new world that I had never explored before. At four years old I saw the beauty and magic within a growing garden. I could see it, I could taste it, and I was hooked.

Since then, healthy eating habits and an overall healthy lifestyle have become more and more important to our family. When illness struck our family in 2012, it was a full commitment to organic and natural foods paired with positive and mindful thinking that improved the quality of life in our household. We swapped excessive sugars, fats, and all types harmful chemicals found in processed foods for nutrient and antioxidant rich vegetables.

Now, I aim to educate as many people as I can about the power of living a truly healthy lifestyle. I hope more people experience the transformational benefits from a change in diet and a change in attitude, as my family has experienced. It is for these reasons that I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Yellow Tractor this summer. A passion for healthy eating and sustainable living has been put into motion on a larger scale than I could have ever done on my own. Yellow Tractor’s mission to empower people to grow their own healthy food has reached people everywhere, from daycare centers to veteran homes, individual families to larger corporations. As a college student, I have a restricted ability to plant and grow vegetables. I chose to start my own container garden in the backyard of Northwestern’s Field Hockey house, in Evanston. As a college student with very limited time and space, I was skeptical of my ability to successfully grow vegetables. To my surprise, within days of transplanting my little plants into larger containers, small tomatoes and peppers appeared on the branches. In the next couple weeks my vegetables will be ripe enough to eat. I grow good food… so others can.

Maddy Carpenter
Northwestern University
Class of 2015

Chicken Biryani Delight

biryani

Looking for an exotic meal that delivers both exquisite taste and hearty health benefits? Then try this East African rendition of the classic Asian rice dish biryani. This recipe mixes spicy elements that have great benefits for your heart and digestive system, while also exploring creative ways of cooking and preparing rice. Additionally, ingredients such as cardamoms, garlic, ginger and onions can be grown in your own garden bed making this exotic delicacy easy to prepare from your own home.

Growing up in Kenya, I grew fond of this meal due to the festive atmosphere that surrounded its preparation. Families would come together to cook during weddings, commemorations and graduations. The spicy aroma that came out of the kitchen was enough to signal to neighbors of an imminent feast, and in the spirit of community the biryani was made to accommodate a crowd. Once prepared, the cheerful conversation that accompanied the partaking of the dish was just as juicy as the sumptuous meal itself. New bonds were formed in the community, and existing ones were further bolstered.

Now you can also add some festivity to a weekend lunch or dinner this summer with this great recipe and invite friends and family to enjoy the delights of the East right from your own home.

Ingredients

2lbs Chicken

2lbs Basmati Rice

100 g yoghurt

1 Onion

6 garlic cloves

1 tbs ginger paste

8 small green cardamoms

10 cloves

1 tbs garlic paste

Oil or ghee

Kewra (Screw pine leaf) – only a few drops

Yellow food color

Pinch of sugar

What’s so special about these ingredients?

Garlic has sulfur-containing compounds that help reduce the accumulation of cholesterol on vascular walls and helps in blood sugar level regulation.

Cloves contain eugenol, kaempferol and rhamnetin, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

Green cardamoms are highly anti-carcinogenic. They boost the amount of Glutathione S-Transferase (GSTs) in our body, which restrains the reproduction of cancer cells in our colon.

Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, besides promoting healthy sweating to boosts the immune system. Ginger extracts have also been shown to have both anti-oxidant and anti-tumor properties.

Method

  • Add the chicken, salt and garlic cloves in a pot with a glass of water.
  • Cook on a low flame till the meat is tender and the water dries up.
  • Slice the onion and fry it in about 4 tablespoons of oil till light brown. Add the rest of the spices (cloves, cardamoms), yoghurt and fry it a little.
  • Soak the rice in water for half an hour
  • Boil the rice till half cooked, drain and keep aside.
  • Add the cooked chicken to the sautéed onions to make the masala and cook uncovered for a few minutes to evaporate excess water.
  • Once most of the water has evaporated, transfer some of the rice to a pot, and on top of that add some of the meat/masala Make layers of rice and masala in the pot e.g. half rice at the bottom, meat in the middle and the rest of the rice on top.
  • Sprinkle a solution of kewra on it, a pinch of sugar and some yellow food color.
  • Keep the pot covered and the flame low – you’re trying to steam cook the rice.
  • Once rice is done, the biryani is ready. Serve with salad.

This recipe serves five. The Yellow Tractor team hopes you’ll enjoy it.

~ Daniel Cheruiyot

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sustainability

I’ve noticed through the years that some unfortunately view the world as an everlasting wastebasket, a wastebasket that day in and day out is expanding due to the consumer’s bad habits. Through my perspective, this phenomenon is common among many and is seen in various communities worldwide. Whether individuals are unaware or simply uneducated about the topic of sustainability, the way we cohabitate with all processes on this planet needs to change dramatically. Now, I haven’t formed this perspective about the world on my own. I’ve been able to build this view about sustainability through my educational roots.

My foundation and concentration on sustainability was created far from my original residence in Winnetka, IL. Having attended the University of Denver for the past two years, I’ve been able to grow with my interest in sustainability through knowledgeable professors, speakers, and the city of Denver. All of these influences have ultimately led me to focus on the subject of geography and more specifically human geography at my university. My courses are centered on the topic of population and our relationship with the environment. We are educated about our increasing population and its effects on dwindling natural resources, inaccessibility for clean water, massive amounts waste, and importance for women’s education. Most raise an eyebrow after hearing my enthusiasm for coming up with ideas to halt population control, but I see an apparent necessity for students like myself to get involved in these pressing issues. Although my ideas are big I believe the best way to make even a tiny impact in this world is to start small scale. So, I’m starting with sustainability, to educate the public on different lifestyles that can influence communities to be centered on environmentally friendly practices.

As I packed my bags for a summer home in Chicago I searched for different organizations that I believed best embodied all of the elements I had been taught in Denver. I found The Yellow Tractor Project through a friend and it was almost fate that I was introduced to the organization. YTP’s social mission is focused on creating edible gardens in various areas to improve community development and individual wellness. This mission embodies all, if not more, of some of the most important core values in my life.

First and foremost it’s about the food. Food is the centerpiece for my own family and friend gatherings, as well as a core element to my own personal development. I’ve seen that valuing the growth of good food can allow for an even larger conversation about sustainability in all aspects of life. The Yellow Tractor Project promotes growing good food through their line of edible garden beds that can be assembled almost anywhere. By allowing one to grow produce normally bought in local supermarkets, these garden beds encourage and reinforce the fundamental aspects of sustainability. YTP spreads the message that you can, in fact, grow this produce for yourself in the courtesy of your own home, business, or school. For my family, the value of growing good food starts in our very own backyard just like YTP suggests it should. My mother has cherished the importance of gardening through her lineage, so naturally, we have an edible garden accessible in our residence in Winnetka, IL. My mother has seen the benefits in our edible garden through our growing appreciation for good food, as well as its educational value of spreading the message of living sustainably.

Being able to collaborate with The Yellow Tractor Project this summer will contribute to my overall perspective of sustainability and more importantly assess the Chicagoland’s effort and response to this type of change. A question I am looking to better answer after my time interning with YTP is what if installing one simple garden bed in your own backyard can change the way you live, think, and treat the world? If one edible garden bed can impact an individual’s lifestyle in terms of consuming and wasting then we will become one step closer in creating a more environmentally friendly community and thus improve the human-earth relationship. My mission is to educate, promote, and encourage the public to consider the benefits of an urban edible garden because I know that The Yellow Tractor Project can change lifestyles and I am beyond excited to be considered a team member fighting for a greener tomorrow.

~ Jessica Blackwell

Defining Good in the Garden

In speaking this afternoon with Jim Slama, a Chicago-based national thought leader in the Good Food space, we found that we agree on many things. One thing we nod in agreement about is that there is, in fact, no universally accepted definition of Good Food.  Nor is there, it so happens, a universally accepted definition of a social enterprise. Yet day in and day out, the Yellow Tractor team finds itself immersed in building holistic systems for both.

Its no surprise that a philosophy and English major would grow up to work in a space where there are not yet defined answers. After all, that’s what we love to do, problem solve and think critically about what elements must be contained in real and sustainable solutions.

Here’s what we find at almost every turn: first of all, the journey to creating Good is what really makes us infinitely love what we do. We’ve found on this journey that top-down approaches simply do not work. We’ve learned that public-private partnerships are powerful and promote permanent change (I guess we’ve found that we “dig” alliteration too).  We’ve found that our interpretation of Good requires all parties in any transaction to have some skin in the game, some ownership and recognition that only win-wins really work.

We know now that plenty of people feel marginalized in the growing-your-own-“good”-food movement. Our goal is to educate and provide the resources for people everywhere to create healthier futures by growing their own fresh and affordable food (at least growing the nutrient-rich basis of a healthy diet), but many perceive edible gardening to be for “other” people, people with endless time on their hands and money to burn. This perception was critical to our realization that to have the kind of broad reach we wanted, we needed to create products that made DIY edible gardening as easy and as turn-key as possible. It drove us to design and manufacture our own sustainable raised garden beds, which The Yellow Tractor Project uses in all its work at every site. To support the work of The Yellow Tractor Project, we decided to make one of our fundraising channels a percentage of the garden bed sales. We launched the product officially this past weekend with the help of our first retail partner, Chalet Nursery and Garden Shop in Wilmette, IL, at their two-day Backyard Food Fest.

We’ve learned to see a social enterprise as a business model that provides products and services that people want and need and, at the same time, solutions for far-reaching societal challenges. In our case, in making edible gardening accessible to individuals, families and communities as well as to the organizations that serve them, we are addressing a broken healthcare system, one that focuses on expensive treatment and maintenance rather than healthy prevention. We are improving the futures of returning veterans by giving them the resources to create micro-businesses, selling the fresh food they now have the skills to grow to restaurants and people in their community. We are giving seniors living in communal housing the tools and space to return to a practice most of them know and love, growing their own clean, simple, good food. We are finding and defining Good every day in the garden.

Gardening, we find, is a natural model of living one’s life. You try different things, tend to and nurture the garden and in doing so, nurture yourself, your psyche, your soul. Some attempts just plain fail and provide no real growth — so it’s back to the drawing board. Like in life, a job well done in the garden is immensely satisfying. We see and experience Good in the communities that grow around a garden, in the leadership and service learning that develops before our eyes in young gardeners. We are finding Good in the peace and calm that comes to gardeners of all ages and experience in the garden.

And what’s really Good about all this is that Good and Good Work are being celebrated everywhere you turn these days. Businesses and consultants are creating metrics for assessing “impact”. Incubators and accelerators are popping up everywhere to help structure, launch and maintain sustainable food and other Good business and non-profit start ups. Publications like Good, Inc. and Stanford Social Innovation Review are providing stories and advice on doing Good and being able to make a living through mission-driven ventures. Technology start ups are prolifically creating a science around charitable giving, making it smarter, easier and more efficient with the click of a button (in fact, we’ve just partnered with WeeVu, a local startup that does just that). Crowdfunding is not only bringing together funders of all sizes and capacity, but is magnifying innovative and viable ideas for creating Good. Social products are abundant in the marketplace. Good design is producing greener and healthier buildings, systems and cities. Investors and legislators are asking themselves what play they have in supporting Good.

All this for a kinder, more just, and let’s face it, smarter way of taking care of business, our health, one another and the planet.

~ Wendy Irwin, Founder and CEO

Site Spotlight: Curt’s Café

“You have to be crazy to do something like this,” laughs Susan Trieschmann as she tells me of opening Curt’s Café. Since 2012, Curt’s has trained at-risk young adults, many of whom are former non-violent offenders and lack the skills required to procure and maintain employment. “The goal of Curt’s is to job-train them and get them employed,” says Trieschmann. Of the thirty-five students who have undergone Curt’s training, about eighty percent have landed a job or returned to school.

With the help of volunteers and staff, Susan teaches life skills to her students with five vegetable beds that sit behind her the café. They offer a hands-on way to learn about food and where it comes from. For many of the students, these gardens are their first exposure to the kale, cucumbers, and other vegetables that grow in the beds, and the harvest doesn’t go uneaten. “Sometimes we’ll make a salad for ourselves in the back, and other times we send it home with the kids to use at home.” Trieschmann, who insists she is bad at gardening and gives credit to everyone else at Curt’s for keeping the gardens green, acknowledges that the garden’s lessons have taught her, too. “I think we were all shocked when we saw how cauliflower grows!” she says.

Trieschmann knows that a successful transition from life in the criminal justice system requires more than learning a set of practical skills. For those at Curt’s who have experienced the loss of loved ones to violence, prison time and other hardships, a belief that life can change does not always come naturally. Deeply affected by witnessing transformational stories, Susan knows that change is possible. She values the gardens as a way to reiterate simple truths that encourage her employees who can find themselves caught in a season of hopelessness. “The gardens are a model of continued growth, hope, and life…[the plants] come back every year,” Trieschmann explains. When the weather permits, the worn-out workers relax at the end of a long day in the garden space and enjoy each other while sharing life stories and soaking up Trieschmann and her team’s encouragement and guidance.

~ Kayla Foulk

Public Health and Urban Gardening: Combatting Structural Violence

What does urban gardening have to do with public health?

As a Northwestern student studying public health, I feel like I’m having my eyes opened every day, and not usually in an uplifting way. It sometimes feels like a loss of innocence to learn about the policy-level infrastructures that make American health look the way it does today. We are taught to look at national trends, (in my case I am interested in the growing obesity epidemic) and ask why: Why do we see the correlations and disparities that we see? Why do certain populations have limited access to resources? Why do we see persisting health problems that are so seemingly preventable?

A regular term thrown around, one that I find I can’t get through a public health discussion without using, is “structural violence”. That phrase is just a lofty, academic way of saying that privileged Americans have socially reinforced access to resources that make them healthy, and for underprivileged Americans, the reverse is true.

The idea is that social infrastructure is so incorporated into society that it can cause physical harm, thus the word “violence”. Preventative medicine and healthy lifestyle education are big areas that are lacking for less advantaged populations. These are areas that don’t tend to get much attention since its hard to quantify (and financially justify) the impact of health problems hypothetically avoided. To give a concrete example, structural violence often times looks like the difference between Patient A, who is diagnosed with diabetes in its early stages through regular doctor visits, versus Patient B who isn’t diagnosed with the same disease until dangerous complications necessitate an emergency room visit. This example might seem like a comparison of individuals, but in a public health sense, it’s a trend along racial groups and socioeconomic statuses. It becomes a comparison of populations in which some are advantaged, and others have a system of inequalities working against them, in other words, structural violence.

What I have come to realize is that structural violence comes in many forms, both nationally and globally. The American food system is an example that creates and/or reinforces inequality. It is no coincidence that maps of urban food deserts, areas in which no affordable fruits and vegetables are available within 1 mile, correspond with mapping of income gaps, racial correlations and, of course, health disparities. The important thing to remember with food deserts is that in America, we have an abundance of food. It is not a question of lack of availability of produce; rather hungry people suffer from lack of access, either locationally or financially. When people lack this access to produce, it shows up on their bodies. Obesity and other chronic illnesses like hypertension and diabetes are soaring in food-insecure areas. A final thing to remember is that food insecurity, and subsequent malnourishment looks different in America than it might in other countries. Malnourished literally means poor nutrition. This can refer to undernutrition, which we often see on the bodies of hungry people around the world. But more likely for our nation, malnourishment is going to look like obesity. There’s no lack of calories in food deserts, found in fast food and packaged goods, but there is still a significant lack of nutrition.

The malnutrition found in food deserts is clearly a public health priority, and it’s an issue that I hope to focus my future career on. One day, I certainly hope that this country can achieve the grand scale changes that need to be made in order to repair the structural violence of food insecurity. This will require a lot of legislative policy change regarding agricultural subsidies, as well as a national restructuring of preventative healthcare screenings, and education on nutrition and cardiovascular health. But I have to remind myself that these are big dreams. For now, I think the best way we can be heard is to start within our local communities.

This is where urban farming comes in. Urban farming is a hands-on way to address food insecurity and malnutrition in food deserts. I chose to work with Yellow Tractor because of its capacity to both address a public health concern that I’m passionate about, and at the same time, to push ahead as a social enterprise. We are trying to reframe how people think about food and social justice, while also promoting healthier community nutrition. Rather than wait for policy change (which, in my opinion, won’t be for a while), I love that urban farming takes matters into its own hands. Some of the lofty infrastructural ideas that I talked about are crucial, but they take time and political cooperation. Urban gardening won’t solve everything, but its an important public health initiative, and it’s moving in the right direction.

~ Emily Kaplan

Green Thumbs: Sometimes Born, More Often Created

Some of us are driven by a passion to garden from the start…and some of us stumble into it, almost by accident. For me, it was a way to connect fundamentally with earth, nature, and my children…with a lot of fumbling experimentation!

I started ‘gardening’ casually, with houseplants and summer annuals in pots. We’d always had them as a child, so I reasoned that I could do that much. But, after the puppies and the indoor forced air/drafty window combination wiped out all those houseplants, I had to take other action to determine if I actually had a green thumb.

It was time for the big step of moving outside, where the environment was far less under my control.

The annuals in pots were fun, but there had to be more, right? I got to work in earnest, while children grew (and dogs continued to pursue all things edible indoors and out) and nature toyed with me. I quickly learned that the soil needed…help. Heavy clay is suitable to a few native plants (and I had to learn what those were, now that I was invested), but if there was any hope of me working in that soil, we had to work together. So began the soil amendments.

And how about peas fresh off the vine, or cherry tomatoes? The years have tumbled together now, but over time, we have tried as many things as we could in our backyard efforts. Carrots were mini without intention. The pumpkins turned out to be small gourds, which repurposed nicely in the fall. Memories began to come back, as years peeled away to remind me of time spent outdoors. There were wheelbarrow rides, “accidental” hose incidents, berry picking, flower picking, toads, frogs, snakes…seeing what the neighbor’s garden had, trading, bartering the fruits that sprang from the earth.

There was the time the preschooler girls picked an example of every single flower blooming—including some that were a bit unique and rare—and presented me with the bouquet. How could I do anything but thank them with grace for their love? Some of those were flowers and bulbs we’d planted together!

What kick-started the blooming bonanza was a stop at the local plant sale, years ago. I was still in the houseplant stage, losing them with a regularity that was discouraging. I wandered and pondered how many “perennials” to invest in, how much I dared to try.

This short statement changed my approach to the garden, and slowly, my life. What did I have to lose? Wasn’t life for living, trying, spreading one’s wings—teaching our children, sharing with our neighbors, engaging with time and seasons and savoring it all? I found some of the answer in the clematis pictured here, which has been growing for close to two decades. It has good years and bad. And it took me years, and cooperation from mother nature, to have the rose and the clematis bloom at the same time, but when it does, it is well worth it. Very quietly, I walked up to a sweet older woman and asked my question. “Would you recommend this plant?” She sized me up and started with questions: Where will you plant it? How much sun will it receive? How is the soil? What about the drainage? I soberly answered them all, and then, to my surprise, she pronounced, “Just try it! What have you got to lose?”

Over time, I began sharing success (and failure) stories with friends and neighbors. We grew community as we grew forward. I wanted to learn more, and read voraciously. I envied other garden zones intensely, sometimes loathing my own. (Gardeners have bad years, too.) Like all good stories, I fell back in love repeatedly with my own garden and my own work. And in the drought years, I could let it go. And marvel at nature’s ultimate resilience.

What did I have to lose? Jump into the world, embrace it and give it a try!

~ Anne Sorensen

This piece was originally featured on EcoMyths Alliance blog, see more here:
http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/04/green-thumbs-sometimes-born-more-often-created/

The Beauty of Spring

“Do we have to scare people about the environment in order to make a difference?” a local filmmaker asks Alice Waters, the mother of American food and a local food activist for more than 50 years. He has a point: fear has been at the center of much of the environmental movement, and it continues to drive our awareness of environmental issues. Heat waves, drought, a rising sea level; all of these become a concern when we are faced with the fear that we might—and likely will—be adversely affected.

But Waters says no, that she prefers finding things that are beautiful and shedding light on that beauty.

This is a precious time of year in the Midwest, precious because it is fleeting but also because it is filled with so much beauty. The grass is turning green again and buds are forming on trees. We have said goodbye to snow (or so we hope from here on forward) and traded in our shovels for rakes.

I brag about this time of year to visitors and transplants. “Just wait, you will be amazed by the way things come alive again,” I tell them. And after the kind of brutal winter we have had here, they truly want to believe me.

Sure enough, we emerge from our homes and shelters to find everyone around us has emerged as well. That instinct to be outside under the sun and among nature is deep within all of us. We are drawn to what is beautiful.

Soon enough, though, we will complain about the heat, the humidity, the overcrowded beaches and bike paths. We will lust after fall fashions and tire of the sweat marks on our clothing. We will be reminded of the dangers of extreme weather and a changing climate.

Before all that, let us appreciate this brief transition and the renewal that spring brings. Recognize that life is budding all around us and that we too—an integral part of nature—are blossoming anew.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with fear; it is more challenging to practice appreciation and to connect with your natural intuition. Taking time to recognize the beauty of nature is just as important as bringing your plastic bags to the grocery store or taking a shorter shower. We cannot fight for a sustainable planet if we do not appreciate what it is we are fighting for.

~ Rana Marks