Down on the farm

Babysitting… done that. House-sitting… been there. But it’s not every day you get to farm sit. This September, my wife, Mary, and I stayed at the farm of some friends, and took care of the critters and plants while they went on vacation… together… a novel occurrence when you’re so connected to the land.

Each morning we let the ewe and twin lambs out of their stall to graze. Evenings they had to be back in with some feed and the gate securely closed, lest some conniving coyote connoisseur discover young naive outdoor lamb chops. The remainder of the flock stayed in their pastures. They grouped around us evenings when we gave them apples and veggie kitchen scraps.

The farm’s home landscape is eclectic; a labyrinth of flowers and trees. Everywhere are butterflies, and bees, flitting from one flower to another, amid a plethora of other insects and spiders. Groupings of flowers are mingled among various vegetables including tomatoes, beans, onions, lettuce, asparagus, squash, corn, etc. Strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, and butternuts not only frame the garden, but are part of the composition. With so many predators, including wasps, preying mantis, and spiders, it’s hard for any pest species to do much damage.

One afternoon, I occupied a lawn chair to type on my ‘lap-top’ amid this cornucopia of critters. A yellow jacket wasp soon found my fingers and walked and licked its way around this truly “digital handscape,” only to leave to seek something more interesting. In September and October, these yellow and black bee-sized wasps are at their maximum numbers and can be particularly bothersome because of their expanding enthusiasm for food. They are a common sight at fall picnics and garbage cans. Their numbers here were few… an indicator there are ample skunks and moles in the vicinity to raid underground wasp nests.

The silence was broken by a breeze whispering and rattling through dry leaves and pine boughs, punctuated by the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” of chickadees (aptly named), and occasionally interrupted by the surprisingly loud hum of half a dozen humming birds chasing one another among multicolored zinnias. They were tanking up on nectar in a ‘migration preparation satiation.’

But it’s not just the home landscape that is alive. Some time back, our friends had received certification as an organic farm. This required several years of soil restoration, free of the chemical additives so prevalent in American agriculture over the past few decades since World War Two. Slowly but surely the soil came back to life, brimming with a host of microorganisms and worms. They now raise special heirloom varieties of corn and organic soybeans. Strange how farming in our grandparents day is now known as “organic farming.” By rights, we should instead refer to “modern” agriculture as “chemical farming.”

With the growing season coming to a close, I am truly impressed at this growing diversity. A lot of effort has gone into creating this as a place for varied plants and animals, some of which are intended for consumption. There’s a different kind of wealth and balance represented here than what might be observed on other more conventional farms.

This reflects dedication to the holistic living landscape of the Land of Lincoln. This ability to see the big picture is not unique to just organic farmers. As a naturalist for many years I got to attend regional as well as occasional national conferences where I could interact with people who had dedicated their lives to preservation and restoration of public lands and wildlife for the benefit of future generations.

Speaking of which, it’s election time once again. Candidates claim they want to serve. The key question is… serve whom? Too often this involves their corporate funders. In our current form of capitalism, corporations are responsible solely to their share holders… not to us “stake holders.” Too often we are expected to tolerate the depletion of our living environment as a cost of progress. That’s where government regulation is so crucial. We stake holders depend on government to mollify this cost of progress, based upon objective science and necessary regulation.

It comes as no surprise that the Clean Air Act is once again under attack by industry as too costly. History proves otherwise. A typical example: industry balked at protecting the atmospheric ozone layer. The cost estimates of cleaning up chlorofluorocarbon were greatly exaggerated. Thankfully they did not get their way. Today the health benefits have been enormous, and, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, will end up preventing hundreds of millions of cases of skin cancer over the coming century.  Industry is balking now at reducing carbon emissions… too costly.  Again they are also attacking the science that has identified the problems and risks associated with climate change and global warming.

It’s a little like farm sitting. We want the right people to oversee our lands; the plants, animals, and environmental qualities that are the foundation of our and our descendents’ ecology and economy.  This is the fundamental flaw in all the recent zeal for less government and deregulation, particularly concerning environment. It’s like putting the coyotes in charge of the lambs. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but for whatever reason, within the past few decades, Republicans have been at odds with organizations that safeguard environmental quality. Recently Republican senators attempted to reject EPA findings that Greenhouse Gasses threaten public health. How ironic that conservatives tend to eschew conservation.

Information on the environmental records of politicians is available at a few web sites. Check out the League of Conservation Voters at…, also Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council can be helpful: and

There is world wide focus this year on October 10, 2010. This date 10/10/10 is a time to show your commitment to environmental health. Visit the web site, In it you will find practical ways to reduce your own carbon output and to help others as well. Support candidates whom you can trust to take care of the land. Make 10/10/10 count.

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