Swamp Yankees, The Greatest Generation, and the Nagging Problem of Affluence

An interior view of the author's 1770 home mid-process during rehabilitation. Copyright: Richard Telford, 2010

An interior view of the author’s 1770 home  during the process of rehabilitation. Copyright: Richard Telford, 2010

By Richard Telford

Early in my first year of teaching in northeastern Connecticut, more than two decades ago, I heard a colleague refer to her husband as a “typical Swamp Yankee.” He had acquired numerous lawnmowers in various states of disrepair and was slowly pirating parts from one or another to produce a working machine. It was the first time I had heard the term Swamp Yankee, but it would not be the last. Though it has historically been used largely as a pejorative, albeit a tempered one, I have come to see it as complimentary. In fact, I believe that a Swamp Yankee ethic, as I will try to frame it here, is a potent tool in the fight to mitigate the effects of the environmental crisis with which we are presently beset and likely always will be.

The exterior rehabilitation of the author's home nearing completion. All exterior work, including reframing, sheathing, siding, and finishing was done by the author and his wife. Copyright: Richard Telford, 2010

The exterior rehabilitation of the author’s home nearing completion. All exterior work, including reframing, sheathing, siding, and finishing was done by the author and his wife. Copyright: Richard Telford, 2010

Ruth Schell, in the May 1963 issue of American Speech, published by Duke University, wrote what may be the only scholarly treatise on the term Swamp Yankee. Schell noted that the term appeared to have a limited geographic range in terms of popular use, largely confined to southeastern Massachusetts, northeastern Connecticut, and northwestern Rhode Island, the junction of the three states. In that region she found that a Swamp Yankee was seen as “a rural dweller–one of stubborn, old-fashioned, frugal, English-speaking Yankee stock, of good standing in the rural community, but usually possessing minimal formal education and little desire to augment it.” In communities where the term was most commonly used, she found that the colloquialism “refers very simply to a rural resident of Yankee descent and inclinations, who is of long and, generally, good standing in the area.” The more localized the term, the less focused it seems on education or the lack thereof, and this, for me, is a distinction that matters.

Front Room After

The same interior view as above, following rehabilitation. The brass light fixture at center was retrieved from the scrap metal pile at a local bulky waste facility. The staircase, which replaced a structurally unsound and lead-paint-laden one, was fabricated from church pews that had been removed during renovation from a local church. Copyright: Richard Telford, 2011

Having lived in northeastern Connecticut for the last 22 years, 14 of which have been spent rehabilitating our 1770 farmhouse, I have come to see myself as a full-fledged Swamp Yankee, a term which, for me, has no pejorative quality. For me, the Swamp Yankee ethic boils down to the practice of fully and wisely using all resources, both material and intellectual, and this, I think, becomes more critical each day as we continue to assess and understand more fully the deleterious effect our societal wastefulness has on the natural world and, ultimately, on ourselves. For my family, the Swamp Yankee ethic manifests itself in living frugally in economic terms so that we can live more fully in terms of living close to the land and to each other. We live only on my teaching salary, which allows for our kids to grow up in their own home. Our frugality manifests itself in buying nearly everything secondhand, doing nearly all home repairs ourselves (learned mostly through books), and, perhaps most significantly, in rehabilitating our 1770 farmhouse, which was being considered for demolition before I bought it. In simple terms, we have worked hard to distinguish between what we might want and what we truly need, and we have modeled that way of life for our children. As I note above, the benefits of our Swamp Yankee ethic extend far beyond the economics. Such an ethic rejects the disposability that defines our society, reducing our environmental impact significantly. For us, it is a kind of living governed both by necessity and by the desire to give to our children, and subsequent generations, a more sustained and sustainable natural world.

A United States government-produced propaganda poster promoting the planting of Victory Gardens during the Second World War. Source: United States National Archive, Identifier: 513659

A United States government-produced propaganda poster promoting the planting of Victory Gardens during the Second World War. Source: United States National Archive, Identifier: 513659

Tom Brokaw, in 1998, invoked the term “The Greatest Generation” to recognize the generation of Americans who had lived through the deprivation of The Great Depression and rallied to fight the rising Axis Powers both on the battlefield and through solidarity on the home front. Americans ran scrap metal drives, planted Victory Gardens, rationed basic staples such as sugar and gasoline, and halted commercial automotive production in deference to wartime production; they forewent luxuries in all forms to contribute to a cause on which the survival of civil society as they knew it hinged. In short, they provided an example of sustainable living in a world of limited resources, though their greatest concerns, understandably, did not center on the loss of biodiversity or the changing climate. They demonstrated a selflessness that is largely absent from American culture these days.

Those who challenge the validity of anthropogenic climate change, and even many who acknowledge it, might argue that the present environmental crisis is not comparable to a global war that precipitated the estimated loss of 70 to 80 million combatants and civilians worldwide. I disagree. At present, we are at war with ourselves, pitting consumption-driven self-interest against long-term sustainability. The evidence of this war is all around us, and the casualties are real, though not so easily quantified. According to the World Food Programme, for example, “Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life.” To what degree is this number directly related to unsustainable agriculture, or to ecosystem changes rooted in anthropogenic climate change, or to government corruption that values self-interest over the environment? Consider, too, the long-term effects of the recent drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan; or the cascading effects of the loss of polar sea ice due to rising ocean temperatures; or the plastics that comprise the vast majority of oceanic litter; or the widespread, global loss of biodiversity; or the poisoning of groundwater caused by the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. How can we quantify the loss of health and life that will occur for generations as a result of these and other manifestations of the environmental crisis we have wrought? How can we fail to see that this is a crisis of unprecedented urgency?

A political cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, in which he critiques American isolationism at the outset of World War II. In particular, he takes aim at American aviator Charles Lindbergh, referred to as "Lindy" at the bottom of the sign, who led the America First Committee, which opposed entry into he war.

A political cartoon by Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, in which he critiques American isolationism at the outset of World War II. In particular, he takes aim at American aviator Charles Lindbergh, referred to as “Lindy” at the bottom of the sign. Lindbergh led the powerful America First Committee, which opposed entry into the war.

Seven decades after the end of the Second World War, though we lull ourselves daily into thinking otherwise, we stand at precisely such a crossroads faced by Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” In fact, the long-term stakes are higher. Climate change is not a brutal dictator whose rise to power can be abruptly halted. Nor can accelerated resource depletion, habitat fragmentation, biodiversity loss, or other dynamics of our present environmental crisis be cast in simple terms. Our assault on the environment, whether conscious or unconscious, is omnipresent. Yet it is also largely invisible to those who cannot or choose not to see it, rendering the threat even more potent. It is not just civil human society at stake, as it was in 1939; it is our long-term survival as a species, and the threat will continue for decades, perhaps centuries, or even millennia. It is easy to decry such a statement as alarmist, of course, but doing so ignores the staggering speed with which we are depleting resources and degrading the environment in ways that neither we nor the Earth itself can reverse.

The front cover of Ann Morrow Lindbergh's 1940 book The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith. From the author's collection.

The front cover of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s 1940 book The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith. From the author’s collection.

In her 1940 book The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, facing the rise of Nazism, Communism, and Fascism in Europe, wrote the following: “In fact, on the average citizen, even more than on the expert, falls the responsibility of decision, in present issues, and the burden of its consequences.” Seventy-five years later, it would be hard to sum up more eloquently the dynamic of our present environmental crisis; we, as “average citizen[s],” cannot ignore the critical role we can and must play in solving complex environmental problems rather than exacerbating them. There is, though, a darker dimension to Lindbergh’s treatise, one that is especially pertinent now. In the closing pages, she writes, “Because of this tradition and this heritage, many of us hoped that in America, if nowhere else in the world, it should be possible to meet the wave of the future in comparative harmony and peace. It should be possible to change an old life to a new without such terrible bloodshed as we see today in Europe. We have been a nation who looked forward to new ideas, not back to old legends.”  Though she seems reticent to state it outright in the 41-page text, it is clear by the end of her Confession that she advocates for an isolationist course. This is not surprising, given that her husband, American aviator Charles Lindbergh, headed one of the most potent isolationist groups in the country, the America First Committee. In the closing pages of her treatise, Anne Morrow Lindbergh argues that, by remaining aloof of the conflict in Europe and by “giving up part of the ease of living and the high material standard we have been noted for […],” i.e. the loss of European luxury imports, America “might gain in spirit, vigor, and in self-reliance.” The hindsight of history bears out the flaws her argument, and the application of that history in the present leads to one inevitable conclusion: such aloofness cannot save us now, just as it could not have done so 75 years ago. We cannot, in our comparative affluence as a society, isolate ourselves from the effects of the present environmental crisis. If we do not face it openly and act on all scales to change course, we are ignorant or willful conspirators in our own demise.

The author's father, third from left, during his duty tour in the Philippines, 1944-1945.

The author’s father, third from left, during his duty tour in the Philippines, 1944-1945.

Our affluence as a society allows us in the short-term to keep at a distance many of the direct effects of anthropogenic climate change that others now face head on—desertification, increased vulnerability to catastrophic weather events, and famine, to name only a few—much as geography allowed America, for a time, to isolate itself from the upheaval fomented in Europe by the Axis Powers. But in both cases, the “distance” from the respective problems was and is illusory. We can only buy our way out of the problems of anthropogenic climate change—and of many other manifestations of the present environmental crisis—for a finite time. The sooner we stop trying to do so, the better. On the individual scale, an ethic forged along the lines of the southern New England Swamp Yankee offers a good starting point. On the societal scale, we must look to Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and work to emulate their capacity to look away from themselves and toward the greater good. My father was born in 1926 and later served as a Staff Sergeant in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, so I grew up surrounded by his contemporaries. I think Brokaw got it right. But for us to emulate that generation and to face the environmental crisis with like selflessness and resolve, we must first see the crisis as a crisis. To do so, we must come to terms with a complex and oft-hidden enemy—ourselves.

 

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Saving the World One Less Pickle at a Time

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By Neva Knott

I teach Freshman Composition. Recently, I assigned Charles Fishman’s “The Squeeze,” a chapter from his book, The Wal-Mart Effect. Fishman’s book was published in 2006–it’s been around awhile, and it is not my story here. Nor is Wal-Mart. I want to talk about another effect, an environmental effect exemplified by Fishman’s story of the gallon jar of pickles.

“The Squeeze” begins:

“A gallon-sized jar of whole pickles is something to behold. The jar itself is the size of a small aquarium. The fat green pickles, floating in swampy juice, look reptilian, their shapes exaggerated by the glass of the jar. The jar weighs twelve pounds, too big to carry with one hand.

“The gallon jar of pickles is a display of abundance and excess. It is entrancing, and also vaguely unsettling. Wal-Mart fell in love with Vlasic’s gallon jar of pickles.

“Wal-Mart priced it at $2.97…”.

This low price created an unbalanced demand for a gallon jar of pickles. As Fishman explains in his essay, families bought the gigantic jar rather than one of more practical size because of the price, “200,000 gallons of pickles, just in gallon jars…every week. Whole fields of cucumbers were heading out the door.” Families would “eat a quarter of a jar and throw the thing away when it got moldy.” In turn, cucumber growers were unable to fill the demand to Vlasic, and here in lies the environmental problem that is my story.

Every time a consumer–any one of us–spends a dollar,  he or she is creating an environmental impact. Here’s how the waste of pickles ripples through the environment:

  • All those gallon jars were trucked to Wal-Mart, so there’s fuel source and expenditure and carbon emissions to consider;
  • All that fuel was drilled for somewhere, and that process affects water and air quality;
  • Processing all those cucumbers into pickles took large amounts of water and energy;
  • Manufacturing the glass gallon jars also took large amounts of water and energy;
  • Growing cucumbers is water-intensive, so all the water used to grow the thrown-out extras went to waste;
  • Growing cucumbers is also fertilizer and pesticide-intensive (those Vlasic pickles aren’t from organically grown vegetables), and that fertilizer poisons water and creates green-house gases;
  • Chemical run-off from major agricultural regions causes dead zones in the ocean;
  • Farming involves fossil fuel, so more carbon emissions and fuel expenditure;
  • Agriculture requires that land be cleared to make fields, so deforestation occurs. No trees means no carbon storage, so more is emitted into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas;
  • Deforestation causes habitat loss which contributes to endangerment of species;
  • And I bet most of those moldy glass jars went into the landfill rather than the recycling bin.

When families chose to buy that jar, symbolic of “abundance and excess,” they also chose to add to these environmental problems. As consumers we have, embedded in our daily habits, more power than we realize in terms of environmental solutions.

Wal-Mart’s use of the gallon jar of pickles is not much different than the recent free shipping gimmick employed by companies like Zappos and Amazon. This past holiday season, NPR covered the effects of free shipping on working conditions at both of these companies (actually, Zappos is now owned by Amazon). I know working conditions is not an environmental concern, but it’s a similar consumer issue. By paying $5 for having my shoes sent to my home instead of expecting them to arrive at no cost to me, I can promote fair treatment of workers in those supply warehouses. Same with the pickles–by purchasing only a usable amount, the consumer takes strain off the environment being used to produce the wasted excess.

By wasting pickles, we’re wasting land, water, air, fuel, and putting at risk the vitality of other species.

How Saving Orangutans Can Lower Your Cholesterol

This nearly mature male orang utan (Jenggo) was released several years ago from the Frankfurt Zoological Society Reintroduction Centre in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of WWF and obtained at http://worldwildlife.org/photos/sumatran-orangutan--3 © Fletcher & Baylis / WWF-Indonesia

This nearly mature male orangutan (Jenggo) was released several years ago from the Frankfurt Zoological Society Reintroduction Centre in Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Photo courtesy of WWF and obtained at http://worldwildlife.org/photos/sumatran-orangutan–3
© Fletcher & Baylis / WWF-Indonesia

In my work as a nurse coach, I often explain to my patients the finer nuances of blood cholesterol laboratory results and how changes in nutrition can improve their numbers.  One type of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), is otherwise known as “the bad cholesterol” because it is the type of cholesterol most responsible for causing blocked arteries.  Blocked arteries increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Eating foods that are high in saturated fats, such as palm oil, significantly increases these risks because doing so raises LDL levels in the blood.  I liken it to pouring grease down the kitchen sink.  Eventually, the pipes are going to become clogged unless some action is taken to break up and eliminate the ever mounting accumulation of sticky goo.

Given this well established wisdom regarding palm oil’s negative effects on health, a logical expectation would be for a decreasing demand for palm oil.  Instead, demand has increased significantly.  From 2005-2012, the United States Department of Agriculture reported production and importation of palm oil had doubled.  In 2012, importation of palm oil to the U.S. was 2.7 billion pounds.  This is approximately 380 million gallons.  To give you perspective, that is 500 Olympic sized pools or more volume than was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico by BP Deepwater Horizon in 2010.

In addition to being a food additive, palm oil is used in personal care products (shampoo, lipstick), detergents, and has increasing use as biofuel.  By 2006, palm oil represented 65 percent of oil traded internationally.  Consumption of palm oil is expected to double again by 2020.

Why are we using so much palm oil?  Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature and one of the world’s most versatile raw materials.  Oil palms are highly efficient oil producers, with each fruit containing about 50% oil. Palm oil is obtained from both the fruit flesh and kernel of the oil palm tree.  Oil palms can grow 66 feet tall with leaves up to 15 feet long. They bear clusters of fruit all year long, with each fully matured cluster weighing up to 110 pounds. This efficiency leads to land requirements that are ten times less than other oil-producing crops.

Historically, palm oil production has come at a great price to the environment, with a particularly negative impact on orangutan habitat. In 1900, there were around 315,000 orangutans. Today, fewer than 50,000 exist in the wild.  Scientists say the palm oil industry is the biggest threat to orangutans, with the potential for orangutans to be extinct in the wild within 12 years.  But there is more to the story.  I like to believe this is an emerging positive story of the environment.

There is growing movement towards sustainable palm oil production.  Certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and palm kernel oil (CSPKO) is produced by palm oil plantations which have been independently audited and found to comply with the globally agreed environmental standards devised by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO was founded in 2003 and is the world’s leading initiative on sustainable palm oil. The principal objective of RSPO is “to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through cooperation within the supply chain and open dialogue between its stakeholders.” Forty percent of the world’s palm oil producers are members of the RSPO.  Members and participants include oil palm growers, manufacturers and retailers of palm oil products, environmental non-governmental organizations, and social non-governmental organizations.  For a list of members and other details, you may visit http://www.rspo.org/.  The following brief video summarizes the history and development of sustainable palm oil production and the RSPO.

Of course, the single most effective way to prevent the extinction of orangutans is to protect their habitat through decreased demand for palm oil products.  For humans, that would include decreased consumption of food-like products that elevate LDL.  There are several smart phone applications developed by zoos to help you determine which products are RSPO certified and/or palm oil free.  The app developed by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Android) provides a searchable list by product brand name and advises if the manufacturer utilizes RSPO certified palm oil providers.  The El Paso Zoo (Android) app utilizes a bar code scanner function to check items which are in their database and only advises if the product has palm oil, regardless of source certification.  Here is the link to the El Paso Zoo iPhone app version.  The El Paso Zoo app is the better choice if you wish to avoid palm oil entirely.

There is room for everyone on this planet.  We do not have to choose between anything except how to be smarter and more humane in the equitable development and distribution of resources.  A world with more orangutans AND healthier human hearts is one example of an ideal outcome and what this nurse coach considers to be a win-win scenario.

For more information about orangutans, please visit the factsheet provided by the World Wildlife Fund http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/orangutan_factsheet2006.pdf

Sustainability in Exile: Tibetan Farmers Cultivating Compassion

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By Neva Knott

Sustainability in Exile is a film that documents the sustainable agriculture projects of Tibetans in exile in four Tibetan refugee settlements in India: Bylakuppe, Hunsur, Mundgod, Kollegal. Tibetans are pioneering new relationships with food sources, landscapes, each other in terms of community, water sources…and, elephants.

About 130, 000 Tibetans live in India, exiled from their homeland of Nepal. Upon arrival to India, these refugees set up farming for sustenance in the mono-crop, GMO, chemical input methods used by Indian farmers. At the urging of the Dalai Lama, they switched to sustainable agriculture. His Holiness saw the inherent destruction in contemporary farming. His vision for adopting sustainable methods was to improve the quality of life for place, self, and future generations. These ideals are in line with the Buddhist practice of doing no harm. In fact, one of the farmers describes organic farming as expression of a “softer soul.” In 2004, to this end, the refuges began working with Dr. Jonathan Scherch of Antioch University Seattle, and Lobsang Tsering, a Fulbright Scholar at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Tsering was raised in an Indian refugee camp. He teamed up with Dr. Scherch to complete his thesis, focusing on Permaculture Design and sustainable agriculture in the Indian Tibetan settlements. The film was made to document their work.

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A PERMACULTURE DESIGN WORKSHOP AT BYLAKUPPE SETTLEMENT

Last winter, I attended a talk about Sustainability in Exile given by Dr. Scherch. I learned much that evening, and was inspired by the forward thinking and compassion in the Tibetan farmers, especially given their refugee status.

The farmers have met many challenges in transitioning from conventional to sustainable agriculture.

The land is severely depleted from growing the same crop year after year and from the harsh inputs of chemical fertilizers. This quality of the soil made it hard to establish new crops and to move away from using fertilizers. To amend the soil, the farmers are applying a slurry of dung as fertilizer and using vermiculture—worm-produced compost. Both the slurry and the compost are organic matter that comes from farming production and can be recycled into the land to improve its nutrient value. A secondary benefit to the use of organic matter is that it costs nothing, whereas chemical fertilizers are expensive.

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A LANDSCAPE OF WIND-SWEPT FARMS AT KOLLEGAL SETTLEMENT. DECADES OF CONVENTIONAL FARMING METHODS HAVE CREATED CHALLENGES AND DIFFICULTIES . . .

In a cultural sense, the 60s, 70s and 80s were the age of farmers in India and maintaining the food source was a normal occupation. Now, the younger generation doesn’t want to work hard in fields. As Dr. Scherch stated this point, a ripple of knowing laughter made its way around the room—this problem felt familiar, and is not limited to Tibetan farmers. It does raise the very essential question—who will succeed current farmers in food production and in food security?

Elephants trampling crops was a problem as farmers worked to establish their plots. The refugee camps were situated near elephant habitat grounds, and elephants need a large habitat. For these Buddhist farmers, simply killing the offending elephants was never an option. Instead, they developed deterrents. At night, watchers sit in trees, on alert for elephants. And, by surrounding the fields with deep trenches that the elephants cannot cross, they have been able to redirect traffic, saving both elephants and crops.

Many of the changes to sustainable organic farming caused economic improvements, and certainly secured a food source for the refugees. But, the market yield from the crops—the food left after families are fed—doesn’t provide enough cash to support the large, extended families that are part of Tibetan culture. So, the program developed a processing facility to package and brand crop abundance as Tibetan Organics.

bags-of-beans

There’s much innovation in Sustainability in Exile program. Farmers are producing biogas from animal waste to use as cooking fuel, employing labor-saving/efficiency promoting practices such as permaculture, keeping a seed bank, running a training center. They aren’t just growing crops; they’re building a food system for the future. As one farmer suggests in the film, “We are setting a good example for Indian farmers…when they see our success they will copy us.”

I hope the world will copy these examples of Tibetan farmers who are cultivating with compassion.

***

Please watch this amazing film. Here is a link to the film, and to a short video on a the work at Morethana Farm:

Sustainability in Exile: Tibetan Farmers Cultivating Compassion

Morethana Youtube

All Photographs are from the Sustainability in Exile website and are used with the permission of Dr. Scherch.

Saving the Scallop

Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus). (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus). (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

By Christine Harris

It was once believed that the resources of our vast oceans were inexhaustible, yet after centuries of pressure from a fishing industry looking to satisfy increasing demand with the aid of increasingly more advanced fishing technologies, many fish stocks are now seriously depleted.  While so many fisheries are experiencing a downward trend, off the Eastern coast of the United States, from Maine to North Carolina, the Atlantic sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) has experienced a remarkable comeback thanks to the collaborative efforts of fishermen, scientists, fishery managers and environmental activists.

By the early 1990s the future of the Atlantic sea scallop fishery looked bleak. It had reached unsustainable levels as a result of years of heavy harvesting.  In fact, sea scallops were in such high demand that it was rumored that some restaurants would fry up circles of dogfish, a small shark, as a substitute because using the real thing was cost prohibitive.

For scallopers fishing off the coast of New England, George’s Bank, a large elevated area of the seafloor stretching from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia provides rich fishing grounds for Atlantic sea scallops and several other species.  Following the steep decline in sea scallop stocks, managers closed three large areas of George’s Bank in 1994 to any type of fishing gear that would target Atlantic sea scallops and groundfish such as cod and flounder.  Both sea scallop and groundfish fisheries rely heavily on a fishing technique called dredging.  Dredging involves using fishing gear to drag along the bottom of the ocean floor and collect a targeted bottom-dwelling species.  The issue with dredging is that it is difficult to target just one species living on the ocean floor and there is often a large bycatch, or catch of other, unintended species.  Thus fishermen seeking out scallops may end up catching a large number of groundfish, and fishermen seeking out groundfish may end up catching a large number of scallops.

Another rule implemented in 1994 was an increase in the size of the rings in the dredges used for scallop fishing from three inches to four inches in order to allow smaller scallops to escape.  Also at this time a “crop rotation” system was implemented for the Atlantic sea scallop fishery in which certain areas of the Mid and North Atlantic were temporarily closed to fishing to allow the scallops to grow and mature.  The combination of these regulations have allowed the Atlantic sea scallop population to grow ten-fold since 1993 and the fishery has been operating at a sustainable level since 2001.  These developments have helped to make the Atlantic sea scallop fishery the most valuable wild scallop fishery in the world.

The Atlantic sea scallop population has been surveyed annually from North Carolina to Massachusetts since 1979 by scientists working for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. These surveys involve dividing the survey area into zones of varying depth and habitat and towing a dredge to document the marine life and conditions in these zones.  Researchers then analyze their catch to determine the average density of animals.  In recent years a new undersea camera known as HabCam has been used to supplement dredging data.  HabCam was developed by scientists as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute working with Cape Cod scallop fishermen and can supply information on scallop densities in a less labor-intensive way.

The Atlantic sea scallop fishery also participates in a research set-aside program.  These programs are unique to federal fisheries in the Northeast and involve fishermen setting aside an amount of their catch to be sold in order to fund research.  The research set-aside program for the Atlantic sea scallop fishery has funded industry-based surveys of access areas, research into bycatch reduction and bycatch avoidance, and research on loggerhead sea turtle populations.

Through detailed annual population surveys and the research set-aside program the future of the Atlantic sea scallop fishery looks promising.  Unfortunately much of the seafood we get at restaurants and markets is not part of a sustainable fishery.  To learn more about how to support sustainable fisheries visit seafoodwatch.org.

Viva La Garden

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By Tessa Alberts

My garden is a place I find solace from the plentiful strains of my life. It is a place for me to reconnect with something real, something tangible. This is my medicine, my Zen. Every year my hard work and beds of black gold are replaced by sustenance, growth and gratitude. That is irreplaceable in my world, where nothing is expected to take time. I have humble hopes of a river rock path that winds and wriggles through the many stalks and bushes of edibles, ending in a shingled shack. A place I can sow seeds and watch my garden grow…a place of my very own. I often wonder about the history of this small plot. Was it used for vegetable growing as well?–or maybe the raising of livestock. I have on many occasions watched deer munch my lettuce and beet greens. I inherently attempt to expel them, as if I have apt claim. But maybe this was their land not too long ago. I can share. The smell of minerals and the texture of the earth are solidified when my bounty comes and all the while I am privileged to forgo the supermarket, be outdoors and share it with numerous living things.

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The supermarkets aren’t terrible, save the fluorescent lighting and hoards of people. In all honesty I have very little against them. My issue is with the agricultural system from which we derive our nourishment. We have lost our connection with the natural world and have chosen to altogether disassociate ourselves from the most basic origins of our food. For most, absent are the thoughts beyond or behind those tightly wrapped packages of meat and produce for purchase in those pretty little stores. Aside from the ingestion of these living creatures, we at some point stopped knowing them–where they live, what they eat and how they are raised. This should be as important to us as eating, for we are a part of that very cycle. A cycle that is delicate and potent, which encompasses all living things and their environment. To ignore or deny this fact would mean we would most certainly break that cycle, condemning all of us to an existence void of life.

I choose not to preach about GMOs and the harsh treatment of our livestock. I would hope that most are aware. Instead I choose to address the governmental agencies that are forcibly preventing us from the reconnection we so desperately need. The process goes as such: we grow or raise the food; agencies like the FDA decide how much poison or non-food is acceptable in its cultivation, process and transfer. They decide when, where and how our food is grown and sold. For their services they get a portion of the profit. This process affects the price and quality of the foods we eat and makes it almost impossible for there to be a market for foods grown and sold outside of this system. Such agencies can and have penalized those who refuse this arrangement. There have been raids, nation-wide, on family owned farms and ranches that sell their product without the permission of the federal government, as if they have just authority. Hundreds upon thousands of dollars in livestock and equipment seized in the name of public health (Farm Food Freedom Coalition 2013). It seems as though the Feds don’t like being cutout. This structure is based solely on monetary gain for a miniscule portion of our society–not the health and wellness of the people.

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Adversely, there are many farmers, ranchers and people like me that do not feel the need for such a middle-man. We would much rather grow ourselves and sell, or give, those goods directly to the consumer. The Pacific Northwest as a plethora of family run, organic farms and coops such as: Boistfort Valley Farm, Puddleton Farm and Black Sheep Creamery. It takes little effort to find them. Supporting such entities will send a very clear and non-violent message to those who see fit to regulate OUR agricultural progression. In the meantime, read labels–closely–know where the food you are putting in your body comes from and start growing. Even if it is an herb garden in your window sill or tomatoes on your patio, these simple activities aid in breaking down a system not vested in your long-term well-being. They also give you a chance to reconnect with the natural world which supports us in ways we have yet to truly appreciate.

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With four small vegetable beds and a hoop house of sheet plastic and PVC piping, all of which I made myself, I can reap the rewards for months. I am forever amazed at the resilience and plasticity of our earth. Even now, in the first weeks of October, my garden still produces. My carrots and cucumbers are there to be plucked and tossed into a salad, my fingerlings are ready to be dug and roasted and my Romas are ripening still. The strawberry patch is bearing down for winter, having produced dozens of shoots for next year’s harvest and the lavender, dried brittle, remains sweet with scent.

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Tessa Alberts lives in Centralia, Washington where she grows food, raises a family, and attends college.

Not the Maple Syrup! Loss of Vermont Maple Trees to Climate Change

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By RJ Thompson

Photo courtesy of Sandiwood Farm, Wolcott, VT

I remember the first time I had real maple syrup.  I was around the age of ten or eleven and on a ski vacation in Vermont. Like any young skier, I was anxious to put my snow-gear on and run out the door to catch the shuttle to the mountain, but my aunt convinced me I should eat some breakfast before hitting the slopes. That’s when my taste buds were introduced to one of nature’s most splendid treats.

What I experienced next was a life-changing moment.  Warm Vermont maple syrup cascaded down upon a heaping stack of steamy buttermilk pancakes as the scents of both collided to form a smell that can only be described as euphoric.  I took my first bite and quickly realized something was very different.  The pancakes were out of this world!  The skiing could wait.

Reflecting on that experience nearly twenty years later, I find myself not only wondering what the heck I had been putting on my pancakes the first ten years of my life, but also what I would do if maple syrup no longer existed as we know it today.  Most of us (not me) would probably get by just fine with the artificial high-fructose corn syrup goo that congeals on a plate if you don’t touch it after a few seconds, but some individuals, particularly Vermonters reliant on the maple industry for a big part of their income, may find themselves in hard times.

While 2013 yielded Vermont’s largest maple crop in 70 years. The increase was mostly due to advancements in technology such as maple lines that are far more efficient than the traditional method of gathering sap with metal buckets.  Linking multiple trees together with one tube that flows into a large barrel has drastically increased sugaring output; however, this innovation may not be enough to guarantee a perpetual syrup surplus in Vermont.

Why the grim outlook?  It turns out global warming may be pushing the sugar maple out of Vermont and into Quebec.  That’s right; we’ve managed to alter yet another species’ habitat with climate change.  What does that mean for maple sugaring in Vermont and future generations enjoying their first authentic Vermont maple syrup experience?  The survey is still out, but there are many scientific computer models that predict sugar maples will virtually disappear from Vermont by the end of the 21st century.  As temperatures continue to increase, sugar maples will begin to migrate to more favorable conditions found at higher latitudes and elevations.  That means Quebec, the world leader in maple syrup production, will get most of Vermont’s precious sugar maples in less than 100 years.

Humans will always favor the growth of sugar maples because of the tree’s high economic value (maple syrup is nearly worth its weight in gold, so it makes sense to keep these trees around as long as possible).  We can alter soils to increase the propagation of sugar maples, but that’s not a sustainable practice.  Instead, we must look at the big picture and use Vermont’s maple tree as another symbol to take action against climate change.

If the melting of ice caps, near-extinction of polar bears, increasing sea levels, and higher frequency of natural disasters are not enough, consider the Green Mountain State without maple syrup.  Sure, it will still be available from Quebec and other parts of Canada, and it will most likely taste the same as those delicious pancakes I had some twenty years ago, but Vermont will have lost a $40 million industry and one of its sweetest, most delicious treasures.  Not to mention, we’ll have to rely on yet another import.  So, the next time your pancakes need a lathering in syrup, consider leaving your car and riding your bike to the store to pick up that bottle of gold we call Vermont maple syrup.  The effort will be worth it.