Happy Brain

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This winter I got back into meditation through taking part in a 10 day Vipassana meditation course at their Texas center. I had been to my first course (and served a couple after that) in 2013 and felt like it was time to get back into it. I was looking for something to help my mind become happier, to stabilize my mind, to train it. I had positive benefits from the first course I took, but with time the practice had drifted away.

In this article I’m going to share some interesting scientific findings that recently came across my path, but they simply serve to bolster that which is already lived experience for me, namely the lived experience of becoming happier, more peaceful, loving and not as easily riled. It’s cool when science confirms lived experience, eh?

[image source]

Wild Elephant Trainer

Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana meditation to the world after it had been hidden for many centuries, often talks about the mind like a wild elephant. Oftentimes when we first start meditating, we have the classic “monkey mind” – the mind that is always running off the trail and finding tangent after tangent to play with. Distractible is putting it mildly.

When one sets an intention to train the mind, as in training a wild elephant, we have to remember that this is what the mind does – how it naturally behaves in its wild loose state and to have unlimited patience and compassion during the process of bringing the mind back to a focus point, in this case the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nostrils.

What strikes me about this practice is that while the natural inclination of the mind is to get loose and run wild (there is some gratifying feeling in letting our minds wander), my mind actually feels clearer and more healthier the more I train it. I can literally feel it becoming stronger, calmer, sharper and increasingly more intelligent.

By now this is heavily corroborated by science,

“What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before,” said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university’s new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. “Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.” It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

Meditation Gives Brain a Charge

In his study, in which they hooked up monks with 10,000-50,000 hours of training (15-40 years of practice), they found never before seen gamma wave activity in a healthy person. The researchers concluded that “the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students” (who were training for 1 week and also took part in the study.)

Furthermore,

The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levels of gamma waves, he added. This “dose response” — where higher levels of a drug or activity have greater effect than lower levels — is what researchers look for to assess cause and effect. In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.

Davidson’s research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) on the meditating monks, Davidson found that their brain activity — as measured by the EEG — was especially high in this area.

Meditation Gives Brain A Charge
From the study, The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging.
They found that “Meditation training can enhance various cognitive processes, such as emotional regulation, executive control and attention, particularly sustained attention. Therefore, thinner cortical thickness of brain regions in meditators, including the lateral and medial parietal areas, may be associated with their enhanced cognitive functions through meditation training, such as improved attention and self-perception.”

The Trained Mind

Discovering that the trained mind has different activity and makes more efficient connections than an untrained mind is groundbreaking in my book. We can train the happiness centers in our brain through meditation. How revelatory!

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”

Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. [source]

From my own experience, I’ve noticed increased overall wellness and contentment. Can this come from a healthier mind?

I have come to believe that it can and that our mind’s behavior patterns are very trainable. The way we think and the way we train ourselves to think change our perception of reality. We see things not as they are, but as we are – comes into play here.

Letting the Good In

This leads me to another article I came across today by Rick Hanson, PhD. I would highly recommend giving this PDF 5 minutes of your time.

from Taking in the Good

He writes,

  • Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
  • Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory.
  • • Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more memorable than a 1000 good times.

This tells us a lot about how our brain works – how it is wired for survival, yet letting our survival brain run things isn’t going to make for a happy brain. In the PDF I link above, he goes through some helpful techniques on training your brain to imprint with the positive experiences and talks about bringing them to mind more often in order to create a happy mental atmosphere, one in which we believe good things are going to happen to us. The law of attraction is at its peak when we start thinking like this.

Train your Brain for Happiness

So much of our seeking in life is in some way geared toward making ourselves happy and safe. In many ways, these simple and basic pursuits make the world run round and yet I would wager that it isn’t the mirror objects outside of us which can bring us happiness, but what is happening inside of us. That’s why this type of research and practice is so revolutionary because it shows us a way out.

We have the skills, we have the tools and they are free! Vipassana is FREE to anyone and each person who sits a 10 day course sits and eats and is lodged by the money people before them have given. If you are looking for a course to train your mind, I do recommend this one.

Though it is hard to train ourselves, the tools are abundantly available and they are as simple as sitting still, breathing and focusing. That’s a cause for celebration!

Have you experienced benefits from meditation practice or training your brain toward happiness? Please share in the comments!

Permaculture Plants for Water Gardens (Zone 6b Ozarks)

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American Lotus (image source)

Many of you have followed our journey in making a pocket pond within our food forest. A pocket pond is a term for a little body of water tucked into the landscape bringing in all of the goodness water features do!

Here are 3 previous posts on the process. Cool to see what we’ve made from a hole in the ground!

Pocket Ponds In the Homestead Food Forest
Looks Like A Pond! Concrete Liner Finished
DIY Pocket Pond: Catching Water on the Homestead

The space has gone from this:

Beginning of digging the hole for the pond

To this:

Pond after we laid chicken wire inside and began the cement work

To this:

Pond is 3 ft deep in the deepest area, and is 7 x 10 ft roughly in a kidney bean shape. It has a water shelf that is 1.5 ft deep and I was thinking I could put cinder blocks in the deepest part of the pond to act as a plant stand for the floating plants. 

Now that spring is nearly here we’ve finished the body of the pond and have planted out the berm, it is time to find some plants for the pond!

The Berm & Surrounding Food Forest

One of the most delicious things about this pond is that it nestles right in the middle of some pretty rich biodiversity and will provide habitat and water for pollinators, frogs, other winged ones and other creatures! As it’s winter, I don’t have any stellar photos to show. Right now it looks just like a bunch of mulch with a few sticks poking out of the ground, but rest assured that it will be amazing & fruitful with each year’s growth!

Pond with a view of the Solar Shed. On the other side of the pond is the food forest.

As I detailed in a post I put on permies.com,

I also sowed echinacea, our native wild skullcap, agastache, clover and we planted a lingonberry in the berm.

Concerning the food forest,

Aronias and wild false indigo are in a hedge to the north of the pond and the food forest mentioned earlier is to the northwest. It has a paw paw, asparagus, hazelnuts, blueberries, agastache, currants, serviceberries, mulberries, apple, nettle, yaupon, walking onion and strawberries. to the west we have raspberries, lavender, wild false indigo

In the post I mentioned that I was looking to trade thornless blackberries (Chester, Triple Crown), boysenberries, Jerusalem Artichokes, Heritage Raspberries, loganberries for awesome permaculture pond plants! I am currently trading someone thornless blackberries for Chinese water chestnuts and Louisana Iris – awesome!!! Do you have some pond plants you’d like to trade for the plants I’ve listed above? If so, contact me!

Our cats and dog love drinking from the pond. The gently and varied sloping sides allow them to perch there and also provide the gradual sloped needed by frogs.

Permaculture Pond Plants

Along with those two plants, I have my sights on a few others. I have been doing some research and will distill some of the information here.

Image source: Virginia Cooperative Extension article, Urban Water-Quality Management: Purchasing Aquatic Plants. ID 426-044

I found a great resource in Deep Green Permaculture’s Building a Small Water Garden.

As seen in the diagram above, there are varying levels and functions of pond plants. Plants I am focusing on getting from each category are:

  • Rooted floating plants like the Water lily or American lotus.
  • Submerged (Oxygenating) plants like the Coontail aka Hornwort.
  • Floating plants like fairy moss (azolla) or water hyacinth
  • Marginal plants like Aquatic mint, chinese water chestnut, cattail, Louisiana Iris and others.

From all of my research, these are the plants I’m going to focus on getting to start. Below I’ll walk through some of the reasons I’ve focused on these plants out of the sea of plants that fill each of these categories! If you’re looking for a larger list, the website I linked above is a great place to start.

A good rule of thumb also from the site above:

For coverage of the water’s surface:

  • One third to one-half of the water’s surface should be covered with free floating and rooted floating plants. 
  • Or, conversely, no more than half of the water’s surface should ever be covered with floating plants

Water Lily

I am choosing the water lily (Nymphaeaceae) because I’ve always thought they are so beautiful! There are also many frost hardy varieties and that’s important to me when choosing plants. I want plants that aren’t picky and will thrive without my doing a lot and that will come back year after year. There is a float in a local river where I spied some water lily and I may go there to get some for my pond.

American Water Lotus

I am excited about the American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), also known as Macoupin by Miami-Illinois Native Americans, is a native water plant with a laudable edible tuber! The seeds are also edible and known as “alligator corn” – with 2 edible parts and beauty, hardiness and lotus flowers this one is really a no-brainer. I have long wanted to grow and be around this plant!

Coontail

I chose the Coontail as I think I spotted it in a local spring so it will be very easy to get and will be hardy in our area. If possible, I want to get plants that are native to the area because they’re guaranteed to be adapted. This plant oxygenates the water while providing nice cover and food for fish.

Azolla

Azolla is a plant I did a lot of research on yesterday and I find myself increasingly excited by it! Many people may be more familiar with another surface plant, duckweed, that is used for fast growing animal fodder or an easy to grow biofertiliser. Azolla seems to be getting more popular and I was happy to learn more about it. I’ve known people who grow duckweed and I haven’t heard things that make me want to grow it! Azolla, on the other hand, has some fascinating characteristics and is also a popular fast growing fodder and biofertiliser.

You can see why they call it water fern (image source)

Check out this awesome info from Satavic Farms:

Azolla is a free-floating water fern that fixes nitrogen in association with a specific species of cyanobacteria. Azolla is a renewable biofertiliser and can be mass-produced on the farm like blue-green algae. It is a good source of nitrogen and on decomposition, a source of various micronutrients as well. Its ability to multiply fast means it can stifle and control weeds in (flooded) rice fields. Azolla is also used as a green manure and a high-quality feed for cattle and poultry.


This news about its “association with a specific species of cyanobacteria” is what really perked my ears because it turns out azolla, over millions of years, has developed a symbiotic relationship with this bacteria (a type of algae) and fixes nitrogen as an offshoot of their relationship! So I get rid of algae in my pond and get a nitrogen rich prolific water fern out of the deal? I’m in! Let’s see how this goes, but if it is prolific, I’ll be able to skim it off the top of the water if it gets too excessive and compost it or feed it to our earthworms (it makes great earthworm food!)

Water Hyacinth

I will foremost caution that in many places this plant has the potential to become seriously invasive! With our hard frosts, it’s not a worry in our zone 6b in Missouri, but you should be aware of this and be careful about “disposing” of it in local waterways in your area.

This plant is prolific! It has a lovely purple flower and floats on top of the water with a little balloon like sack. It purifies the water while being beautiful- a winner! It can also be used a biofertilizer or animal fodder.

Chinese Water Chestnut

Lastly I will talk a bit about this plant. I have heard that the fresh taste of one of these is nothing like the canned ones most of us have tried!

(image source)

A tropical/sub-tropical sedge (like a grass with a long green stalk), the Chinese water chestnut produces a delicious corm that spreads and expands each year! This one, as with other marginal plants, needs to be grown in a bit of “muck” or a shallow bed of soil and I made the shelf for just this thing. We may also put some of these into a bathtub with shallow soil and water and see if we can propagate a lot of them. You can find more info here.

As you can see I am totally excited about these water plants and I’ve had so much fun learning about this whole new world of water gardening. The sky is the limit and I can’t wait to see how this area fills out and becomes so lively!!!

What are some favorite water plants that you’ve cultivated or are must-haves in your pond/future pond?

Hold Fast to your Dreams: Inevitable Hypocrisy & Doing my Work in the World

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As you know, dear readers, my thoughts of late have often been drifting toward climate change. An offshoot of that is that I ask myself, I ask We the People, What can be done? This isn’t a new question for any of us. My generation has grown up with disastrous statistics of the earth’s slow and quicker forms of degradation, yet increasingly we are reaching a critical mass. Change doesn’t need to happen by 2050, it needs to happen by 2030.

When I started studying Permaculture and having divergent thoughts about society, politics as usual and culture, my dad and I butted heads a lot. I remember him often cajoling me that I was a hypocrite because I drove a car, I consumed, I used electricity based on coal. I was nothing but an idealist. For many years I let this voice guide me and I acted against it as a counterbalance. Fine, I said, I will try to be as pure as I can.

For a couple of years I didn’t own a car and when I lived in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I biked everywhere and when I couldn’t bike, I took public transit and had a small moped I buzzed around on. This worked, for a while, but the toll it took on my physical body was too great. I also ended up waiting a lot and it caused me to be inefficient with my time. The 12 mile commute on my moped to massage school was brutal in the pre dawn cold and I would show up with frozen hands – not ideal for massage! When I took the bus, the circuitous route and many bus changes meant that my commute took around 2 hours. Yet most of all, my body became tired. My lower back started to hurt frequently and I had signs of adrenal fatigue. I wasn’t a climate superhero, I was a human who was burning herself out. How could I balance my ideals with my situation?

Our system simply isn’t built (in most places) for people to lessen their use of fossil fuels. Yet for those of us who feel acutely the pain that comes as a biproduct of living with open eyes and seeing the exploitation and theft, what can we do? We witness Amazonian communities where big companies come in for oil and to deforest, raping women, destroying communities and polluting water and land – all for more oil, more timber. How can we continue along as if nothing has changed when we see increasingly that it is getting more and more difficult to extract oil from our earth’s cavities with greater environmental and social cost and pollution? To drive and continue guzzling gas seems heartless and cruel, yet most of us continue to do so out of necessity. Though we care, we are inevitable hypocrites.

Somewhere around this time, while on a soul searching bike tour where I visited many intentional communities of people seeking to live out a visionary sustainable shift, I met Ini. We hitch hiked around and finally bought a car that ran on veggie oil. This seemed like a great alternative, although far from a perfect solution. Emblazoned with the good vibes of driving on a waste resource, we watched YouTube videos of farmers growing fields of sunflowers and processing the oil themselves to make veggie oil or biodiesel. Hopeful and passionate, we wondered why this wasn’t a larger movement. News has always been out that “the government” (or some hidden large power) has the plans for incredibly fuel-efficient cars, but that they’re hiding it from the public to serve big oil interests. I envisioned fields of sunflowers grown for alternative fuel use and veggie oil stations popping up all over the United States.

As we went around looking for veggie oil we could strain and process to use in our car, I realized that most people don’t have the psychic or physical energy, let alone time, to endeavor such a thing. If it’s not immediately economical for people, it often doesn’t get done. Isn’t that so often the bottom line? Time, energy and money? In lieu of prioritizing ecological action, the necessity of capitalism entangles all of our actions. It’s how we are bread to think and behave. Usually we don’t choose jobs or lifestyles based on true passion, but because they’re economically stable or lucrative. We need to change the bottom line, but how? We all have to eat and wouldn’t a little security later in life be nice?

These days as the next guard of politicians are coming into office, we are faced with a wave of butting heads. Like my dad, a seasoned “old guard” of his generation, laughed in the face of my idealism, many “old timers” see the new politicians and their visions as ludicrous. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one who is daring to dream big and head up the Green New Deal. Shortly after it came out, she was heavily criticized for using car transportation (ostensibly instead of always using public transit- do they know how much longer that takes and how many stops simply aren’t on routes?) and because other aspects of her campaign weren’t ecofriendly. What a hypocrite, they said, She wants to implement a Green New Deal and she’s not even green!

Her rebuttal was key because it’s the world we all live in unless we want to be radical variants like the man who lives without using any money. She’s trying to get things done quickly and efficiently within the system she is trying to change. We all live within this system that causes pain and suffering, usually offloading it to developing countries by extracting their resources, polluting their environments and by damaging their communities. Out of sight out of mind. If you are sensitive like me, however, it doesn’t matter whether the pain is caused in your backyard or in a perpetually disenfranchised population states away like the Indigenous people of the United States who face many crimes at the hands of our government, not least of which is continually broken promises and treaties.

The fact is that we are all connected, we are interconnected, and pain and exploitation somewhere is connected to us all, especially if we are living comfortably as a result of another community’s exploitation.

With all of these thoughts lately, I’ve wondered if the actions of those people who are trying to make steps toward a more sustainable life really matter. Specifically, do my actions matter? As @geke so pointedly publishes each day, the military is shelling out billions of dollars per day and it’s depressing and frustrating to think of where that money is going.

In the face of a global war machine, polluting corporations impervious to checks and balances, and industrial “civilization” that eclipses individual action, do my actions even make a difference?

I brought this up with a friend who came over last night. She insisted that our actions do indeed matter and gave Paul Stamets as an example. Stamets is the leading researcher on mushrooms and how they can save the world. His research includes using mushrooms to purify contaminated water, clean up toxins in the environment, as well as heal the human body. His work is groundbreaking and inspiring and he is a driving force for good action in our world. He is someone we can look to and feel that our individual actions do matter, that by following our passions we can find the balms to heal the wounds of our world. After she said that, I realized that she was right. Individual change, paired with key policy shifts and pressure on large corporations to be held accountable for their pollution and actions, are where it all starts. We make up the whole, after all.

We live in a time when there is like a knee-jerk reaction to look up – up the ladder. We look to the big bodies to fix things or to stop things. It’s up to the government to shift it or this business or that organization. We are angry at Facebook for stealing our data, yet millions continue to use it and hand over our data each day. We want them to change, instead of taking a different approach to realize that each one of us makes up the We and we are a part of the Them.

It is disheartening that so many people are choosing rampant consumption rather than look at the impact of our human actions. I scream inside every time I read the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. I cannot change the minds of my fellow Americans. I can’t shake them until they see the destruction their consumption is causing and will continue to cause for eons. I can only change my actions.

 For too long we have chosen comfort over aligned sustainable action. I read statistics and I cry and cringe – about plastic pollution, which I wrote about the other day, and studies that say that all of the subjects tested had phthalates in their urine – phthalates that disrupt hormones, neuropathways, cause cancer, and more – and that these are in plastics which are passed around haphazardly (would you like paper or plastic?) and wrapping most of the consumer goods that we buy. I realize that this stuff is taking us over, we don’t know the side effects of it long term, and what we do know is horrific. We’re basically swimming in a sea of hormone shifting plastic, but this is an article I will write for another time.

You may ask why I continue to study these things if they make me scream, cry and cringe. I keep reading because I want to know where we’re at. I want to take an honest look at the state of things and act accordingly. My soul cannot live on this earth and just act like life is going on as normal because it’s not. We aren’t our parent’s generation or their parents who had an American Dream that didn’t already have a bazillion holes poked in it. Unlike them, because of the internet we can see the devastation our actions are causing world round. The American Dream is not a dream everyone can realize – on the way to every human getting it, resources would be long gone and the earth a catastrophic wasteland.

I’m here for a reason and that reason isn’t to blindly consume and make money at a job that contributes to the devastation of the earth. I am here to be an earth warrior, not a blind consumer.

How can I enjoy myself when I know that on Navajo reservations that have reaped the negative impacts of having coal plants and mines on their land (tapping already low aquifers, being one impact) thousands of families still don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. How can I live a comfortable life on the back of that inadvertent sacrifice the Navajo people have been forced to make? I don’t see the chasm between their experience and mine.

It is not out of sight out of mind for me, which is why we decided to make our homestead off grid and solar powered (yes I know solar power isn’t perfect and has its fair share of environmental harm.) But you see, that’s the catch 22 I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We cause harm while living within this system. As much as I’ve tried to divest from it in so many ways through growing my own food, building our buildings ourselves with as many natural materials sourced as locally as possible (because the modern building industry is a nasty unexamined business as well), heat with wood sustainably harvested from our forest, and chosen a life of voluntary simplicity thrifting or buying second hand most things, I am still a part of it. Yet that’s not a reason to call me a hypocrite or others like me, for example.

It is my sensitivity which causes me to heed the results of my actions and which inhibits me from living blindly.

While living within a destructive system, until the system is dismantled and rebuilt block by block, we cause harm as we seek to shift things. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t mean I should stop fighting for principles I believe in and living it out to the best of my ability, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t, that we shouldn’t start where we are and still speak about how we wish things could be.

If I light a vision in you, you carry that vision now and it evolves and morphs inside of your being in a unique way that only your life experiences and soul can make it. It manifests in a unique way through you. Never stop dreaming and never stop believing that the seeds of dreams within your person aren’t the exact things the world needs to hear from you! Imagine if our great visionaries stopped before they started – if Paul Stamets became discouraged and never carried on his research into the potentials of mushrooms. The world would never be blessed with the fruits of his vision. I believe the same goes for all of us.

The world has enough of the old curmudgeons who have fit their lives to go along with the status quo and who will shoot down every dream you have before it makes its way off the ground. While they may have some wisdom about how the current system works, that’s not the only information we’re interested in. Yes, it’s helpful to understand the current system so we know how to change it, but revolutions happen and will continue happening. I believe our age is ripe for an evolution of that sort.

My age group isn’t having children because we don’t see much hope for the future and we’ve heard statistics about overpopulation our entire lives. How can we add to this mess of humans taking over the earth? These are seeds planted in us and in a myriad of ways they are finding fertile soil, abundant water and sunshine and they’re making their way to the light of day. Perhaps in the end, human action and greed will cause a mass scale die off of all life on this planet. Yet where I stand, I cannot know how this will pan out and I am a hell of a lot more satisfied living out the passions and dreams which make life worth living than defeatedly following along with the status quo. How does it line go?

Hold fast to dreams 

For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes
(source)

Do Bees Self Medicate on Plant Medicine?

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This week in the @naturalmedicine contest, we have a very cool and unique contest. We’re invited to write about 1 to 3 plants, namely Basil, Elecampane and Plantain. Wow, how fun! Check it out!

I have had some thoughts running through my mind as I learn climate change statistics surrounding insects. It’s grim and we need to do something quickly lest populations of insects continue to decline in rapid numbers. I wrote more about some of these side effects yesterday in Unbelievable Stats about Climate Change.

Yet what I want to focus on today, especially concerning the variety of Basil I’ve chosen to write about, Holy Basil, is the effects that adaptogenic (more on this term soon) plants have on insect immunity.

What’s an Adaptogen?

Adaptogens are becoming widely known and more often used every day, which is fantastic news for humanity.

Adaptogens are stress‐response modifiers that increase an organism’s nonspecific resistance to stress by increasing its ability to adapt and survive. 

Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals

It is frequently said that adaptogens help bring the body’s systems into balance and each day more research is coming out about these amazing plants. Our herb of focus today, Holy Basil, is a supreme adaptogen – one of the best!

Holy Basil

It is well documented that Holy Basil, Ocimum tenuiflorum, is beneficial for the human organism. It’s one of my favorite plants and we grow her every year (well she comes back reseeding with vigor!) each year. We’ve written previously about here, here, and here. And we also sell a tincture of Holy Basil through @homesteader’s coop in our shop.

Our love for her really is incomparable, which is name she often goes by- the incomparable one!

If you’re interested in learning a more in depth profile that is scientifically comprehensive and contains historical lore, I suggest reading this article, Tulsi Queen of Herbs.

Yet, my interest today goes beyond the human realm, where the amazing immune supportive and boosting, holistic system adapting effects of Holy Basil are well documented.

Today I want to learn some new things about insects and their relationships with plants and if through growing adaptogenic, medicinal and immune-boosting plants in my garden, I can help strengthen the immune systems & disease resistance of our insect neighbors.

The Research

I have been researching for an hour so far and the first article I’ve found referencing any organism benefitting from adaptogens is this article: Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans.

The adaptogens studied in this article are Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola and C. elegans is a common nematode found in compost and garden soils. The researchers did find that the adaptogens elongated the lifespan of the nematode. The researchers concluded:

Based on these observations, it is suggested that adaptogens are experienced as mild stressors at the lifespan-enhancing concentrations and thereby induce increased stress resistance and a longer lifespan.

(source)

Let’s see what we can find surrounding insects’ immunity related to adaptogens, if anything.

Plants do affect immunity of insects

The first research paper I found referencing insect health relating to the plant they were eating is this study, Host plant variation plastically impacts different traits of the immune system of a phytophagous insect.

Basically they took a species of moth larvae and fed it different types of grapes and charted their immune responses. This paragraph stood out to me.

Antibiotic chemicals in host plants may indirectly provide protection against microbial pathogens to herbivorous insects, which could then maintain higher levels of immune defence against a range of other pathogens.

While I mainly saw an enormous amount of bees, flies and other flying insects on the pollen of the Holy Basil – rarely does our Holy Basil have any pest issues on the leaves, this is hopeful news that the constituents in the host plants have the ability to change the immunomodulation of the insects they’re in relation with.

I think in order to have any direction in my research, I’m going to have to focus in on a specific insect relationship and thinking of Manuka honey, which is well known for its incredible potency due to the Manuka flowers the bees feast on, I’m inspired to focus on bees, their honey and nectar.

This honey is a superfood sought out by humans and it is well known that their pollen, nectar, propolis and royal jelly are beneficial for humans, but what about the health of the bees that are the “intermediaries” so to say?

My line of thinking started to head this way as I saw soooo many honeybees on our Tulsi plants flying around with bright reddish orange Tulsi pollen collected on their legs! We know honey and propolis are amazing for human health, but is this benefitting the bees?

Honeybees world round are facing a lot of diseases and threats from Colony Collapse Disorder and pest issues. Out of 5 healthy wild swarms that we caught last year, only 1 is still with us (2 absconded and the rest died for unknown reasons – most likely because of hive beetles and weak colonies.)

I am so concerned with this research because I have a hunch that by growing medicinal plants with potent nectar & pollen, we can help boost the immunity of our insect populations.

Pollinator habitats are all the rage – and that’s a great thing! Many of the popular high nectar and pollen plants that are on popular lists are medicinal as well.

Insect Immunity

Here’s what we know about insect immunity:

Insects have diverse mechanisms to combat infection by pathogens. Many insects are protected by a layer of antimicrobial secretions on their exterior, and by a gut environment that is hostile to pathogens. When pathogens move beyond these defences, the epithelium is often sufficient to stop further progress. Should pathogens defeat the morphological defences of insects, they are often met by efficient cellular and humoral immune defences. Insect immunity shows many parallels to the innate immune responses of humans and other vertebrates, involving a diverse set of actions including the secretion of antimicrobial peptides, phagocytosis, melanization and the enzymatic degradation of pathogens

Further, insect immune pathways share both an overall architecture and specific orthologous components with the innate immune system of vertebrates 

This suggests both a shared root for these immune pathways and selection to conserve many components over hundreds of millions of years. 

source(emphasis mine)

This similarity in our immune function bodes hopeful for my hypothesis.

Nectar used as Medicine by Bees

Goldmine! Jackpot! I didn’t know the scientific wording for the question I was asking. Turns out I needed to research: secondary metabolites can reduce bee disease.

The following studies confirm my hypothesis that medicinal nectar & pollen is medicinal for bees.

Nectar chemistry mediates the behavior of parasitized bees: consequences for plant fitness

These results suggest that pollinators may be able to use nectar chemistry to self-medicate in the wild.

Previous research has demonstrated that insect herbivores can self medicate, changing their foraging behavior when parasitized and resulting in an increased consumption of secondary metabolites (Singer et al. 2009, Abbott 2014). Combined with the discovery that consumption of catalpol can lower Crithidia infection of B. impatiens (Richardson et al. 2015), our results suggest the interesting possibility that bumble bees may self medicate with iridoid glycosides when challenged by natural enemies, increasing visitation to flowers with high iridoid glycosides in nectar relative to uninfected bees. This potential self-medication behavior is not unique to bumble bees. For example, honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) increase their collection of plant resins (propolis) with antibiotic function in response to nest pathogens (Simone-Finstrom and Spivak 2012), and have been shown to increase consumption of nectar secondary metabolites with antibiotic properties when parasitized (Gherman et al. 2014). Our foraging experiment suggests that parasitized bumble bees return to the nest with greater quantities of nectar iridoid glycosides than uninfected conspecifics, ingestion of which should lower their Crithidia parasite load (Richardson et al. 2015). Bumble bees are social insects and workers make foraging decisions based both on individual and colony needs; we could thus have underestimated the importance of parasites in shaping bee foraging behavior, since many individuals from infected colonies show no sign of infection themselves (Otterstatter and Thomson 2007).

http://burfordreiskind.com/wp-content/uploads/Richardson-et-al-2016-Ecology.pdf

Essentially there is abundant research noting that bees under various types of health threats seek out medicinal properties of plants!

Here are some other notable studies:

‘Bee’ healthy: NMSU researchers study medicinal benefits of oregano for bees

What’s wonderful about this study is that they’re promoting the distribution of Monarda fistulosa (Bee balm or wild oregano), a very popular pollinator AND beautiful plant! (Actually this study is still in process, but I will be following its progress here. And here is a video talking about their research. Right along my lines of thinking and own observation!!!

Bee Disease Reduced By Nature’s “Medicine Cabinet,” Dartmouth-Led Study Finds

Flower pharmacies help bees fight parasites
& Secondary metabolites in floral nectar reduce parasite infections in bumblebees
& Consumption of a nectar alkaloid reduces pathogen load in bumble bees

Medicinal value of sunflower pollen against bee pathogens

Increased Resin Collection after Parasite Challenge: A Case of Self-Medication in Honey Bees?

Pharmacophagy and pharmacophory: mechanisms of self-medication and disease prevention in the honeybee colony (Apis mellifera)

The Wrap-Up

Based on the findings that bees certainly seek out plants based on their qualities, I think there is good reason to assume that bees would benefit from the proven antimicrobial (Antimicrobial Activity of Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) Essential Oil and Their Major Constituents against Three Species of Bacteria) and various other health benefits from the nectar and pollen of Holy Basil. The camphor, eucalyptol and eugenol within Holy Basil are the likely components and many medicinal herbs share these benefits so it makes an even stronger case for widespread medicinal herb gardens!

In many studies, bees that were parasitized or had pest or disease threats to the colony sought out specific constituents in plant nectar and pollen which boosted their immunity. While this information isn’t surprising and fully confirms my hypothesis, it is great to have it confirmed by science. How exciting!!

Bees do self medicate!

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.

2019 Interns at Mountain Jewel Permaculture Homestead: The Details

Homestead, naturalmedicine, permaculture
  • Natural Building
  • Permaculture/Holistic Living
  • Perennial Agriculture/Food Forests

Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.

At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!

We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)

Garlic harvest

What can an intern expect?

As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.

You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)

Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.

Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…

In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.

On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.

Early summer garden

 With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.

Wren making a cleaver’s tincture

As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!

Our western edge

What do we expect?

In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.

Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.

We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)

Sunset on Ozark Mountains surrounding our homestead

We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.

This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.

Mountain Jewel inspired art by https://lauraleesart.com/

What time frame?

We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed.  In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as  opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.

For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.

Lodging and Food

Lodging

Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.

We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.

Food

Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.

We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time). 

During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.  

*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.

As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.

Shiitakes we grew on oak logs

Transportation

A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.

Ini with a harvest of wild Paw Paws

To Apply

Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to mountainjewelbotanicals@gmail.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.

Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel

Plastics, Pollinators & Human Action: The Current State of Things

Uncategorized

A plastic bag was found in the Mariana Trench.

To most of us that doesn’t mean anything, but in reality it’s something every human should be alerted to. The Mariana Trench at 6.5 miles deep in the ocean, as low as the Himalayas are high, is the deepest trench in the ocean.

A team of scientists studying differences in creatures in the deepest ocean trenches have recently started to find alarming amounts of plastic in the amphipods there, specifically PCBs which though banned decades ago exist for much longer.

“The team found PCBs galore. Some amphipods were carrying levels 50 times higher than those seen in crabs from one of China’s most polluted rivers.”

Upon further examination, the team found plastic fibers and fragments in 72% of the amphipods.

Why does this matter?

“Until now, no one had shown that abyssal animals were actually eating those fragments, but in retrospect, it seems obvious that amphipods would. They are exceptional scavengers that excel at finding food. By deliberately pumping water over their body, they can detect the faintest plumes of odor, and with taste buds on their legs, they can forage with every footstep. When a morsel hits the ocean floor, amphipods turn up in droves.”

“Food is scarce in the deep, so amphipods can’t afford to be fussy. They’ll eat pretty much anything, which makes them particularly vulnerable to plastics. And since they sit at the bottom of the trench food webs, their catholic appetite can doom entire ecosystems. “They’re like bags of peanuts,” Jamieson says. “Everything else eats amphipods – shrimp, fish- and they’ll end up consuming plastics, too. And when the fish die, they get consumed by amphipods, and it goes round and round in circles.

“What you put in the trench, stays in the trench,” he adds. Which means that the plastic problem “is only going to get worse. Anything going in there isn’t coming back.”

(source)

I’m not sure what has led me to start investigated climate change again of late. Perhaps it’s the Green New Deal, an initiative coming out of congress or scientists saying that we are currently a part of the 6th great extinction – and our human behavior is one of the main reasons.

It’s alarming, depressing and frustrating to start the long process of educating oneself on these matters of our world. Many times, as just one human, I feel hopeless and helpless. Do the actions of one person even make a difference? Can our alternative, sustainably minded lifestyle on our Permaculture homestead make a difference?

And the stories just keep coming. Along with plastics at every level of the ocean, basically becoming part and parcel of our marine kin, we find that seabird populations are dwindling in Alaska due to rising water temperatures. This affects not only the ocean web, but also the native peoples in the area who have relied on the birds’ for food in times of need.

Is it easier for we who are buffered from these first signal fires to ignore what is happening?

It’s hard for us to purchase anything these days that isn’t wrapped in plastic, but I think we need to start being more aware of that. Many countries and recently Hawaii banned plastics at grocery stores. That seems like a no-brainer, but humans are tragically slow to adopt necessary changes. We are too self consumed and it makes us a day late and a dollar short when we need to be preemptive.

As we see, the PCBs in the ocean’s deepest trench, the Mariana trench, came from human activity from decades ago. Businessmen on Wall Street don’t give a flying fuck and Republicans in office laugh it off, as they are still contesting the existence and validity of climate change.

What is our problem? How can we save ourselves and our destruction from killing off everything else?

I am beset with these questions, and it’s not the first time.

On top of this, we read headlines like this one:

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

It makes me wonder, what can we as individuals do? Youth are rising up on March 15th saying that they aren’t going to let the older generations determine things by remaining silent and inactive anymore. We need to make a change and it infuriates me that people posit this as a political issue. This is definitely not a political issue, it’s a biological issue and one that affects every lifeform on this planet.

Here are some of the cities, countries & companies stepping up to face this crisis.

These are just some of the large-scale actions that are being taken. You can read a running list here. It’s heartening to see that so many are responding to the need to curb plastic use (especially single-use!) and find alternative solutions. The time is now! Too often humans live without concern for the effects their actions will have in the future. Surely our brains have developed past that evolutionary stage?!

As a part of this research, I am putting my mind to what I can do and how I can be most effective regarding getting this information out in a good way to the most people and how I can make a change and inspire others to as well. We will only succeed if these changes take on like a movement and that means we have to work together. Do you have any ideas or inspirations for ways that we can make a shift? I have a few ideas floating around that I will share in coming articles.

I know often when we hear information like this, we want to close down and stop listening or sometimes it can feel overwhelming. I have leaned heavily on the work of Joanna Macy who invites us to instead open to our grief and overwhelm where we can find abundant reserves of energy that can help us find mobility in these current crises. The answer isn’t inaction, but going into our grief and using that energy to propel us forward. I’ve written about this before – you can find more in the following articles:

Feeling Grief for our World? Let Your Heart Break… Open

Extending the Bounds of Self | Thoughts on Deep Ecology & Anthropocentrism

Are We Listening? Are You Paying Attention? Wisdom of the California Fires

Information and quotes from Mariana Trench plastic all from this article.

Why you need to know about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal

Uncategorized

It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with our lifestyle at Mountain Jewel to know that many of our actions are motivated by a concern for our relationship with our environment. As a youth growing up hearing about the dangers of climate change in relation to species worldwide, it is only a natural outpouring from my generation that we try something to make a change.

Whereas many in older generations become set in their ways and disenchanted with workable solutions, we are faced with a world that might not be here for our children’s children. It’s a drastic time to be a human on the earth, and yet the disasters of climate change are seemingly still in debate at the apex of the United States political structure as many continue to claim that it doesn’t exist and those who do say that we are moving too slowly, too late to do anything about it.

Our lifestyle is a response to this and though I have stepped back a bit from my “I’ll only ride a bicycle” days in an effort to be the change I wished to see in the increasingly warming world, our Permaculture homestead is a step in the right direction, based on what is feasible, practical and possible for two people.

As I was catching up on the often depressing and bizarre world of US politics this Sunday morning, researching the Cohen litigation & US Presidential 2020 Candidates, I started to dig into a relatively new and inspiring figure on the scene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC. A bright star from the Bronx, she is the youngest woman to enter congress and she did so on a 100% grassroots budget.

Image Source

I got shivers when I read her testimony of her decision to run for office after visiting Standing Rock Reservation during the Dakota Access Pipeline Activism Gatherings where she quoted,

I found it all to be incredibly fulfilling and satisfying work, but I never really saw myself running on my own. I counted out that possibility because I felt that possibility had counted out me. I felt like the only way to effectively run for office is if you had access to a lot of wealth, high social influence, a lot of high dynastic power, and I knew that I didn’t have any of those things.

The tipping point was was when I was at Standing Rock in 2016, and I saw how all of the people there — particularly the Native people and the Lakota Sioux — were putting their whole lives and everything that they had on the line for the protection of their community. I saw how a corporation had literally militarized itself against the American people, and I just felt like we were at a point where we couldn’t afford to ignore politics anymore. We couldn’t afford to write off our collective power in self-governance anymore out of cynicism. 

Source

Soon I saw that she was engaged in a Green New Deal and that, of course, Fox News and Conservatives everywhere are freaking out about her sheer existence and AOC’s audacity to say what she means. They are pulling out all the dirt on her they can find (much of which is illegitimate) and still she presses on. She has this to say about her Green New Deal and the impetus to put it out there at a recent speech to “Girls who Code”,

The power is in the person who’s trying, regardless of the success. I just introduced the Green New Deal… and i’ts creating all of this conversation. Why? Because no-one else has even tried.

People are like, ‘Oh, it’s unrealisitic..oh, it’s vauge, oh, it doesn’t address this little minute thing,’ and I’m like, ‘You try- you do it. Because you’re not. So, until you do it, i’m the boss. How about that?

Newsweek Article

You need to know about her and the deal and here’s why

My generation is sufficiently fed up with politics as usual and she is only one of the first true representatives of the people.

Noam Chompsky has this to say about her win,

 Well, I think there’s—her victory was a quite spectacular and significant event. I think what it points to is a split in the Democratic Party between the—roughly speaking, between the popular base and the party managers. The popular base is increasingly, essentially, social democratic, following, pursuing the—concerned with the kinds of progressive objectives that she outlined in those—in her remarks, which should be directed not only to expanding the electorate but to the general working-class, poor population of the world, of the middle-class population of the country, for whom these ideals are quite significant. They can be brought to that. 

Source
Image Source

As a Democratic Socialist, Conservatives are still pulling out all the stops relating her to a communist, etc. But that isn’t going to stop us. News pundits saying this aboutthe Green New Deal are completely crazy and it’s weird to hear people even say things like this and expect to be taken seriously:

Sebastian Gorka, speaking at the CPAC conference in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday, said the Democrats’ Green New Deal is “a watermelon,” because it’s “green on the outside” and “deep, deep red communist on the inside.”

Source

Huh?

Nevertheless, the Green New Deal is not a communist threat and Jeffrey Sachs, a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, has this to say about it after reviewing it,

The Green New Deal agenda is both feasible and affordable. This will become clear as the agenda is turned into specific legislation for energy, health care, higher education, and more.The Green New Deal combines ideas across several parts of the economy because the ultimate goal is sustainable development. That means an economy that delivers a package deal: good incomes, social fairness, and environmental sustainability. Around the world, governments are aiming for the same end — a “triple-bottom line” of economic, social, and environmental objectives.

Source

The deal focuses on three aspects,

The first is to decarbonize the US energy system — that is, to end the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and natural gas, in order to stop global warming.


The second is to guarantee lower-cost, high-quality health coverage for all.

The third is to ensure decent jobs and living standards for all Americans, in part by making colleges and vocational schools affordable for all.

Source

While many of the details need to be worked out, I am proud of her and inspired by her that in her first term in office she is already taking on something so necessary and so big that so many are afraid to even try.

The backlash she is facing is commonplace for anyone who seeks to step out of the accepted norm, but the fact remains that we humans have to start working out renewable options. An article at popsci.com, supports her green new deal and says it is very possible that total renewal energy systems in the US can be achieved,

Though our current mix of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean 100% renewable goals are infeasible. “It’s technically and economically possible to do it by 2030,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor, about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. “But for social and political reasons, it will probably take longer, maybe up to 2050.”

For our generation who has grown up with global warming threats our entire youth, we are done with politicians who want to keep us in the dark ages, sucking every last bit of fossil fuels out of the earth. We know we need to move toward sustainable solutions, even if our first steps are vague and big dreams. We all have to start somewhere and we need to do it now! AOC and her peers and allies are going to take us there, one step at a time.

Forgiveness as an elemental aspect of enlightening

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Ozark Sunset

When I started meditation I was hoping to gain more peace, clarity and love in my life, but I couldn’t know if this would happen or in what form it would take. So many of us want more of these things in our lives – and we go to great lengths to have them, yet they can still evade us.

I remember hearing a story of a local farm near us. A woman had been farming there for many years alone, selling medicinal seeds, veggies & grass raised beef for market. A man more than 20 years her junior announced that he would like to live at her place, help her and search for peace. At that time in my life I wondered at his desire for peace above all. Certainly at that time in my life peace was not a goal I had for myself.

Yet, as life goes on, different things look appealing. After an especially tumultuous year we may find a more peaceful existence is exactly what we’re after. When I started to continually think of going and sitting a meditation course, I knew it was time. Time to turn over a new leaf; time to get serious about sculpting my life and asking myself if I was happy and if what I was doing was working towards that end. Turns out, I wasn’t and it turns out that meditation was indeed just the ticket. Thanks again to my stellar intuition, that keen mysterious sense, for leading me in exactly the right direction once again.

What I did not expect was that forgiveness, of self and others, was going to play such a crucial role in my happiness, peace and enlightening.

I’m still not quite sure what people mean when they talk about enlightenment as an achievable state. Speaking as one who has not achieved it nor lives from that state, I can only guess. Yet my use of the word as an action verb fits precisely because I’m using it as a descriptor. I quite literally feel myself getting lighter.

Though this wasn’t a goal, per say, I think it has a lot to do with other feelings of peace, harmony and more joy and love flowing through my being. As energetic blocks lift off or energetic channels start flowing once again, as they naturally do, much of what we held on to or thought of as essential to “who we are” just doesn’t take on that much importance anymore.

This leads me to the assumed topic of this article: forgiveness.

Though I never thought I held grudges, as I started to practice Metta in the evenings during the server course at the Vipassana, I realized the blocks I had to letting go of certain things that I held against people, even groups of people.

One of the practices is to “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and another is to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally.” As I began searching myself, the walls and linings of the internal caverns, when evoking these two phrases, I realized I had a lot of blocks toward these exercises. Let the fun begin!

Thich Nhat Hanh, a popular meditation guide and writer, has this to say about anger,

“When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.”

Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.” (in his book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames)

Though he is pinpointing the experience of anger, it is true that when we perceive someone has wronged us, the go-to action is to get them back. Though the slight might have taken place long ago, we hold on to it. I had done this for years with certain people. I thought that it was my way of “holding them accountable” or even seeking justice. What I sort of knew, but didn’t quite understand was that this act was also holding on to me, weighing me down.

I still don’t fully understand the nature of justice or proper accountability, and I’m not going to get into that complex subject. Also, please don’t take my words as a “should” or “shouldn’t” kind of advice. Human life is a complex thing and what I am practicing I am not saying you should or shouldn’t do as well. I’m simply sharing where I am currently regarding my process of forgiveness or letting go.

And here’s what I’m learning:

All of these years I have been holding on to things inside against certain people and groups of people, carrying them inside with me, weighing me down.

I let a little peep of possibility in toward forgiveness and I started with someone quite close to me, Ini. Ini and I have had our great moments and we’ve also had our moments of struggle, of deep quarrelling, frustration, feuds and anger. We’ve been to the highs and to the lows – it’s one of the blessings of our strong relationship that we go all over the place, leaving no stone unturned in the realm of human experience.

He was one of the people I held a lot of anger against for perceived slights, injustices, and wrongs. He’s also one of the people I love the most in this world and I wanted to work on healing our relationship, into bringing real love, peace and joy into our home and on our homestead. One of the reasons I wanted to work more on myself is because it is our dream and goal to hold space for people at our homestead and I want to be my best self for myself, each other and for the numerous souls we will walk beside throughout the years. I want to walk my talk and really provide a space of true healing, not masking or going through the motions.

Almost immediately after going through the exercises: “seek pardon from anyone who I might have hurt or harmed” and to “grant pardon to anyone who might have hurt or harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally,” I felt a lightening occurring toward him and more love, gratitude and peace alongside it. It actually nearly felt miraculous and in that moment I realized that when holding a grudge against Ini was meant to “hurt him” or uphold some sense of justice, it had been hurting me all along and I was carrying it like a stone.

Soon, after practicing this in different scenarios, I realized this practice is nothing short of miraculous and I would feel a tingling sensation of energy lifting off my body as I practiced in earnest. Alongside meditating, I started to notice big changes happening inside of me, and since I have come home, they have spilled forth into my daily life and relationships.

Of course I had heard it said that a lack of forgiveness hurts you more than the one you intend it toward, but I wrote it off, as is the case with many of those things that are easy to talk about and harder to practice.

In the beginning of doing this practice (and sometimes now, too) a lot of voices will come up reminding me of why this person isn’t worthy or deserving of my forgiveness. Centered on the other person, these voices remind of me unforgiveable instances and debts that have never been sufficiently paid. Surely this person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, or at least not yet- not until they have paid!

Yet one thing is certain, we cannot control the other person’s willingness to seek help, forgiveness or to change. This cycle can repeat forever! We think that by holding a grudge something is done to the other person, but actually that something sits inside of us, working. And, in these instances, we are the only person whose actions we have control over. It is actually a gift to myself to start the gears of the cycle of pardon.

And how many people have I hurt or harmed as well – either intentionally or unintentionally? The cycle of hurt may never stop and we all will work out our suffering on one another until we learn that that only perpetuates the cycle.

As for me, I’m very grateful to now have this technique to practice. Enlightening, an offshoot I didn’t suspect coming from meditation, is a wonderful process.

Risks of GMO Non-Bruising Potatoes & Alternatives for Conscious Consumers

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The other day Ini brought home one of those nutritional ad magazines from a local health food store. You know the ones – they have a few articles worth reading, but they’re mostly full of health product ads. After reading through it, we used it for kindling.

It reminded me of how far we have come from a whole food diet being enough in our culture and that the trend for anything out of balance in our systems is to throw some expensive pills at it, instead of looking at lifestyle or dietary shifts foremost. Even health conscious, organic buying, body aware people do this. Hell, I’ve even done it. I digress.

(source)

Contained within this ad magazine was a shocking article about a new GMO potato, which its creator publicly speaks against for being “toxic.” Those of us who grow food (around the world) have long fought against the genetic modification revolution because of its short sided approach that simply doesn’t know what it doesn’t know yet pushes on anyway. Essentially, I ask, Why mess with something that is so perfect? Humans have been selecting varieties they like for aeons and we have a pretty good collection that gets better all the time.

What shocked me about this potato – and it’s a real cause for concern – is that the scientists silenced melanin creation accounting for a potato that doesn’t bruise, show disease and that stays white regardless of state or care during transportation.

(source)

This is really bad news for consumers, though it’s clear why companies that want greater useable crop yields would create such a thing and that companies prioritizing uniform looking food would want it.

Tons of food is thrown out per year due to bruising or because it doesn’t look pretty. As an organic farmer, we always joke that some of these foods are just the ones that end up on the farmer’s plate. In most cases, you can just cut around it and ugly fruits and veggies don’t have anything inherently wrong with them. Yet, a vegetable that has a bruise, but doesn’t appear to is a real cause for concern.

Caius Rommens, one of the scientists responsible for this potato in particular, is speaking out against this and has even written a book called Pandora’s Potatoes in which he decries the accumulation of toxins that can take place due to the silencing of certain genes (which they’ve done in this potato). Toxins such as alpha-aminoadipate (a neurotoxin) and tyramine could be silent accumulators in the unassuming consumer base. (source)

On top of this, the GMO potatoes are still bruised – you just can’t tell they are bruised. They could be far along in providing a home for a dangerous pathogen, rot or another non edible decomposition process and still appear white!

Many of the potatoes are white russet, burbank and atlantic and Innate is the company to keep an eye out for. (image source)

While this is a cautionary tale, consumers (who are lucky enough to have this information reach their ears) may be left wondering how they can sidestep this monstrosity. Here are a few alternatives to eating the ever-white non-bruising Franken-potato:

At the store always buy organic potatoes or, better yet, buy potatoes at your local farmer’s market from someone you have a relationship with. This is because GMOs still aren’t required to be nationally labeled so you can’t be sure what you’re getting unless it’s organic or you know the grower!

I didn’t mention this, but the original article I read also threw some serious hate at potatoes for not being healthy! I was aghast and as I read it started getting angry, which sparked a lively discussion with Ini. Potatoes are a basic human survival food, helping countless generations of people stay alive! How dare some modern calorie-counters write an article steering people away from their consumption. Long live the potato and buy organic!

Eat (and even grow your own!) alternatives to the potato

At Mountain Jewel, we grow potatoes every year. Due to our love for them, they rarely make it to winter storage, but we also grow a host of other tubers that can be used in similar ways. You may consider growing some of these plants alongside the familiar papa.

  • Jerusalem Artichoke or Sunroot
    • These, as many gardeners can attest, are vigorous and easy to grow tubers that produce a brilliant sunflower to boot! You can roast, boil, eat fresh, ferment, dry, make into soups or bake the sunroot. Also known as fartichokes, they also can up gas production in the intestines, but this usually (backed by a Mountain Jewel experiment) goes away after a few meals of eating them.
  • Sweet Potatoes or Yams
    • On our homestead we love growing Sweet Potatoes. They are so easy to grow and give you a nutritious green all year long as well as a delicious trove of roots at harvest time. I remember hearing a story of a Harvard professor who, when asked what the one food is that he would bring to a deserted island, said the sweet potato for it provides so many of our nutritional needs!
  • Groundnut
    • A native to North America, the groundnut is a tuber with a climbing vine and a sweet pea like flower. These perennials fix nitrogen in the soil, slowly amending it over time and producing their own fertilizer as they grow! There are many human cultivated varieties prized for their size and flavor.

We also have Chinese Mountain Yam growing on our homestead, but yet have to make a meal out of it, but that’s another option. What are some other favorites of yours?

While Monsanto and Simplot (the company responsible for this Franken-potato) carry on with their disastrous plans, we can take our food security into our own hands.

This means knowing where our food is coming from and paying those people legitimate prices for their products! While the cost of living in many ways has continued to rise with inflation, the cost of food statistically has not risen along with it! That means that we expect the same prices we grew up with for potatoes, eggs, veggies, bread, milk, etc and we expect farmers to be able to meet those prices.

GMO and mass scale farms can, but oftentimes organic produce gets nearer to the true cost of high quality food production. Don’t be afraid to plan for this and set aside a little more money in your budget to pay for higher quality food. It certainly helps create the world you want to live in, but it also helps those farmers continue their good business of growing healthy food that’s good for you and the soil and water. Furthermore, the food will provide more nutrients and minerals which makes up your body, the sacred temple of yours during your lifetime on earth!

Take good care and steer clear of these bruise-disguising potatoes- they’re still bruised!