REGENERATION – book review

 by Paul Hawken, Penguin Books, 2021.  Reviewed by Esther Jantzen

This is a book you can safely (without much pushback) give to almost anyone with almost any opinion about climate change. Ask them to pick a topic from the table of contents and read two pages. On its own, Regeneration will persuade them that the climate crisis is real, that there’s plenty we can do collectively and individually to address the issues, that all over the world people are taking actions that make a difference, and that they, too, can take heart and take action.

That’s the value of this book: its power to quickly inform, shock, and inspire actions toward climate solutions.

Regeneration addresses the main domains in which we—the people on earth at this time—must make change: oceans, forests, wilding, land, people, cities, food, energy, and industry. With each domain, there are two-to-three page essays on subtopics, with photos, definitions, descriptions, facts, numbers, statistics, and dates. I doubt if there’s a better resource of talking points for a lay-person.

Who knew the small azolla fern can sequester carbon, replace fertilizers, and provide animal feed? Who knew bamboo could be food and fuel for people, as well as used for buildings, motorcycle helmets, fabrics, and toilet paper? Who knew beavers were a keystone species for water restoration? That worm vermiculture can lead to a 25% increase in crop yield? That a forest is already a farm? That, by design, buildings can generate more clean water and clean energy than they use? That humans use 59% of crop land to grow food for livestock? That a platform in the sea can generate energy from waves, sun, and the wind simultaneously? That democracies can be regenerated by local and state voter action?

Best of all for me is that Hawken and his extensive staff have researched places around the globe where ordinary people have successfully innovated and implemented surprising, often simple, solutions. The focus of most of these, of course, is related to how to draw down the extremely dangerous excess carbon in the atmosphere, sequester it, educate people, and prevent more release of carbon through persuading the oil and gas industry to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

While almost all of the essays would get an A from me, I did find some unevenness, with a few less clear, less satisfying. And the binding on this oversize book, published by Penguin, didn’t hold well. But I’m willing to forgive on both counts, for the good in this book far outweighs its defects.

For most readers, the rub in all these ideas comes when we consider our own responsibility to take action. What can little old me do, an urban apartment renter who doesn’t own a farm where I can implement innovation and build up the soil?

To push ourselves, my Elder Activist Readers book group responded to the prompt: “Out of having read this book, I will…” Here are some of the ideas which emerged:

—review my financial portfolio to make sure I’m not invested in fossil fuel companies
—create more conversations with people about climate issues.
—change my diet to be more plant-based
—order bamboo toilet paper rather than tree-logged products
—rethink the donations I make
—investigate getting a heat pump
—convert our house to all electric appliances
—renew my commitment to simplify my life
—get rid of stuff, perhaps including our third car
—use less heat
—think about what I can do with my land and property
—research ideas for sustainable gardening
—research trees whose leaves you can eat
—learn and talk about Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, and Big Poverty
—take my own containers to restaurants for left-overs
—think about how to live without so much plastic
—get an electric car
—buy fewer clothes, and when I do, buy used clothing
—transfer my investment to Green Century funds
—plant more trees, especially fruit trees, in our back yard
—give copies of Regeneration to the managers of grocery stores I use, to my political representatives, to a neighbor, to the local adult education organization, and to a library.

I’m sure you will have more ideas when you read this book. !Si, se puede! Yes, you can!

Chasing the Wild Bee, with Dr. Olivia Carril

by Anita Amstutz

Recently I sat down for an interview with Dr. Olivia Carril, co-author of the beautiful compendium, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Field Guide to North America’s Bees. Olivia lives in Santa Fe with her family and is a national treasure with her depth and breadth of knowledge about wild bees, having studied and done field research for over 25 years.

 

Olivia grew up in a family that valued being outside, and she chose to study biology so she could be paid for being in nature and doing what she loved. Initially she thought she’d follow the track of flowering plants, but then she landed a job in a lab studying bee specimens already organized with their pins in drawers—bees from Poland to Zimbabwe to North America. Esteemed research entomologist Dr. Terry Griswold noticed her fascination and enthusiasm, and she landed her first project in central/western California. There, Olivia documented bees landing on flowers and became curious about the unique symbiotic relationship of bees and flowers, noticing patterns in how bees were drawn to certain plants at specific times of day and exploring the importance of colors, scents, and shapes of flowers.

Olivia realized she loved not just organizing wild bees but also exploring and stalking them. She and her family settled in the high deserts of the Southwest so she could research her specialty in bees and their co-evolved landscapes.

Co-Evolution of Wild Bees and the New Mexican Landscape

North America has over 4,000 species of wild bees; of these, at least 1,000 are indigenous to New Mexico! This is what makes New Mexico such a fine place to study wild bees. Because we have many bioregions, including some warmer southern climes that have longer flowering seasons, it’s a great place to Bee! Wild bees like warm soil and dry climates so their ground nests don’t get moldy. These microclimates, which have evolved different niches and flower species, have in return caused adaptations in bees of body types and antennae. Thus, wild bees have evolved here in unique ways.

In the desert, the most critical pollinators of flowers and wild landscapes are the wild bees which have co-evolved with them. Dr. Carril reminds us that in the desert, it’s the wild bees who are most responsible for pollination. For instance, two mason bees are more efficient pollinators than 100 honeybee workers! And think about this…they are independent, free agents! No need for management. Now you may meet some of them!

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The Beekeeper’s World

by Amy Owen

As a beekeeper, I felt out of place when I walked into the New Mexico Pest Management Association Conference. We have some similar interests—we all like to learn about insects—but our goals for our work can seem opposed. As a beekeeper, my goal is to keep honey bee colonies alive, healthy, and vibrant. On the contrary, pesticide applicators try to eliminate colonies of insects that the public views as pests.  

I was invited to speak on the subject of protecting bees and other pollinators from pesticides (which include insecticides and herbicides). This is something I am passionate about, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to raise awareness about the negative effect pesticides have on bees. Before I began my talk, I saw a man with a sign that advertised a pesticide that I would soon be talking about: IGRs, or insect growth regulators. I’d share how insect growth regulators harm bees by rendering them unable to move from one stage of their life cycle to the next, thereby causing stagnation in a colony. My anxiety level grew. 

We had a short break, during which the man advertising IGRs let me know that he would be introducing me as the next speaker. I thought to myself:  could this get any worse? I was about to show a slide, just feet away from his sign, talking about how harmful his product was.  

He shared that the company he represented once developed miticides for beekeepers. We then had a lively chat about the use of miticides, the importance of them, and how they are often misused and consequently lose their efficacy.    

Confession: as a beekeeper, I use organic miticides in my hives to keep varroa mite levels down. Varroa mites are parasitic mites that feed on a honey bee’s fat stores. If mite levels in a colony aren’t kept below a certain threshold, the honey bees will likely succumb to the infestation and the diseases that are vectored by the varroa mite.  

As a beekeeper, I try to follow an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to control mite levels. My primary methods of control include finding bees with genetic traits that are mite resistant, spacing hives at least 4 feet apart, keeping apiaries small, and allowing colonies to have natural brood breaks. I monitor my hive’s mite levels regularly, and take notes so that I know which hives have genetics or conditions that are most conducive to keeping mite levels below a recommended threshold. If a colony’s mite level goes above this threshold, I use an organic miticide (formic or oxalic acid) to lower the mite load. If I see that I am consistently having to treat a hive, I will requeen it with a queen whose genetics are more mite resistant. 

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There are a variety of strategies to repel insects which people swear by. None listed contain DEET. Each of these comes recommended!

Internal repellents for mosquitoes:

     Eating lots of garlic or taking apple cider vinegar

External repellents for rubbing on your skin:

     Apple cider vinegar or garlic

     Oils such as citronella, tea tree, peppermint, almond, and jujuba `– Make your own mix!

     Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is recommended by the Center for Disease Control

     Cedar oil is useful for ticks.

For itching (in case you do get bitten):

     Ice, which will also decrease swelling

     Meat tenderizer

     Lemon juice

     White vinegar

     Pastes made of baking soda or oatmeal

Agri-Cultura Network

Photo: Peter Wendt / unsplash

Interview with Fidel Gonzalez by Sue Brown

Our co-operative work began 14 years ago in northern New Mexico, supported by funding from the American Friends Service Committee. Juan Bustos organized small groups of farmers there and the model spread. Now in the mid Rio Grande, we have a co-op with five major farmers making decisions and a 501 C3 with a board of directors. We have allied farmers who sell through us and employees called the Green Team. They work out of the South Valley Economic Development Center, washing and packaging fruits and veggies and checking for quality.

Part of our financial plan is to sell boxes through our community-supported agriculture (CSA). We hope to sell over 300 boxes this year. We deliver them to various locations in the area. You can go to our website and look under La Cosecha to order. We also sell at farmers’ markets in the area.

A big problem for small farmers is how to have a year-round income. We raise veggies in winter in our solar cold frames, so our network needs a year-round market. We hope this can happen soon.

For more on the Agri-Cultura Network, see their website at https://www.agri-cultura.org/. La Cosecha CSA is at https://www.agri-cultura.org/la-cosecha-csa.

Tres Hermanas Farm

Photo: Nancy/Roger Harmon

Interview by Nancy Harmon

Many thanks to Elli Levy, the project coordinator for Tres Hermanas Farms, for this interview. Elli has a master’s degree in agroecology, the study of sustainable agriculture, and experience working at Los Poblanos and other organic farms around the world. 

Tell me about your farm and how and why you got started. 

Tres Hermanas Farm was created thanks to a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to Lutheran Family Services to provide training and support for refugees to pursue careers as farmers. We provide land, tools, seeds, water, instruction, and community support to help program participants gain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful farmers. Our clients are mostly from the Central African Republic, Afghanistan and Cuba. Many of them start by working in the community gardens we partner with in Albuquerque, and then progress to taking on larger plots of land at Tres Hermanas Farm. We sell produce at the Downtown Growers’ Market twice a month, and we have also worked with other local vendors such as La Montañita Coop and Mogro. In terms of pricing the produce, each farmer gets to decide their own pricing, and while we might let them know what other sellers are asking for to provide context, it is ultimately each individual person’s decision.

What special considerations are needed to farm in New Mexico? 

Water scarcity is definitely a concern.  We are adjusting our growing practices by expanding our drip irrigation system, as well as choosing to grow crops that are better adapted to our environment. For example, NMSU recently donated cayenne and habanero chili pepper seeds that they developed for this climate, and we will be processing most of the chilies we harvest into hot sauce in order to add value to those crops, resulting in a higher income for our farmers. Climate change does make it challenging to plan our crop schedule, and we rely heavily on our greenhouse and hoop house to protect plants from things like late hail storms.

What is the economic reality of being a small farmer?

This is a question we are asking ourselves as well, and part of our work involves assessing the economic feasibility of farming as a viable career path. We are testing different methods of generating higher and more stable income through projects like producing hot sauce, but we recognize the fact that there are many hurdles and risks involved in farming, which we can only adapt to. There is no single solution to make being a small farmer more feasible, but we do know that access to land, tools, water, education/training, community support, and distribution channels are vital to helping new farmers get started. In terms of sustaining a career as a small farmer, just growing food is not always enough to make ends meet, and we see other local farmers branching into value-added products, specialty crops, events, and many other creative methods to generate reliable income.

What are the joys and frustrations of being a small farmer and how does the future look to you?

There has been so much community support for both the gardens and Tres Hermanas Farm. This has been very encouraging, and the personal connections our clients make through this program are a wonderful aspect of it. Additionally, working with the land helps familiarize new arrivals to the place they currently live in. We hope that in addition to providing supplemental income, fresh food for their families, and community connection, clients also develop a sense of belonging to this place which is now their home. Last season we had a farmer bring seeds for a plant that was used medicinally in their home country, and the plants thrived here! Now this farmer is able to share that crop with other refugees from their country, and we hope to increase the number of varieties that are familiar to the families we work with. Looking forward, we hope to engage more families in a variety of agriculture-related opportunities, including cooking, nutrition and gardening classes which started this spring, and connecting clients with additional community partners to join them in their resettlement journey.

 The farm at 1701 Montano NW welcomes volunteers.  Stop by during the week or contact Elli at eliana.levy@lfsrm.org. Check out their website at www.lfsrm.org/treshermanas.

Whole Heart Farm

Photo: Nancy/Roger Harmon

by Josh Shelburne, of Whole Heart Farm

Whole Heart Farm is a small-scale farm located in the South Valley of Albuquerque, NM. We grow a select assortment of vegetables, focusing on baby roots and leafy greens. The farm practices no-till methods and meets organic standards. Our entire growing space is about 1/3 of an acre on a one-acre urban lot. We grow year-round with the help of hoop houses. Our main source of income is from our email list. Customers make purchases directly from the farm via a weekly-updated online store and pick up their orders from the farm. In addition to our weekly pick up, we also sell bulk amounts of vegetables to a handful of local businesses who resell our products.

The history of the farm has been a slow progression. We started off with the help of a great mentor or two who were already farming. Reading farm books and watching educational videos helped immensely as well. We worked for others, grew in big back yards, and even helped run a small farmers market. Eventually we found our current location, which had been a farm before we came along. We are lucky to have the support of the landowners in our farm operations and we lease the property as an agricultural property.

Our farm’s marketing is word of mouth. We don’t participate in any social media; we have a website that allows people to sign up for our email list. We don’t find ourselves in need of many new customers these days, but we will forever be grateful for the new and returning customers from the farmers’ markets early in the life of the farm. We collected names and emails on a clipboard at market and that tremendously helped build our customer email list. When 2020 went wild and markets in New Mexico became severely limited, we had an influx of people who found our farm on the farmers’ market website or through their own search. At that point we pivoted the farm to focus on selling to our email list as a farm pick-up instead of attending the farmers’ market.

Our economic reality has been surprisingly stable compared to some of the stories of others. The beginning of any business is traditionally lean, money wise. However, with hard work and great customers, we have found a way to make a living, pay others well above minimum wage, provide ourselves with outstanding food, and keep our bodies in shape and healthy. The social capital that is built as a small-scale farmer matters, and we make enough money at this point to be confident that bills will get paid on time.

Our pricing is based on how much time our crops take to grow, harvest, wash, pack, and sell. We aim to be competitive with organic produce in Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, or the local La Montañita Co-op. We are lucky to live in the internet age and we can listen to or read about other farmers around the country and compare their pricing with our own.

I think any person who claims to be connected to the land needs to be respectful and discerning with their water use in the field. It takes a lot of water to grow anything. It is a desert farmer’s job to find ways of being efficient while ensuring the plants have what they need to thrive. Desert farming has its advantages—it is easier to add water than to take water away. We have mild winters, which allow us to grow through the winter when plants need less water. Hot summers mandate extra water, discerning crop choice, and constructed or planned shade. We have never depended on the acequia systems and have a reliable well for irrigation. As more farms come into existence, whether they be cannabis, hay, or produce, we all as a society need to find ways to help care for our planet and be respectful of our neighbors.

The joys of farming: A basic connection to the earth that is hard to find in a modern world. Providing organic food for ourselves in an amount that otherwise would be hard to purchase at our income level. Overseeing how our days are spent. Being responsible for fulfilling a basic and crucial need like good, clean food. Making a living by facilitating a natural process that is inherently full of integrity. Frustrations include: A lack of interest from others to grow food on their own. People thinking our prices are too high. Customers getting lost in the convenience of having someone else grow their food. Increasing government interference in how food is produced for the consumer. I see the future of farming moving back to the local/community level. Better to have hundreds of thousands of small-scale farms than just a few thousand mega-farms. I think the interest in how to “do farming better” is higher than it has ever been in my lifetime. The future is bright and ripe for farmers (with the help of the community) to solve some of these hard problems facing our planet.

Josh Shelburne and his partner Katie run Whole Heart Farm on the corner of Gonzales and Sunset Drive SW.  You can join their email list by contacting Josh at josh@wholeheart.farm or going to http://wholeheart.farm/.