Local Farms Try New Approaches to Supplying Quality Food
by Adam Gottschalk
Adam Gottschalk, a student at Fairhaven College, is working on a self-designed concentration in sustainable development.
All over the country, folks are trying to reestablish a strong connection between the dinner table and the fields that yield the bounty to place there. The growth rate of the organic food sector of the economy is one sign of a growing desire for quality, as opposed to merely quantity. Another sign is the phenomenon of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), or subscription farming.
In the CSA-farming model, a group of consumers comes together and agrees to provide up-front financial support for a particular farm in exchange for "shares" in the produce. Participating farms are organic, and are in fact frequently Biodynamic. (Biodynamic agriculture is a comprehensive method developed by Rudolph Steiner.) The farms offer a variety of vegetables and fruits, while some also include such products as nuts, dairy foods, and meat. The food is delivered to pick-up locations where members come to resupply on a weekly basis. This model is working in large cities like New York and Seattle as well as it is in smaller towns like Bellingham.
Though CSAs only started coming into existence in the U.S. in the mid-1980s, there are now estimated to be more than 1000 around the country. Serving western Whatcom county alone there are four or five, says Mike Finger of Cedarville Farm, the original subscription farm in the Bellingham area. Cedarville is in its seventh season operating a subscription component, which makes up about 60 percent of its business (the rest going to the co-op and the farmer's market); it is serving about 100 local families.
CSAs have a number of advantages, including the following. By establishing community foundations and creating populations bound to the well-being of particular farms, they can help small farms reduce risks and remain economically viable. By ensuring the viability of small farms, they can help to limit the need for deleterious inputs such as insecticides and herbicides. They can help to maintain economic strength and independence for the localities in which they operate, reducing dependence on outside entities and forces beyond farm and community control. They allow consumer preferences to be more easily and directly made known. And they can shorten the distances between production and consumption, improving the quality of food, and helping to minimize transportation costs.
Of course, the subscription-farming model is not a panacea. One reason is that, so far, it has tended to deal only with partial diets. For example, few, if any, CSA farms focus significantly on grain growing. Yet, according to literature from the Land Institute in Kansas, which does research on grains, 76 percent of all human food comes directly or indirectly from grains. In addition, the carbon which grain plants yield, and which must be reincorporated into the soil, is one of the most important elements for maintaining soil health and fertility.
For these and other reasons, John Jeavons, of Ecology Action in Willits, California, author of "How To Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Though Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine," (5th edition, 1995, Ten Speed Press) considers that the CSAs of the future might start (at least) to offer complete diets. Though it is difficult to say how exactly, this new approach to farming certainly will continue to expand its territory, and to develop in the variety of its applications. It also will continue to influence and propagate other "alternative" mechanisms in our food system in general. There is an array of methods that folks are beginning to experiment with, even right here in our very own backyard, in hopes of bringing people closer to the sources of their food, and bringing people together to celebrate the possibilities of safe, locally-produced, and high-quality sustenance. But first, a little more background.
Economic and Social Costs
There are many costs involved with the change in food production that has taken place in particular over the last century, costs which, in many cases, have not yet been tallied up thoroughly or accurately enough against the related benefits. Of these recalcitrant costs, some might be considered purely economic, or environmental, and some might be considered qualitative. Regarding the economic sort, here are a couple of short points:
It is all too easy to assume that conventional mechanized agriculture (associated with ever-larger farms) is more efficient than traditional and minimally-mechanized, minimally-capitalized techniques (associated with smaller farms). Though sometimes "economy of scale" is impossible to dispute, there are also some areas where bigger does not necessarily correspond to cheaper. Our assumption of efficiency is incorrect in terms of energy. For one thingÑcomparing calories-in to calories-out, "organic" hand work will always win "hands down." Here I am addressing costs such as those of the depletion of nonrenewable energy resources and these of air and water pollution. It is also widely known that the amount of food produced per unit area can be greater with relatively low-tech techniques than it is when (large) machines are in the picture. Here I am addressing such costs as those that arise from pressures to put more land, often fragile, into crop production.
The assumption that conventional agricultural practices are the most efficient available is unsound because there are costs, such as, importantly, hastened soil erosion, which have not yet been incorporated fully into the market. Once these costs finally are incorporated, the side-effects of conventional practices will require that growers demand higher (more accurate) prices than before for farm products, making the whole affair appear as it should, probably not so efficient after all.
Now, when social costs are considered, efficiency takes on a whole new meaning. One view is that we are all somewhat better off just because we have larger and larger (and fewer and fewer) farms and farm corporations growing our food for us. Increasing numbers of us are, in this way, allowed to engage in activities more "rewarding" than the simple drudgery of farming, right?
Here is what Trauger Groh has to say in the beginning of his book, co-written with Stephen McFadden, "Farms of Tomorrow Revisited" (1997, Bio-Dynamic Farm)
"When we speak about the need for healthy farm organisms, we think first of our food supply, and then we think of the farm as a part of our natural world....Rarely do we have in mind the great contribution that living on farms and working in nature gives to inner soul development and to the shaping of our social faculties."
Some Agricultural History
When it became apparent earlier in this century that the widespread introduction of tractors and other machinery was pushing people out of farming, there was talk of "compensating advantage" for those displaced, mostly in the form of decreased prices for commodities (agricultural and otherwise). There are, though, a number of thorny issues regarding the negative social impacts of this transition to mechanization and capitalization.
First, many of those displaced from farming may not have been fully reabsorbed into the economy as well as they were supposed to have been. Could continuing inner city and rural decay have at least something to do with "compensating advantage" never fully realized?
Second, agricultural technology has become increasingly specialized and bound up with land-grant universities and industrial research and development. It continues to be very much of an us-them scenario for those outside the fortress walls. Here is what one H.W. Quaintance had to say in an article from 1904:
"To the skilled workman, machinery opens the way to profit and advancement. But to the unskilled workman, it is a sealed, or unintelligible, book. He does not understand it; and the hopelessness of competing with one who does understand it only intensifies his consciousness of inferiority and increases the burden of his struggle for existence."
The making of agriculture into a scientistic industry necessarily has entailed discrimination, on the part of the research complex, against small producers. Some involved now, or looking to become involved, are dying just to make any connections at all with people from whom they can learnÑwhich is often prohibitively difficult to do if one is not planning on launching a very large business. The suffering of the knowledge base is part and parcel of the suffering of general social faculties that grew mentioned above.
Finally, the grand transition to agribusiness has raised questions, at least in a few minds, about free choice. There is apparently one camp which has it that people everywhere have been, and still are, just dying to get out, and stay out, of agriculture. Whatcom County is supposed to be no exceptionÑwhen a number of large industries set up shop in the sixties, more than a few Whatcom farmers, and their offspring, took the opportunity to leap, even more quickly than they had been doing already, from the primary to the secondary sector.
To say the least, though, this is still a grey area. If people in general have hurried gladly to distance themselves from the field, if this was all about free choice and there were no actors claiming and being helped to claim more and more space for themselves at the expense of others, why would Earl Butz, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, have been compelled to say the following in 1955: "Agriculture is now big business. Too many people are trying to stay in agriculture that would do better some place else."
So what about those who were struggling to stay in, to keep themselves afloat and proud as stewards of the land? Are we supposed to think they didn't know what was best for them? What about those who have faith in the benefits of keeping agriculture at a human (rather than a national or global) scale? What of those who would like now to get back into the process, or at least establish some sort of meaningful connection with and understanding of the sources of their sustenance?
In Whatcom County, there are a number of groups and individuals experimenting with new approaches to food production, distribution and consumption. One such group is Backyard Abundance. Backyard Abundance is made up entirely of volunteers, and its potential projects are limited only by the imagination and energy level of its participants, says Mike Lane, who has been with the group since it began more than two years ago. It does have two main components for now, though: first is the hosting of Community Dinners; second is the Local Food Resource Directory.
Community Dinners work by "gleaning" food from local producers (the stuff that's "not quite marketable"), cooking it up at a restaurant, grange hall or other public place, and gathering people together to savor what can be done with local supplies and home-grown efforts. The monthly dinners often seat 100-150 people and pull in $300-400 in donations. The money is put into a bank account and is used for various provisions and the occasional purchase of ingredients not gleaned, depending on the particular meals being prepared.
Lane says the dinners are very effective, and that diners (presumably first-timers in particular) can be amazedÑamazed that there is so much of what we need right here, amazed at the satisfaction of coming together to celebrate food with neighbors, amazed that connections are easier to reestablish than we sometimes think.
The Local Food Resource Directory is still under way. When complete, it will be a guide to local food supplies and suppliers, and will include a map, farm listings, contact numbers and addresses, itemized lists of what is available from whom, suggestions for "seasonal eating," and other elements. The Resource Directory, as with other Backyard Abundance activities, is intended to increase folks' awareness of what is available to them, and to give them a wider variety of choices in determining how their life-styles impact their world.
Local Food Processing Center
Nearby, on Lopez Island, the Lopez Community Land Trust has a significant project under way devoted to sustainable agriculture. Holly Freishtat is coordinating one part of that project, assessing the possibility of a food-processing center for use by San Juan County producers of goods ranging from steaks to jam. Freishtat says the Trust is also working on a Lopez "products guide," quite like the directory mentioned above.
The overall sustainable agriculture project has two broad goals: first, to ensure local food security (especially since the county is isolated from the mainland); second, to work for economic development. This second goal is aimed at increasing incomes for local producers by expanding their local markets. It is, for example, impossible to get meat products into stores unless the meat is USDA approved. The nearest place for processing and inspection is Marysville, and getting livestock there is time-consuming and expensive.
This is where the food-processing center comes in. Not only might it be possible to have a USDA-approved center right on Lopez (or one of the other islands), but the center could also be used to produce a variety of other "value-added" goods. Small to medium-sized producers tend to see better returns by marketing prepared foods than by selling, say, bulk produce; many have expressed an interest in using such a center to this end. The Trust received two grants from the USDA to assess the feasibility of the endeavor. To make the assessment, various sorts of market research and producer surveys have been used.
One other interesting part of the Lopez sustainable agriculture project, having to do with knowledge-base issues mentioned above, is that of the "teaching garden." Last year, 15 middle-school students worked on and learned how to run a market garden. The produce from the garden was sold at the local farmer's market, and the proceeds went entirely to the students. The land used was donated by 88-year-old Howard Cole, a long-time Lopez resident and farmer. Cole let a younger grower, Huck Phillips, make use of some of his land, and the teaching garden was eventually born. This example of the mingling of generations shows real promise!
Gleaning to Benefit Local Groups
Getting back to the mainland, last year Freishtat (before moving to Lopez) along with Michele Morrissey, started an organization called Fruitful Gatherings here in Bellingham. Fruitful Gatherings, like Backyard Abundance, gleans food from local farmers (much of it from the farmer's market) and gardeners; however, all the food is donated to 13 other local groups, including the Bellingham Food Bank, the Womencare Shelter, and the Senior Center. Morrissey says that in the first season, a total of 44 volunteers helped to distribute 8700 pounds of produce. This season, volunteers themselves are planning to use land in town which was donated to the group to grow some of the harder-to-glean goods such as tomatoes. All part of an impressive assortment of home-grown experiments to (re)connect folks with the sources of their nourishment.
Tired of Grocery Shopping?
Fenton Wilkinson, who received a master's in tax law from New York University, moved to Whatcom County 12 years ago after deciding to walk away from law. Recently he completed an economic feasibility study, also funded by the USDA, which looked into the possibility of a "sustainable community food system" for the county. Wilkinson says that left and right he was told local, organic food would never work, to any significant degree, because consumers wouldn't be willing to pay the higher prices that it would require. He insists, though, that it simply isn't true that organic produce from small farms has to be more expensive than the conventional sort.
The Northwest Area Foundation received funding for a 15-year study of the top farms in the regionÑthe top 10 percent of conventional farms, and the top 10 percent of organic farms. The study showed that, for these established farms, the proportionate output was identical, but, importantly, the overhead was significantly lower for the small, organic farms.
Another study that Wilkinson cites showed that, on average, people make one large trip, lasting more than an hour, to the grocery store each week, often with additional smaller trips as needed. Seventy-five percent of folks said they would rather be doing other things with their time. With these ideas in mind, and with an eye to connecting local producers with local consumers, Wilkinson and several others have developed Full Circle Foods.
Full Circle Foods will work quite like a CSA in that members will be delivered boxes of pre-ordered food to various pick-up locations (with home delivery available for an extra charge). One significant difference is that the company will also distribute, in addition to fresh produce, 350-400 assorted basic grocery items, like milk, cheese, tofu, bread, pasta, pasta sauce, beverages, vitamins, and soap. Most of the products are organic, and Wilkinson says there is a preference for locally produced goods, like those from Avenue Breads, Edaleen Dairy, and Samish Bay cheese.
Wilkinson also says Full Circle Foods is "trying to meet people where they are." So, though the nearest citrus-fruit trees are many miles away, citrus will be offered. Part of the concept is to make the business as attractive to people as possible, while at the same time blending the local with the non-local, for a synergistic effect. Eventually, Wilkinson says he would like to see the company develop into a "consumer-worker-producer cooperative," with all the profits above a certain point being shared equally.
Small growers who have been lucky enough to stay afloat are often direct-marketers, but Wilkinson says, for those who aren't, Full Circle Foods might well end up bringing their share of the consumer dollar up to 30 percent from the 22 percent it is now. This sort of effect might help to strengthen the local economy in general, in addition to (and by way of) helping small farms to remain viable. It might also encourage some to act on their very desire to farm in the first place, seeing that it need not be quite such a marginal existence as it often appears. Actually, Wilkinson says many folks do want to farm and do not really need to be encouraged beyond just making it a reasonable prospect.
In Whatcom County, as elsewhere, what farm support there is to be found is meant for big farms. Wilkinson points out the case of a couple of friends of his who came to Whatcom County looking to buy some land for a "small farm" and found that agents hardly gave them the time of day. Whatcom is, for example, the tenth largest dairy-producing county in the nation. Most of the dairy-products are shipped far away, though. One danger of agriculture at this scale, again, is that it exposes those remaining in the field to entities and processes far beyond their control.
Whatcom County became a large raspberry producer in the late 1980s when civil war in eastern Europe made for a gap in the supply. At that time, the price was between $1.10 and $1.30 per pound. In 1997, though, South American berries came on the market in significant quantities, selling for only 30 cents per pound! Now, it costs Whatcom growers more than that just to produce the berries, 50 cents per pound. "I am not an isolationist," says Wilkinson. Still, one can easily see that this sort of global scenario does not necessarily bode well for stable farms.
Re-Integrating Urban and Rural
Another nearby organization with aspirations similar to that of Fenton Wilkinson is FarmFolk/CityFolk in Vancouver, B.C. Dawn Boxall, volunteer coordinator for the group, which has 5 paid staff members and 40 regular volunteers, says that FarmFolk/CityFolk is devoted to ensuring that everyone in B.C. has access to healthy and safe food. The organization is involved in research, in raising general awareness of local organic-foods supplies and suppliers, in connecting consumers with producers, and in public advocacy and education regarding these issues. Here is a quote from some of their literature:
"We weave networks that reintegrate Urban and Rural, and connect food, social justice, land, agriculture, health, and environmental protection... FarmFolk/CityFolk is committed to the development and maintenance of...an economically viable and ecologically sustainable agriculture, and a distribution system which guarantees an adequate and acceptable diet for all British Columbians."
Boxall also notes several other features of Vancouver's food system which stand out. For one thing, Vancouver, a city much larger than Bellingham, seems only to have two CSA farms serving it at the moment (where, as was noted above, there are 4 or 5 here). On the other hand, there are between 12 and 17 organic-foods home-delivery services which have come into being in the last three to four years alone. Though much of the produce involved is not local, coming from California and Mexico, this is one more example of a step in the right direction.
Another development Boxall points out is the "Community Kitchens movement." The movement is made up of between 12 and 15 groups which coordinate folks with similar food interests/issues. One group, the Bread Burners, is made up of senior men who come together to learn more about cooking for themselves (presumably without burning the toast). Other groups have been formed for low-income folks.
Education, Coordination and the Twenty-Ninth Day
Mike Finger (of Cedarville Farm mentioned above) says that several people who have worked on his farm as interns in past years have gone on to create other CSAs in the Bellingham area. He is proud of being a mentor and says he feels an obligation to help others get started. Finger himself is "basically a city kid" and often feels as though he has to "reinvent the wheel" with even small problems he runs into on his farm, things that anyone would have known how to deal with 40 or 50 years ago. The problem of working people back into the food system is not just an economic one, but an educational one as well.
Finger says the cultural environment, of course, is much different than it used to be. His parents, and theirs before that, weren't in agriculture. Hardly anyone is anymoreÑless than 1.9 percent of the population as a matter of fact. One can, however, still find good farming knowledge out there, Finger emphasizes, though it is not necessarily organic. For this reason he says he doesn't "like to further the schism between organic and non-organic." There is a need to embrace everyone involved and to work for coordination. In fact, conventional practices are moving more and more in the direction of organic ones everyday.
John Jeavons, well-known proponent of the Biointensiveª growing method, says that the number of mentoring opportunities is increasing. He also points out that, as with building good soil, the learning takes time, in the neighborhood of five to ten years for acquiring good farm skills. By some accounts, that kind of time might become a serious issue soon.
According to some estimates, within 16 years, there may be only about 9000 square feet of agricultural land for each person on the planet. To grow a typical American diet for one person, for example, it takes about 40,000 square feet using conventional practices. Folks are likely to begin competing more and more intensely for soil, whether near or far away, in which to produce their food. There is already some concern that China will soon begin to do so, threatening the stability of even our own U.S. supplies.
It is clear that, at the moment, the curves representing world population on the one hand and amount of arable land on the other are headed in opposite directions. It would be foolish to think, with what we see and hear about the global market, that this is not "our" problem. For these and similar reasons, many of them addressed in this article, Jeavons and others advocate small-scale, minimally-mechanized, low-input farming methods. We need to learn how to do more with less. Producing more food with less land, energy and pollution necessitates more people entering back into the food-production side of the system.
There is, of course, reason to be very hopeful, as we can tell by the examples above of the concern that folks have for issues so vital as food nourishment. Ingenuity abounds, as do passion and devotion. Nevertheless, even when you think you're about to start winning at something, that's exactly when you have to start trying even harder. Considering that a number of our problems are characteristically exponential, the way that population growth itself is, Jeavons mentions the story of The Twenty-Ninth Day, useful to keep in mind when trying to decide how soon to get involved:
A farmer-to-be bought himself and his family some land where they were to start a farm. On this land there was a beautiful pond. On the very first day the family arrived, the farmer sat down for lunch next to the pond. It was quite an idyllic scene. He noticed a lily pad in the water, but it didn't bother him at all; it was quite nice to look at, really. On the second day, the farmer thought to have lunch in the same nice spot. This time he noticed two lilies. On the third day, he noticed four lilies. By the 29th day of his first month in his new home, with his nice, pretty pond, the farmer noticed the pond was half full of lilies. Now, knowing something about natural succession, and that the pond would eventually become a field if nothing was done, he decided that at some point in the not-so-distant future, he would have to take action.
Here we have a decent, well-meaning individual, one who certainly intended no harm, and who honestly planned to do something positive. His particular knowledge of succession, though, apparently didn't help him see the simple mathematics of his predicamentÑit was the very next day, not the not-so-distant future, that the pond was to be chock-full of lilies, and only that much more difficult to deal with because of it.
Contact information for individuals and groups mentioned in this article:
Backyard Abundance 752-0137
Lopez Community Land Trust (360) 468-4000
Full Circle Foods (360) 966-2504
FarmFolk/CityFolk (604) 730-0450
Evolution Will Outlast Technology?
by Andy Ross
Andy Ross is a resident of Whatcom County.
I read with much interest Bob Keller's book review (Whatcom Watch, February 1998, page 6) of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond," It is my opinion that the review misused ecological and biological processes in applying them to societal change. I am specifically referring to the statement by the reviewer that "perhaps the most disquieting news in 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' is how often 'killing the host' is a natural and evolutionary event." Although I have not read "Guns, Germs, and Steel," and I am not sure where Jared Diamond's information ends and the reviewer's interpretation begins, this statement implies that conquests of other peoples (e.g.,) "killing the host[s]" are necessary and inevitable results of the development of the currently dominant societies. The statement, through references to ecological and biological processes in the review, also implies that there is a biologically significant evolutionary component to conquests. I disagree with these pretexts. In fact, the biological and ecological perspectives indicate that we are placing ourselves at an evolutionary disadvantage.
The term "evolution" has often been misused to imply the biological superiority of a so-called more "advanced" group, society, race, or species over another. This argument has also been used to promote ethnic superiority, conquests, colonization, and genocide. Differences in technologies between groups do not indicate any biological superiority. Should western society collapse, groups which have technologies appropriate to obtaining a living from the immediate environment will outlast those of us dependent upon grocery stores and indoor plumbing.
The word "natural" falsely implies that the conquest of other humans is a common element of the growth of populations and that there are analogous situations in the rest of the animal kingdom. "Natural" is a vaguely defined word with meanings that range from "an environment without any human influence" to James Lovelock's view that the word "pollution" is anthropocentric because it implies that humans and their waste products are not part of the web of life. Arguably, conquests are only natural in the sense that the word "natural" could describe every activity of every living thing.
As simply put by a former professor of mine, "evolution is staying in the game," the goal of which is for the species to continue to exist through time and changing environments. For now, that is the definition that I will use.
Our Fragile System
Mr. Diamond states that over the last13,000 years, more complex and larger social units have been replacing smaller and less complex units. In our current situation, this trend is not increasing the odds that we will stay in the evolutionary game. Where a society becomes more dependent upon increasingly complex technology for both day-to-day and long-term survival, and where the technology is controlled by factors well beyond the control of the average person, complex technologies do not by definition increase the society's or an individual's ability to survive.
Increased complexity does not necessarily have to increase the fragility of a system, but in our situation it has. For instance, if the price of fuel/energy became prohibitively expensive, could we supply ourselves with food and water from local sources? We could no longer pump water from wells, nor refrigerate perishables (let alone import them from California), nor have our sewage pumped away. We are collectively hoping that technology will carry the day. Hope is not an evolutionary advantage.
Our ability to import goods and services avoids local controls on our own population size, allowing for population expansion beyond the capacity of our local environment. Imagine New York City trying to produce its own food. Excessive population puts more pressure on local resources such as land and water, and decreases our ability to survive interruptions of the goods and services that technology supplies.
An example is found in one theory of why the Anasazi left the four corners area of the southwest U.S. earlier this millennia. The Anasazi developed agriculture which led to an increase in population. The climate changed, the agriculture collapsed, and they left because they could no longer support themselves from the local environment.
Where could we move if our resource base collapsed? In our case, the change to an agrarian and industrial society has resulted in our losing both the knowledge and the resources needed to support hunting and gathering. There are risks in life, but eliminating options should be carefully considered, otherwise a short-term-gain could result in a long-term-loss which decreases our ability to survive.
As explained above, a group which develops technologies beyond that of its neighbors may actually be more vulnerable to resource scarcities because of the technology it has developed. When needed resources such as food and water become locally scarce, for whatever reason, the development of military strategies and technologies would allow a group to overwhelm its neighbors and obtain the needed goods. This could have been the mechanism of diffusion for the "first favored settlements." Once started, conquests may perpetuate because the initial conquest may have allowed for continuation of the status quo without having solved the cause of the initial scarcity.
Maybe resource scarcities were first dealt with through cooperative mechanisms. When did the shift take place from peaceful diffusion to conquest? When did these battles shift from obtaining food and water to political commodities such as gold? The Spaniards did not conquer the Incas for their food. Gold was what the Spaniards wanted. Gold could buy food for the Spaniards back home, but this is not why it was sought. Gold would allow for the continued global hegemony of the Spanish aristocracy (which did not last anyway). Is it an evolutionary advantage for conquests to promote political systems instead of providing needed resources to the people who comprise the bulk of the society? This type of conquest indicates a shift in what people perceive as necessary for their survival and distances them from the ecosystems upon which their survival ultimately depends.
Distancing Ourselves from the Environment
Survival of societies and individuals are linked, but should societal needs be given priority when they may be contrary to the survival of the ecosystems which ultimately support us? It appears that the path we are on now is increasing the distance between individuals and an ecosystem which can function in a manner which will continue to support humans. This path harbors the danger of our being unaware of adverse impacts to the ecosystem (which may make it less able to support humans), and also of becoming increasingly detached to the point where we no longer see the need for the ecosystem.
Adverse impacts to the earth's ecosystems are placing an enormous selective pressure on humans as well as many other species. Can we adapt to an environment that is likely to become increasingly hostile to humans? It is difficult to imagine us adapting to a world without single occupant vehicles. In summary, it appears that conquests and the factors driving them are decreasing the likelihood that conquering societies and the individuals within them will survive. This is an evolutionary disadvantage for humans. An extreme but relevant example of this is the advent of highly mobile nuclear and biological weapons, which means that political differences can threaten the global population over a relatively short time period. This was not the case when Pizarro defeated the Incas.
Competition Is Not Conquest
I also question the use of the phrase "killing the host." Host typically means an organism that is supplying sustenance to another, not an organism that is displaced. In ecological terms, "host" implies a symbiotic or parasitic relation between two (or more) organisms. The host organism provides needed resources to either the parasite or the symbiont. In the former case, nothing is provided in return by the parasite. In the latter case, the symbiont supplies other resources to the host. Parasitic relations do not necessarily kill the host, nor are they necessarily harmful to the larger ecosystem.
Another type of relationship between organisms is competitive. In competitive relations, two or more organisms are competing for the same resources at the same time. Dislocation or death of one of the competitors is an expected outcome in this type of relation. While conquests contain elements of many types of relations, the primary process is competition.
The wolves recently reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park have killed coyotes, presumably because the coyotes were competing for the same food source and/or occupying land the wolves needed. This represents a competition for common resources. There are substantial differences between the wolves in Yellowstone and human conquerors. The wolves in Yellowstone are not killing every single coyote, nor are the wolves enslaving the coyotes or trying to take over the park. Would we view the wolves killing all of their competitors and expanding their population exponentially as natural or healthy?
In closing, it appears that conquering societies have only refined a basic ecological strategy, competition. Referring to conquest as a natural and evolutionary event is false and could be dangerously misleading fodder for ethnic supremacists. While the intent of the statement may have been to be provocative, the potentially adverse impacts to our community need to be accounted for. It is my hope that further constructive dialogue will follow.
Watershed Defense Fund Needs Assistance from the Community
by Jamesa Bautista
Jamesa Bautista is the member outreach facilitator for the Community Food Co-op.
The Watershed Defense Fund was founded in 1992. Its mission statement is to protect, conserve, and restore the water resources of Whatcom County, both directly and as related to stewardship of land and of other resources, such as fish and wildlife.
This non-profit organization has done a lot of work to protect the environment including commissioning some studies, doing trainings and putting on programs for folks individually and with other organizations such as the Washington Toxics Coalition.
The vast majority of their work is done in litigation trying to instigate change after decisions are made that do not take the full impact on the environment into account. The Watershed Defense Fund is the only organization in Whatcom County which holds the government accountable for such decisions. They have played a leading role in all Whatcom County growth management appeals and are currently in court on nine different issues concerning things like fisheries in Cherry Point and Lake Whatcom and Nooksack River growth management appeals among others. Their work in appeals has been dedicated to protecting water resources, farmland, fish, forests, wildlife habitat, shellfish resources, and tideland.
The group is active in protecting Lake Whatcom, which is the water supply for half of Whatcom County. Lake monitoring reports have revealed that the shallower lake basins and the tributaries of Lake Whatcom have accelerated degradation in the "early warning systems." One tributary has been placed on the Clean Water Act's 303(d) list and scientists recommend posting three tributaries with public health warnings due to extreme fecal coliform contamination. According to president, Sherilyn Wells, the Watershed Defense Fund is the only organization working to directly address the major cause of these problems which is urban development around an irreplaceable water supply. Sherilyn described water as the blood in the body of land and the perfect thermometer to check what is going on in the environment as it is the ultimate end point for impacts which settle into the ground.
The organization considers itself a tax-payers friendly group as they try to prevent environmental damage that is extremely expensive to repair once the damage has been done. They try to make sure that growth happens efficiently and follows a logical sequence.
The organization is run and operated by all volunteers. They are currently trying to reorganize and become stronger with the hope of creating a few paid staff positions. For more information, to become involved, or to give donations to the Watershed Defense Fund, please call Sherilyn Wells at 733-8242.
You can also support this organization by shopping during the Community Food Coop Shopping Day on April 18, as 2 percent of the day's sales will be donated to the Watershed Defense Fund.
Whatcom County Water Quality and the Politics of Obstruction
by Al Hanners
Al Hanners is a retired geologist.
What has been happening with regard to water quality in Whatcom County is like a soap opera with new episodes regularly played out. The last one at this writing was at the special Whatcom County Council meeting at the Courthouse at 12:30 p.m. on March 31. More than 100 persons attended and showed overwhelming support for Dr. Frank James, Whatcom County Health Officer, who had spoken out asking for action on water quality. There was plenty of drama at the meeting, but the forces of entropy were in charge and little was accomplished. Instead of a chance for citizen input that many had come to give, the first item on the revised agenda for the meeting was a call for an executive session to shut out the public. Water quality per se was not on the agenda. Neither was any public discussion nor any comments by Dr. Frank James. As soon as the meeting was officially opened, a motion was made and passed to go into executive session.
As the County Council marched out of the auditorium, the question in the minds of the would-be audience was whether Dr. James would be fired, and we did not learn his fate that day. We left the hall pondering events that led up to the special County Council meeting. Barbara Brenner, County Council member, had been the first victim of political reprisal for speaking out on water quality. Now Dr. James was the target in the last round of events in the real life drama being played out that began some weeks ago when County Executive Pete Kremen blocked the original plan for the County to cooperate with the United States Geological Survey in investigating pesticide contamination in the huge aquifer that is the principal source of drinking water in northern Whatcom County. What Pete Kremen did was legal, but some thought it immoral not to help his constituents who are suffering from contaminated water.
A short time later, letters to the editor began appearing in the Herald, and they could not have been more alike if they had been written by the same person. They attacked the behavior of Barbara Brenner but did not state the issue. Clearly it was a case of attacking the messenger; surely it was an attempt to discredit Barbara while hiding the reason. I was mystified, so I asked my friends for help. One said succinctly, "Look who is writing the letters." Another friend was more explicit. "Barbara Brenner wrote a letter criticizing the action Pete Kremen had taken but did not name names." Barbara has been criticized before for not understanding that sometimes less is more, but "Actually," my friend said, "Barbara's behavior has been better than sometimes in the past." She inferred that Barbara was right and added, "Thank you for supporting Barbara."
With the County Council out of the hall, Dr. Frank James stepped forward and started to speak. Councilman Bob Imhoff returned shortly and told Dr. James that the council was still in session even though the members were not present, and that Dr. James did not have permission to speak. Immediately two men jumped out of their seats to support Dr. James and a shouting match between them and Bob Imhoff ensued. Dr. James cooled the situation by quietly suggesting that we move to the courthouse rotunda.
There Dr. James repeated his recommendations already made in print. At times he seemed to choke up with emotion, but after each pause would quietly go on. As he spoke, we wondered whether the same things were going through his mind as were in ours. Did the council go into executive session to discuss the future of Dr. James? An executive session was not part of the original agenda for the meeting which was revised not long before the meeting, but who did it and why? Firing a county employee is under the jurisdiction of the County Executive, not the County Council. We did not know it at the time, but Pete Kremen, County Executive, not the public, was at the executive session. Some people thought that downright firing Dr. James or cutting his salary would be a politically unwise move that would only further enrage an already aroused public.
When County Council members returned to resume the public meeting, persons working under the Board of Health made comments. Dr. Frank James, County Health Office, was excluded. The prize for a largely useless talk goes to Susan Guirl, Personal Health Services Manager. She gave a long list of generic recommendations on blood diseases couched in bureaucratese, each beginning with a different key word: support, evaluate, establish, address, dispense, and mobilize. There was no mention of anything accomplished, and the only specific recommendations for action were these: report the reportable, and train the trainer. Yes, that is what she said.
One bright spot was the groundwater update by Regina Delahunt, Environmental Health Services Manager, who summarized a meeting in Lynden dealing with ground water. She said that water quality is a public health issue. Most people with private wells are concerned and will cooperate in the investigation of pesticide contamination in water.
Later, Council member Connie Hoag spoke expressing optimism that action would be taken on drinking water pollution problems in the county. She said that while there had been little action in the past, that would not continue. However, was Connie whistling in the wind?
Hiring a Water Quality Specialist
Barbara Brenner brought up the fact that the County Council had specifically approved hiring a Water Quality Specialist, but that County Health and Human Services was taking steps to hire a person without that specific title. She was adamant about insisting on that title to make it more difficult for the manager to assign other work to the new employee. She wanted to be assured that a county employee would work full-time on water quality issues, but Chuck Benjamin, the Health and Human Services Director who works for Pete Kremen, kept making disquieting excuses and rationalizations.
Then Connie Hoag stepped in to support Barbara. Connie missed her calling as a prosecuting attorney. In a duel with Chuck Benjamin, Connie persisted in adroitly pressing stilleto-like questions while maintaining grace and charming smile. In the end, Health & Human Services capitulated; Connie won. The new employee will have the title of Water Quality Specialist - at least we have reason to believe it will happen.
Maybe Connie Hoag, herself, is a good reason to be optimistic about the county doing something about water quality in the future.
What of the future of water quality in Whatcom County? There is enough evidence of inaction on water quality by elected and appointed officials alike to go around. The current flap was triggered by a sense of guilt on the part of two of them after confrontation at a meeting in Lynden. Media loves controversy and the publicity that followed educated the public on water issues far beyond any activist's wildest dreams. A single loss of personal control is serious only when the target is an entrenched bureaucracy including the individual's boss.
Will we lose Frank James, the man most dedicated to public health in my memory? When Dr. Frank James came out of the meeting with Pete Kremen, on Friday, April 3, he said as far as he knew he was still on the county payroll. Keep tuned.
Government Response to Declining Water Quality is Too Little Too Late
by Dr. Frank James
Dr. Frank James is Whatcom County's health officer.
I was recently asked to lecture at Western Washington University on water quality. Professor Evelyn Ames had invited me to address a class of students on an overview of water-quality issues in Whatcom County. As I prepared for this talk, I brought together all the data on water quality issues that has accumulated recently. It had been several years since I had stepped back to view the broader picture. At the end of the talk, many of the students were overwhelmed by the scope and depth of the problems. So was I.
The time to do something is now. Only through broad citizen participation will these problems be safely and effectively resolved. Special interests have for too long guided, and even directed, local policy and policymakers. Your participation is essential. The process has to be informed by the best science and discussed in the open with the light of day shining on every page of print and into every deliberative discussion.
Why is this a crisis? Water quality has fallen to dramatic lows and is accelerating. The response, especially of government, has been too little and too late. The breadth of problems is substantial and the lack of responsiveness is important. Because of contamination, all shellfish beds in the county are closed. Creating, but not funding, a shellfish protection district is not a solution to this problem.
Robin Mathews' report of the latest water-quality data on Lake Whatcom is very concerning, Cadmium was found in the lake near the city's water intake and zinc was identified throughout the lake. This is not surprising, given that urbanization has led to the presence of lead, copper and zinc in the tributaries to the lake during the past few years. Efforts by elected officials in the city of Bellingham, the county and Water District No. 10 to increase urbanization in the watershed are misplaced and the exact opposite of what is needed.
Decreases in the water quality and quantity in the Nooksack River have led to the recommended listing of salmon that are threatened by extinction. They were once not only abundant in the river, but remain the life force of local tribes and all of us who have moved here since. Using the river as a mine for gravel is a very poor practice and allowing deposition of construction debris within the flood plain is an issue that needs elected officials' attention. The Abbotsford-Sumas Aquifer contamination deserves our elected officials' sincere efforts at quickly and efficiently defining the scope of the problem and acting to minimize further impacts. In the early 1990s, contamination was identified and brought to the attention of the public and elected officials. More than 50 percent of the wells in the region had elevated nitrate levels and 20 percent were above safe levels for drinking water.
The worrisome thing about nitrates is that if they are present, other chemicals on the ground also are likely to be in the water. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals are likely in the water supply and are not currently being assessed. Allowing urbanization of this area without proper infrastructure (public water systems) is an essential element of why this problem cannot be solved with current financial resources. The special interests of land speculators have ridden roughshod over the interest of citizens.
There are other water safety and quality issues too numerous to elaborate here, among them water quality in Lake Samish and the diversion of the Nooksack into Lake Whatcom. What can be done? First, let's start with what has been done.
- The allocation of these issues to the Council of Govenments. This is a group of people who are not elected to serve, nor are they accountable to anyone directly. This is a poor choice for so difficult and important a task. There has to be accountability.
- The misplaced decision to spend more than $200,000 (to date and rising) to fight the intent of the Growth Management Act by bringing in a "hired gun" lawyer, Sandie Mackie, who spends most of his time fighting for the rights of special-interest groups to do unbridled land speculation. Even with the enormous expense, he has accomplished little, even for the special interests.
There is another option. You have a Board of Health which is intended to deal with just such issues. It, for many years, met every month to do this work.
Starting in 1989, just before I came here as health officer, these meetings were curtailed and the county directly assumed control of the Health Department. Before, that, the small cities and Bellingham had a major role on this board in setting health policy for the county.
The current County Council has elected to not include any other individuals on this board. They are, by law, able to have other elected officials or citizens with technical knowledge in the area of health. They have chosen to keep this job to themselves and not invite leaders of other jurisdictions or technical experts to be members. They should invite both other jurisdictions and technically informed citizens to be members. A physician or nurse and those with expertise in water quality, for example, should be added now.
Special-interest groups also have run too much of our public policy. The interests of those who are powerful and wealthy always will be well-served by government. It is time to ask your government to serve your interests. There are many responsible and public-minded berry growers, gravel miners, land speculators, construction companies and garbage-disposal firms. But some are not, and they have had undue influence on the formation of the county's priorites.
It is a very sad day when it takes a group of children developing leukemia for county government to finally authorize a second staff person to the Health Department to do water-safety work. The Board of Health has met fewer than a dozen times in the past eight years. Those citizens who want to have a say in our community's safety and future should attend future meetings.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, first appeared in the March 31, 1998 issue of The Bellingham Herald.
Reversing Our Personal, Social and Environmental Disorders
by Sea Ganschow
About the Author
Michael J. Cohen, Ed.D., has been living, learning and teaching in the outdoors for over 35 years. He lives in a small two-story cabin on San Juan Island with wife Serena, cats, raccoons, birds, sea gulls and more. They have kept their property mainly as a wildlife refuge. They purposely sleep outdoors year round on a built-in platform.
Mike says he gets his best ideas out there in the evenings in tune with the natural world. His love for nature, life, the earth, and its people is apparent by the twinkle in his eyes and the many jokes he weaves into his tales.
His energy goes into honoring the natural world through "Reconnecting With Nature" workshops. He has founded multisensory environmental degree programs at Trailside Outdoor Camps, the National Audubon Society, Lesley College Graduate School, and The Institute of Global Education, a United Nations Non-Governmental Organization where he directs Project Nature Connect. The project is a workshop and internet program for socially and psychologically responsible environmental education.
Dr. Cohen, the 1994 recipient of the Distinguished World Citizen Award, refines holistic methods to help people consciously reconnect with nature. His many articles and books include "How Nature Works" (1988, Institute of Global Education) and "Well Mind, Well Earth."
Recently, upon completing Michael J. Cohen's book "Reconnecting With Nature," Daniel Levine, superintendent of schools for the Lopez Island School District, phoned Mr. Cohen and transcribed the author's responses to questions about the book.
Daniel Levine: In "Reconnecting With Nature" you say that for 35 years, through the basic element, you have been an innovative outdoor educator and counselor. What do you see as the present state of our relationship to Planet Earth and each other?
Michael J. Cohen: A majority of the world is discouraged by the costly isolation, violence, and hatred growing in industrial society. The destruction of our forests, wildlife and oceans distresses most people. Each of us would like to help heal the wounds we inflict on our planet, communities and selves. Our vast discontent constitutes a major motivating force for recovery if we empower and guide it wisely.
DL: What is the human potential for a model society?
MJC: My work shows that people have the innate ability to co-create with nature and sustain responsible relationships. We can produce a way of relating that organizes, preserves and regenerates itself to produce an optimum of life, diversity and beauty. We can do this without producing excessive garbage or pollution. People and things need not be left out or toxified. Society does not have to produce our war, insanity or excessive violence. Doesn't that model sound worthwhile?
DL: Of course, but it's extremely idealistic. We would need to gain some magical wisdom and knowledge.
MJC: It's neither idealistic nor magical. That wisdom is available. In fact we already have it, we just don't use it.
DL: Oh? Where is it?
MJC: The natural world itself operates like this model. It neither creates nor suffers our runaway problems. The global life community has sustained the model's integrity over the millennia. It has intelligent, thoughtful, "magical" healing powers. It is nature, and since we are part of nature, it is us.
DL: But if that were true, we would not be having our problems.
MJC: We are born as natural beings. We are born in and with that wisdom. It is in our soul. But in our rush to conquer and replace nature, we educate ourselves to discount it rather than to treasure, culture and apply it.
DL: Why do we do this?
MJC: Although we are part of nature, just as every species is different from each other, we are different, too. The major difference between humanity and nature is that people have the natural capacity to communicate and relate verbally. We interact through spoken and written language. The remainder of Nature achieves its beauty and perfection through natural attractions, non-language communication and relationships.
DL: Isn't our language capacity a gift from nature?
MJC: Absolutely, but industrial society uses that gift to create stories that separate us from nature. We actually teach ourselves to think in language while every other species, and many other cultures, think in non-language ways. We don't learn to think the way nature works, even though we are born with that capacity. Our personal and global problems result because our language stories define our destiny and they are disconnected from, and tell us to disconnect from, nature's wisdom.
DL: Can you give me an example of this phenomenon?
MJC: We live, teach and emotionally attach to a story that says to survive we must separate from and conquer nature. That story educates us to spend, on average, over 95 percent of our time indoors. We are conditioned to think in indoor, nature disconnected terms. We learn to spend less than one day per lifetime in conscious non-language contact with nature. That's like expecting an infant to grow normally after it has been abandoned by its family. It is similar to an arm that is 95 percent torn from a body; the arm feels pain that it can't identify because it is so disconnected from the cognizant mind in the torso.
DL: But isn't that the human condition?
MJC: No, it is learned. Through natural attractions, natural beings, including nature-connected people, stay connected with nature. They continuously make tangible non-verbal attraction contacts with natural areas. They incorporate nature's wisdom and integrity in their daily lives and they neither produce nor suffer our runaway personal, social and environmental problems.
DL: This makes sense idealistically, but we are not going to return to gathering and hunting in nature, so it seems impractical.
MJC: I didn't say we should do that, did I? You see, our indoor story and thinking tends to conclude that we must live like the "Indigenous" people. I suggest, and my natural system thinking process demonstrates, that we can learn to reconnect with nature and incorporate nature's wisdom in our thinking. The benefits are dramatic. What is idealistic about that?
DL: So you suggest that we learn to hunt, gather and incorporate knowledge of how nature works?
MJC: Exactly. Some people already know this is possible because they sense nature's peace and healing when they visit natural areas. However, often the nature-disconnected bias of our stories won't let us validate what we experience in nature. We call it an escape from "real life," recreation rather than re-creation.
DL: Can you give me a example of the significance of our detachment?
MJC: Consider this event concerning the ingrained ways of a deeply rooted, theoretically unchangeable group of hard core killers. In the West Virginia mountains, an isolated, dedicated hunting club found a month old male fawn whose mother had been killed by a car. For a week, these middle aged men, each with decades of devoted deer killing expertise, were attracted to feed the fawn formula from a bottle, which it suckled with half shut eyes of ecstasy. In return the fawn licked their hands, sucked their earlobes and sang them little whining sounds of delight from deep within. When the hunt broke up, these men dispersed leaving the fawn eating grass and craving its bottle. They made vague promises to return to this remote place. They said they would, if time permitted, trek the mountain and feed the fawn. A few weeks later, one of the hunters phoned the others to see if anybody knew if the fawn has been fed or had survived. He discovered that without each other knowing it, five of the hunters often visited the fawn and fed it, so it was actually getting fat. Although the fawn might be shot by someone who did not know who the deer was, it lifted his heart to think that the fawn had a chance at life because some hardened deer hunters had gone out of their way to give it to him. Significantly, he knew for sure that none of his hunt club members would shoot it.
DL: What do you think made this happen?
MJC: Obviously, neither a teacher, preacher or politician was present to educate the hunters about the value of the fawn's life and supporting it. Although it said not a word, the fawn, nature itself, was that educator. Non-verbal sensory attraction factors within the integrity of its life touched these same factors in the lives of the hunters. The connection sparked into their consciousness their inherent natural feelings of love in the form of nurturing, empathy, community, friendship, power, humility, reasoning, place, time and a score of others. Reconnecting moments with nature engaged and nourished a battery of their natural senses. These inborn senses led a group of deer hunters to support rather than deny the life of a deer, and to bring new joy to their personal and collective lives.
DL: But relatively few people live in a natural setting that would offer them this profound experience.
MJC: We have other contacts with nature that do the same thing. For example, I recently participated in a hurried, almost stressful training program for people whose differences kept them arguing amongst themselves. They had little interest or time to hear an explanation from me of the unifying and healing benefits of the reconnecting with nature process. In the midst of this hubbub, a young bird flew into the meeting room through the door. It could not find its way out. Without a word, the behind-schedule meeting screeched to a halt. Deep natural attraction feelings for life and hope filled each person for the moment. For ten minutes that frightened, desperate little bird triggered those seventy people to harmoniously, supportively organize and unify with each other to safely helpÑit find its way back home. Yet when they accomplished this feat, they cheered their role, not the role of the bird. In their story of the incident, the role and impact of the bird went unnoticed. They returned to the hubbub of the meeting, as if nothing special had happened.
DL: Did you point out to them the impact of the bird, of nature, upon them?
MJC: I wanted to say something about the powerful effect of the bird but I didn't. People would have scoffed. They would have said what you said, that what happened was not important or useful for it was uncommon to have a wild bird interrupt their lives. It was their "human spirit" that they applauded, not its orgins and existance in nature.
DL: I think I'd agree with them.
MJC: Would you agree that reconnecting with nature during that incident brought a special joy and integrity to their lives, as with the deer hunters? The individual and collective benefits were evident. It is the continual gross lack of such natural attraction contacts that creates our disorders. People feel distraught, yet helpless, about Earth's life and their lives being at risk, like the fawn and bird. Through the basic element, even a weed or potted plant can produce the same benefits.
DL: Yes, but isn't this a vicious circle? We are radically separated from nature and lose its benefits, so how can we possibly use nature to gain them?
MJC: That is the heart of the matter. My work addresses it. It takes place in tangible contact with nature, in backyards, parks, even with potted plants, and wilderness, too. In any natural setting my books and courses help people learn to do, own and teach simple nature-reconnecting activities that impliment a basic element. The activities are fun and interesting. They provide, at will, the nature-reconnected moments missing from our lives. People learn to make them happen them. The process is uplifting and responsible. It nurtures many natural senses. It produces the same profound effects catalyzed by the fawn and bird.
DL: You mean, by choice, any individual can reconnect with nature?
MJC: Project NatureConnect has published methods and materials that make this possible. We even teach people how to do this and share their experiences internationally by e-mail on the Internet
DL: So the activities are easily available. How do they work?
MJC: As the fawn and bird incidents show, our mentality consists of many non-verbal natural attraction senses and feelings. Each of these senses are by and from nature. They make up over 85 percent of our human mentality, of how we learn, know and relate. The activities enable us to tangibly connect with natural areas in at least 53 natural sensory non-verbal attraction ways. Just as importantly, they also teach us how to speak and reason from these attractive nature-connected moments. The process incorporates nature's cooperative wisdom in our thinking. It profoundly alters the destructive stories that we are taught to believe.
DL: I learned we only have five senses; what do the others do?
MJC: I'll use thirst as an example; it's not one of the five. To sensibly remind us to drink water when we need it, nature intelligently created the sensation we call thirst. Thirst feelingly makes sense. It makes us aware of the dehydrated state of our being and it attracts us to water. When we drink water, we tangibly connect with part of nature. It flows through us and we feel enjoyably unstressed -rewarded, quenched, fulfilled, satisfied. Similarly, thoughtfully connecting with nature through each of our 52 other natural attraction senses produces the same results. Each connection unstresses us and enjoyably fulfills us sensibly. In congress, these many senses blend in our mentality and thinking. They create, promote and sustain our inner nature's integrity just as they sustain the integrity and vitality of wild populations, for example, wolf communities or ant colonies. We learn to resonate and self-regulate with the global life community. We deeply feel part of something immensely important, part of life in nature, each other and ourselves.
DL: What results have you observed from the reconnecting activities?
MJC: I've seen people detach from their destructive stories and attach to thoughtful fulfillments. The activities responsibly dissolve stress and discontent. They defuel and decrease stress-related medical and emotional symptoms as well as apathy. Wellness, self-esteem and mental health increase. Greed wanes, for we don't continually want. That's why the activities are used in counseling, recovery, environmental and educational settings. The result is that we learn to feel good by relating to the whole of community, to natural places and things as well as people. Participants feel healthy and part of something vital when they do the activities. They always belong.
DL: How can nature-reconnecting activities create responsible change?
MJC: We love sanity, peace and responsible relationships because they feel good and make sense. When something we love is endangered, we act. It is the right and natural thing to do. The activities make us conscious of how sanity and peace are available to us in nature. Doing them reinforces our love for being responsible, and for natural areas too.
DL: What is their practical contribution?
MJC: Consider this: at least 600 million people internationally can learn to do and teach these activities. Think about it. What would our world be like if 600 million people daily enjoyed and shared nature reconnecting experiences that triggered effects similar to those from contact with the fawn and bird? How wonderful! These activities induce acts and internal responses that establish personal, environmental and global sanity. The challenge is to stop thinking in disconnection from nature. As with reading this interview, information alone seldom changes behavior. In experiencing the basic element through these ecopsychology activities lies hope.
Reconnecting With Nature
Finding Wellness Through Restoring Your Bond With the Earth
by Michael J. Cohen
230 pp., $14.95
Saving Threatened Chinook to Require Major Land-Use Changes
by John DiGregoria
John DiGregoria is an ecologist living in Bellingham.
The recent listing of spring Chinook in the South Fork Nooksack River as threatened under the Endangered Species Act requires Whatcom county to reform its land-use policies. These reforms must include new guidelines to protect stream ecosystems from development, forest practices, agricultural practices, and in-stream mining and dredging. The county should develop guidelines that will reduce the negative impacts on the Nooksack River including stopping the removal of in-stream substrate and riparian ecosystem vegetation.
New Housing And Businesses
Riparian ecosystems cannot be removed to clear land for new construction, including roads, buildings and parking lots. Existing developments should be provided incentives to revegetate degraded riparian zones.
Current Forest practices allow for clearcutting of and road building on type 4 and 5 streams. Type 4 and 5 streams often occur on steep slopes in the upper reaches of a watershed. After clearing or roading, these streams, whether intermittent or permanently flowing streams, have an increased potential to turn into debris flows carrying large amounts of sediment into lower fish-bearing waters. This debris can dam a river creating future problems and/or increase the sediment directly impacting the life cycle of local fish populations.
Many of the farms throughout the county have land cleared right up to the edge of flowing water. Livestock can be seen wading into waters, destroying the banks required to stabilize the river channel. To protect the aquatic ecosystem along these waters, livestock must be kept from entering any aquatic systems. Riparian ecosystems need to be rehabilitated by revegetation. Open fields adjacent to aquatic systems need to have cover crops planted to reduce soil erosion during our wet winters.
In-stream land-use practices like mining and dredging have a direct effect on salmon habitat. As the county develops new flood control policies, there may be a tendency to remove bottom substrate from the river to lower high water. The removal of in-stream substrate causes changes in sediment loading which can negatively impact salmon eggs and alevin. In-channel bioengineering projects need to be rethought since these projects often change the energy of stream flow and negatively impact downstream property. This can often result in increased sediment loading as well as direct loss of property to county citizens.
These changes in land-use practices will meet with great resistance in Whatcom County considering that many in the county feel they have the right to do as they please on their property. It is the history of this mindset that has created a large part of the current problems associated with declining salmon populations. If we as a community do not develop new land-use policies to protect salmon, such as tax incentives and stringent development laws, the Federal Government will step in. We also increase the risk of losing chinook salmon from the Nooksack watershed.
C. J. Cedarholm, a salmonid ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources, has developed a set of guidelines to protect fish habitat by protecting their riparian ecosystems (Listed below and sidebar).
"There is a need to first define and then buffer the riparian ecosystem; put a buffer on the buffer.... Once the riparian ecosystem is defined on the ground, it is important to buffer it from wind effects, soil instability, and changes in micro-climate due to excessive solar exposure.
"Care should be taken not to destabilize the steep headwater slopes during logging and roading activities, to avoid sedimentation of salmonid spawning and rearing habitats.
"After laying out the riparian ecosystem and their buffers, the remaining area of the landscape should allow for enough forest of particular age structure to not significantly change the hydrologic maturity of the forest with respect to snow accumulation and melt. The main concern is that the forest canopy needs to be developed enough to hold snow."
These guidelines are based on the "best available science," yet have not been incorporated into any state or local land-use policies. If we care about salmon (or any other native animals) we must change our current methods of transforming the landscape; otherwise we will continue to degrade aquatic systems and run the risk of losing fisheries from our local community.