Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chemical Fog

I find it ironic that I can hear the whine of the mosquito spray trucks, belching a thick cloud of chemicals on every surface in my town, just as I start this post. While my city's mission statement tells me that they will look out for my health, safety and welfare, I am made to feel otherwise when they send out the following newsflash notifying me of their intent to spray the chemical Anvil for mosquito control this evening:
PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT Notice of Scheduled Adult Mosquito Insecticide Spraying
Please be advised that the City, utilizing the services of Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management Inc., will be implementing a citywide application of insecticide during the period from dusk to dawn tonight, Wednesday, July 30, 2008.
The City and Clarke Utilize a Synthetic Pyrethroid named ANVIL for purposes of controlling the adult mosquito population. ANVIL is safe to humans if applied in strict conformance with the product labeling. Those individuals with asthma and other respiratory conditions are advised to stay indoors with windows closed during and at least 1 hour following the misting application.
ANVIL is applied by Ultra Low Volume (ULV) misting equipment that accurately controls the size of the droplets (50 microns) and the application rates (0.21 to 0.62 of an ounce of ANVIL per acre).
The only conditions that will cause a re-scheduling of the ULV application are the presence of precipitation, high winds or temperatures at the time of application below 55 degrees F. Should a re-scheduling of the ULV application be required, please check the City Web Page for current status.
The only way that residents of our town are told about this mosquito spraying is if they sign up for notification via email. Many many are unaware of this program and are kept in the dark. When I first moved to town, I did not know about the spraying program, and would wake up to the sound of the spray trucks, chemical smell drifting into my windows. I would rush around closing all of the windows, fearing for my son who has asthma. Sometimes this spraying is done on beautiful Friday nights when many citizens of my town are out walking their dog or enjoying an evening on their patio.
I talked to the mayor about the spraying program and he told me that most people don't question it. Instead, he hears from them a day or so after the spraying, complaining that they still have mosquitoes at their house. I am shocked at what people will expose themselves to in order to live in a sanitized environment. Don't they get it that we are all connected, if we kill the mosquitoes, we are also killing ourselves?
Beyond Pesticides, , a national coalition against the misuse of pesticides, provides the following information on their website in regard to the spraying of Anvil for mosquito control. This piece talks about the dangers of Anvil exposure and also the ineffectiveness of the chemical in controlling mosquitoes.
Beyond Today , an Organization for Chicagoans who want to do more about the environment and social justice placed the following information on their website about the spraying of Anvil for mosquito control:

“Anvil is a pesticide sprayed on Chicago neighborhoods as an attempt to reduce West Nile Mosquitoes.
Beyond Today has opposed the spray due to research showing the spray is ineffective and dangerous.
Here are some of the concerns that Beyond Today community members and organizers have expressed:
-Inadequate notice of the spray has lead to overexposure. Residents are literally sprayed in the face as they cross streets walking babies, bicycling, or eat in sidewalk cafes.
-Research shows the spray is ineffective. Even studies completed by the pesticide companies themselves claim less than a 75% kill rate. Mosquitoes emerge from standing water the next day.
-The standing water removal program is not apparent. 311 calls to remove standing water are ignored.
-The spray contains a carcinogen and other chemicals which are endocrine disruptors and have not yet been adequately studied. This category of insecticide, the synthetic pyrethroids, has been making headlines as new studies reveal alarming correlations with many illnesses. We should not spray this on our children until long term studies show the spray is safe.
-The spray is toxic to bees, fish, and all aquatic life.
-The spray is toxic to dragonflies, which are the mosquito's natural predator. When the mosquito's predators are killed, there is an explosion in the mosquito population and the demand for more spraying.
-The pesticide lobby has paid lobbyists to run op-ed pieces in Chicago papers claiming that environmentalists care more about bugs than people. The only company making money from the spray is Clarke Chemical, therefore, they likely fund this effort.”
I feel pretty helpless about all this, especially when I hear from my mayor that nobody questions the spraying. Sometimes all of the damage we are doing to our environment just feels so overwhelming...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Free Water

I hooked a rain barrel up to the side of my house last year and it really was quite easy to do. Using a hack saw, I cut off the bottom section of my downspout, placed my terra cotta colored rain barrel on cinder blocks, hooked up a hose to a spigot on the bottom of the barrel and voila, free water to use for watering my garden!I soon found that I felt a connection with the rain that emptied into the barrel after each storm and hated to waste a single drop. I had done the collecting of this water and I began to cherish it and see the value in it. Unlike the outdoor tap water which seemed overly plentiful as it gushed out of the tap, the water coming out of the barrel flowed slower, taking it's time and feeling more prized. Becoming attached to this rainwater made me aware of the disconnect I felt towards my city water and I began to see that I should do a better job of appreciating and conserving that water as well.
A year after I installed my rain barrel, a local committee that I belong to began to sell rain barrels at festivals in our community so that others could take advantage of collecting the water that fell on their yards. Pictured above is my son Jimmy and his girlfriend Megan stenciling a demonstration rain barrel in one of our booths this summer.
Our committee has also encouraged local business owners in our downtown to purchase and decorate rain barrels which they then place in front of their business in order to create more awareness about them. As a result of our efforts, people in our town will be holding onto the rain that falls on their property, rather than letting it rush downstream, which will help to recharge our local aquifers and also to reduce the demand on outdoor watering. Drop by drop, I am constantly amazed at all of the simple little things that one can do to bring about real change.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summer fun!

Yesterday my son Ryan, who is homeschooled, told me that his friend down the street, who attends the local middle school, is bored with summer. This friend told Ryan that school gives him something to do and now that he doesn’t have school, he is bored.

It was not long ago that I heard Ryan express that same sentiment. Before I took Ryan out of school two years ago, he would also find himself bored as the long unscheduled days of summer wore on. After being held in the rigid environment of school all year, being told how to spend each minute, it was hard to for Ryan to transition to the carefree days of summer because he did not know how to fill up the huge blocks of time he was suddenly faced with. The many hours spent in school, learning what the school curriculum deemed important, gave Ryan precious little time to learn about who he was or determine what type of activities he would enjoy exploring if given the chance.

It takes lots and lots of down time to slow down enough to hear your inner voice pulling you toward your interests. It took my son well over a year after being taken out of school to gather his thoughts and begin to express how he would like to spend his time. Initially he waited for me to guide him in his choices, just as his teacher had, but after many months he began to find his way. As he discovered that he was in charge of how he would like to spend his day, he began to feel empowered and after that things just kind of snowballed.

In the last nine months, my son has taken up four new activities, all of his own choosing, which he is happily pursuing this summer. At first it was archery and after gaining confidence in that choice and understanding that he was free to pursue anything he desired, in quick succession over a month’s time, he added fishing, skateboarding and then guitar.

As this summer winds down and we head into fall, Ryan's day will not change much as he continues to pursue these activities and others. His interests will guide his learning then as it does now and this freedom will help to keep him from feeling the boredom he once did.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Garlic Harvest

I have never grown garlic before and my first attempt turned out wonderfully! I think that I will become a garlic farmer and grow only garlic from now on, especially after the failures I have been experiencing in the lettuce department this year. Last year my swiss chard, black seeded simpson lettuce, and beets were fantastic. This year they failed, even after two tries. I hope to replant them later this summer in another spot. At least my mesculan mix and mustard are doing well and lucky for me that I like spicy lettuce!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wind Power

Our house is powered entirely by alternative energy. We don’t have a windmill in our backyard nor solar panels on our roof but we use clean energy just the same because of our affiliation with a company called Community Energy . We purchase wind power Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s) from Community Energy and they ensure that clean wind energy is generated and delivered to the power grid on our behalf, ultimately making the mix of electricity in the power grid cleaner. By buying wind energy from Community Energy we increase the amount of pollution-free wind generated electricity, and decrease the need for energy generation from other non-renewable polluting sources.

The wind power REC’s we purchase from Community Energy cost $2.50 per block of 100 kWh in addition to what we pay our electric company. We began by purchasing four blocks of wind energy per month in early 2006 when our average monthly kilowatt-hours (kWh) used was approximately 850, so that we would be powered 50% by the wind. Late last year, we switched all of the lights in our house to CFL’s which reduced our monthly kWhs by 100. We anticipate our recent switch away from the electric clothes dryer to clothesline will save an additional 50 kWh per month which will bring us down to a monthly average of 700 kWh. In order to be 100% wind power, we now buy 7 blocks of wind energy REC’s per month for a total cost of $17.50. By reducing our electric bill by a total of 150 KWh per month through conservation measures, we have shaved $15 off of our electric bill which practically pays for the 7 blocks of wind energy REC’s. By making these simple changes we are encouraging wind farms to be built which will ensure cleaner air for the future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Natural Doggie Treats

Woof! Welcome to my garden. This is where my mom grows my most favorite food of all...tomatoes! I first discovered fresh vine grown tomatoes about two years ago when I wrapped my mouth around what I thought was a red ball. My mom told me to keep my paws off the goods but I didn't listen.
Now that it is summer again, I keep watch over the tomato patch each day, sniffing around the vines and waiting. I know it won't be long before it is filled with those warm wonderful red orbs. My mom is so sweet, growing these treats especially for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rural Transformations

I just finished reading Gina Olszowski’s book “Now Coming To A Town Near You” which gives voice to the changes that urban sprawl brings to small rural towns here in the Midwest. Her book is filled with the images of subdivisions filled with row upon row of identical house boxes containing a single tree in the parkway, flat lawn stretching out to a stark white curb, newly paved streets beyond.

I am immediately struck by the sterile qualities of these subdivisions and find myself comparing them to older more established neighborhoods full of charm and character. Today's developers seem to lack imagination, or maybe they, like many others in our culture, are too profit driven to care about aesthetics. These newly built home boxes, called that by me because they contain few windows and tend to look more like a box than a home, seem to rise up out of the ground, unconnected to their surroundings, an ugly bump on the landscape.

I can’t help but think of what has been taken away in the creation of these subdivisions. The farm fields with their red barns and white farmhouses, or the woodlots with their many animal inhabitants. Prairies filled with grasses and forbs blowing in the wind, butterflies and birds circling overhead.

I am also struck by how this development comes to be in the first place. Unfortunately, when new businesses first come to a rural town, they are welcomed. Living for so long without big box stores and their huge supply of goods, rural town residents are excited about the possibility of not having to drive many miles to the grocery or hardware store. What they may not think about until it is too late, is how these stores are going to change the feel of their town. In the blink of an eye, development steamrolls into town and rips out its character.

Gina’s book is a wake up call to small towns that have not been bulldozed over yet and a call to reclaim those towns that have already been transformed by urban sprawl. Intact rural towns need to be aware of what may be coming and to take steps to advert the changes now. For those towns that have been harmed by sprawl, Gina asks that you think about how you personally contribute to the sprawl lifestyle. When you buy from a corporate owned hardware store rather than a mom and pop operation, you contribute to the economy that supports sprawl.

As Gina says in her book, “As we pave over nature, our pavement becomes more of a reality to us than what lies beneath it”. Her words encourage me to continue on my path of knowing and protecting the natural word while teaching my children about it. I certainly don’t want my children to see pavement as their reality. But as I think about the pavement filled shopping centers and roadways with multiple lanes near my home, maybe they already do.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cloth Birthday Bags

Here is what greeted me on my birthday the other day. Animal print cloth bags filled with garden gloves, books and clothing accompanied by homemade cards produced by my husband and sons.
We have been using cloth gift bags for Christmas for about 15 years...using the same set of bags over and over again...laying them out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill, but it was only in the last few years that we extended that tradition to include birthdays. Each of us picked out a favorite fabric which I then made into a total of four bags. The bags are then used throughout the year for each of our birthdays.
The homemade card tradition came about as a result of me wanting something personal from my family. For many years when they would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, I would tell them that the only thing I wanted was a poem that they had written. While they balked at the effort required for that, they didn't resist my suggestion to make up a card. I treasure each of the cards they have made, a true reflection of each of their personalities.
For me, trying to live a more sustainable life means forming connections, whether it is with with the local farmer that grows my food, or my child when they give of themselves through a homemade card. It also means bringing more meaning to the way I do things. Using cloth birthday bags over and over again year to year, makes the whole process take on a different feel. I am connected to the cloth bags with their beautiful bird or dog prints and the history and story behind them, much more than store bought wrapping paper that will be ripped off in a minute and thrown away.