Spring 2012

Cultivating Resilient Communities

MLT Board of Directors:

Rita Bober
Norm Bober
Ken Dahlberg, Chairperson
Maynard Kaufman
Ron Klein
Suzanne Klein
Michael Kruk

Jim Laatsch
Lisa Phillips, Treasurer
Michael Phillips
Thom Phillips, Managing Director
Jan Ryan, Secretary
Jon Towne
Dennis Wilcox

    Despite our abnormally early spring, this is a late Spring edition of the MLT newsletter.  Prolonged summer weather in March followed by seasonably cool weather in April seemed to allow for getting spring chores done, but does that translate into time to work on this newsletter?  No, it just causes the “to do” list to mushroom!
    We'll start with an adapted version of a presentation Maynard gave on Earth Day, April 22 at Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum in South Haven.


                                                           Maynard Kaufman

    When we speak of saving the earth we usually mean saving life on the earth.  The earth as a geological reality has already been ravaged for the resources we think we need.  But our concern now is for the many species in the community of life on earth that are threatened.  Many are facing extinction.   Scientists who study life, past and present, such as paleontologists, ecologists, or evolutionary biologists, are telling us that we are already in the midst of the sixth great extinction.  This loss of  biodiversity increased as humans gradually became the dominant form of life.  Unlike previous massive extinctions, such as the fifth extinction some 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid struck the earth and ended the age of dinosaurs, humans are now causing the current loss of biodiversity- - the sixth extinction.

    Humans are threatening biodiversity in a variety of ways.  The paleoanthropologist, Richard Leakey, has summarized three ways in which humans cause the extinction of other forms of life: first by killing them for food, second, by introducing alien species into new ecosystems, and, third, by destroying the habitat of other creatures, as in deforestation.  In other words, humans have taken over the land.   But we can change how we live on the land by  replacing alien species with native plants and reforesting our lawns.  I will try to explain why this is important and necessary.  In this country, according to Douglas Tallamy,  we have turned 54 percent of the land into cities, roads and suburbs.   Only 41 percent of the land is now occupied by various forms of agriculture.  Suburbanites control a significant percentage of the land in America and they can learn to share it with other forms of life.

    Our industrial way of life will also be threatening biodiversity in the near future as we literally change the climate.   The gases given off by burning fossil fuels are causing global warming, and  as the climate changes and weather becomes more unpredictable, it will add to the loss of species in a massive way.
      There is much we can do to strengthen biodiversity as we prepare for climate change.  But first I have to raise some questions about that most cherished icon of the suburb in America: the lawn.  We have planted over 40 million acres of lawn in this country, and we spread more fertilizer on our lawns annually than India uses on all its cropland.  40 percent of all pesticides in this country are used on lawns.   Americans spend 45 billion dollars a year on their lawns; they are a big business with a lot of vested interests.   Lawns are watered liberally so they stay green and grow fast.  And then they are mowed regularly with inefficient engines that produce as much pollution in an hour as driving a car 650 miles.  All for vanity, since the lawn is an ecological desert.  Lawn grass, such as Kentucky blue grass, (not native to Kentucky) is nearly always an alien species that provides food for no insects.  Even worse, lawns may support the larvae of an alien pest, the Japanese beetle, according to Tom Small, who recently published a book on the value of native plants.   Lawns are a nearly total ecological liability.

    Most of our native trees and bushes and wildflowers  are not only beautiful but are able to provide food for a wide variety of insects.  And these, in turn, provide feed for birds.  These food chains are essential for a viable ecosystem.  But as people yielded to the appeal of exotic varieties peddled in garden catalogs, they often planted varieties that were not digestible by the insects that evolved here.  According to the entomologist, Douglas Tallamy, our native flowering dogwood supports 117 species of moths and butterflies, while the Kousa dogwood from China supports no insect herbivores at all.   Our native oak trees support the growth of over 500 species of insects, more than any other tree.  The Monarch butterfly loves the nectar of the so-called butterfly bush,  Buddleia davidii, a non-native plant, but they need native milkweed in order to reproduce.  In other words, insect larvae evolved with certain plants and only their leaves are chemically digestible.  Alien plants or trees that did not evolve with our native insects are often touted as being resistant to insect damage.   When we chose such alien plants that are resistant to insect damage, like the Norway maple, many insects are deprived of sustenance. 
    I realize that we live in a society that does not love insects.  Insecticide manufacturers thrive by fostering “insectophobia.”   When we see an insect we scream, “Eek, a “bug!” and reach for the spray can.  But the way to deal with “bad” insects is to enhance biological pest control with insect predators and parasites.  This can reduce populations of insects that cause us trouble.  Spraying broad spectrum pesticides that kill insects indiscriminately is counter-productive.  Insects serve a vital ecological function: they eat plants and store the energy from plants and make it available as they are eaten by birds and other animals.  And they are nutritious, with more protein than beef.   Finally, the biodiversity of a vital ecosystem is what sustains our lives as well.  Humans also depend on the web of life.    
    As insect populations decline, so do the birds they would otherwise feed on.   The World Conservation Union has estimated that 12 percent of all bird species are extinct because of habitat loss and invasive species.  Since 1960 we in this country have lost 40 percent of our songbirds.   Amphibians like frogs and toads are also suffering because of the way we have chosen to live.  

    We have been considering some of the problems caused by the introduction of various alien species into our ecosystem.  In doing so we have focused on how alien species threaten biodiversity.  But there are also related problems and they are more visible.  The introduction of an alien plant or insect, into an area where it has no natural enemies, means that it can easily become a troublesome invasive.  Local examples include especially plants like the autumn olive or the multiflora rose,  which gradually crowd out native plants.  In other regions of the country plants like the kudzo vine or mile-a-minute have become serious pests.   I am trying to eradicate autumn olive on my land because it is so invasive and it does not provide food for insects.

    Let’s turn now to some of the many advantages of adding more native plants to our suburban lots.   Native trees, shrubs, and perennial wild flowers are deeply rooted, therefore more drought resistant and they sequester more carbon.  These are important characteristics as we face global warming.  As we plant such perennials on our lawns we also reduce carbon emissions by having less lawn to mow.    Even more important is the fact that native perennials add to biodiversity by providing food for a wide diversity of insects.  Finally, a greater diversity of insects can provide more biological pest control with predators and parasites and thereby reduce the need for insecticides.   As an organic farmer and gardener I have always trusted in a natural balance in raising crops, and it works.  It will work even better if we have more plants to feed insects.

    Edward O. Wilson, the famous biological writer, feels confident that we share what he calls biophilia, a love of nature, and that we humans want to protect,  restore, and enjoy biodiversity.   Most of us prefer to live in natural or rural areas. Liberty Hyde Bailey did promote the subdivision of land for rural residents.  I believe we want to co-exist with birds and small animals.  We enjoy watching butterflies, and many are beautiful even in the caterpillar stage of their development.  If we damaged the biodiversity of our region by planting alien species, we did so mostly out of ignorance.   Or at least I did so when I planted exotic flowers without thinking about whether they would be good for insects.   Now that we know the importance of native species, our love of nature can be reinforced by a sense of moral obligation.  We should do the right thing in the light of the knowledge we now have.  And the right thing, in summary, is to plant native perennial flowers, shrubs and trees on parts of our lawn.   And because of biophilia, many people have already done so.  This is the kind of ecological restoration that can be done only in our suburban yards, and it will contribute to more biodiversity even as it makes our places more beautiful.

    How can we begin this ecological restoration?  First, we must get informed.  A local source of information is the book that Tom Small published last year: Using Native Plants to Restore Community.  It is a beautiful book full of practical advice.  Tom, and his wife Nancy, recently deceased, organized the Kalamazoo Area Chapter of The Wild Ones which is dedicated to the promotion of native plants.     

    I have to confess that I have been a long-time friend of Tom Small but since I had been focused on food plants it took me years to really understand what “The Wild Ones” were proposing.  After reading Tom’s book I finally “got” it.  I am planting a lot of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers this spring for insects and birds.

    Another book I found very helpful was written by Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology, and his studies of insect and plant interactions demonstrate the importance of providing more native plants that insects can digest.   His book is entitled Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. 

    There are several sources of native plants in our area.  The Van Buren County Conservation District makes native wildflowers, bushes and trees available at their spring sales.    Many county conservation districts strongly promote and sell native plants.   We also have several private dealers in native plants, with the closest being Mary Ann’s Michigan Trees and Shrubs, just north of the intersection of M-43 and M-40.  

Prepared for delivery on Earth Day, 2012, at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum in South Haven.


by Rita Bober

If there was only one herb you could collect, herbalists would most often tell you to choose Yarrow because of its many uses.  Most people know Yarrow as Achillea millefolium, an herb from the old country (European).  But would you believe that there is also a native plant known as Achillea lanulosa.  Its common name is wooly yarrow or western yarrow.  It is often found in the mid to higher elevations of mountain tops.  It can still be found in the mountains of California, Colorado, and New York as well as places in Canada.    I first heard of this native when reading about Yarrow in “Wildman” Steve Brill’s book Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. He indicated that Native Americans used this species for bruises, burns, earaches, and arrow wounds.  Both species look alike.  They are perennials and grow in clumps or colonies.  The leaves are alternate, soft, fern-like, and very aromatic.  Its flower is a white flat-topped cluster.  Those growing in higher elevations, tend to be somewhat smaller in dimension.

Yarrow is one of the best herbs to aid the body in dealing with fevers.  Taken as a strong cup of hot tea, it acts as a diaphoretic (induces sweating by stimulating the kidneys; must be taken hot) – it helps sweat out colds, the flu, measles, chicken pox and fevers.  The vasodilating activity that flushes the skin is good for improving lymphatic circulation and counteracts infection.

This herb is also an effective tonic for the heart and circulatory system.  It lowers blood pressure by dilating the peripheral vessels.  However, in several herbal books, it is suggested that Yarrow should not be used for long periods of time or in large doses because of one of its constituents – Thujone. 

Yarrow has been used for centuries to stop bleeding and prevent infection in open wounds.  I have made a tincture of Yarrow and Shepherds Purse to use on puncture wounds that won’t stop bleeding.  It really works!  The leaves encourage clotting, so can be used fresh for nosebleeds. Though the hemostatic qualities of yarrow stop internal and external bleeding, it does not act as a direct coagulant in the bloodstream, it works as a vascular tonic that helps improve circulation. When used externally, it is useful in checking the bleeding of the tiny, broken blood vessels seen in varicose veins. 

Yarrow contains salicylic acid which makes it a good tea for arthritis conditions.  You can also tincture fresh yarrow in oil to make a massage oil for swollen joints.  Fresh or dried, Yarrow also repels moths.  In some spiritual traditions, it is used to protect against negative spirits.
It is also the secret ingredient in an Anishinaabek recipe I recently acquired.  It helps with digestive issues as the recipe uses many dry beans.

As you can see, Yarrow is a wonderful herb with many medicinal qualities.  Hope you can find some growing wild in your yard.  You can gather the herb anytime during the growing season but especially when the flowers are blooming.  The entire plant is useful, but the flowers make the best tea.  Remove a few flower heads from several plants, but leave others so there will be plenty for reseeding and pollinators.  You will find that Yarrow is better tasting when it is dried.

    From Earth to Herbalist: An Earth-Conscious Guide to Medicinal Plants.  Gregory L. Tilford, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1998.
    Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places.  “Wildman” Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean, William Morrow & Company, Inc., New York, 1994.
    The New Holistic Herbal: A Herbal celebrating the wholeness of life.  David Hoffmann, Element Books Limited, Rockport, MA, 1990.    

Recent MLT Activities
  by Ken Dahlberg
We’ve signed on to three letters:

We continue to participate in a Kalamazoo area group of organizations seeking to build community awareness of the importance of food system issues.  We conducted a workshop on 11/10/11, which got a nice write up and was posted on the Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olga-bonfiglio/taking-on-the-behemoth-fo_b_1093681.html  We hope to organize and coordinate a variety of events in the weeks around Earth Day.

We also continue to coordinate our activities with several Transition groups in SW Michigan.

MLT Meeting Minutes, February 19, 2012

Attendees: Ken Dahlberg, Tom Small, Jon Towne, Lisa Phillips, Norm Bober, Rita Bober, Maynard Kaufman, Mike Phillips
Minutes of the previous meeting were reviewed and accepted
Treasure’s Report: The report was review and accepted. Lisa distributed copies of the detailed report for membership’s consideration which included the following balances:
08/14/2011: $13,071.34
12/11/2011: $ 12,432.06
02/19/2011: $12, 491.50
Continuing business:
Transition group: Rita reports that MLT is still supporting upcoming reskilling events. The next program may be at the Peoples’ Church in Oshtemo—Rita will be following up. Presentation topics include solar applications, clothing mending, sourdough bread making, permaculture, and transition towns. Rita is also developing an herbal first aid kit program. She will be following up with Diana Melvin at the Peoples’ Church. Maynard reported that there will be a reskilling program in Bangor on March 10th. The daylong event will be at the Community Education Center in Bangor and will relate to the city’s community garden project. Subjects covered include compost/soil fertility, soil testing and prep, integrated gardens and companion planting, coping with weeds and pests, and preservation planting. A bake sale will also be held in conjunction with the event and bake goods should be submitted prior to 03/10. Maynard also reported that he will be bailing from the Bangor Transition Group. Discussion then ensued concerning the Ann Arbor transition group, A2 Share. Other organizations considered included Common Security Club and Access to Tools.

Events: Norm reported on the Allegan Film Festival as it pertained to fair food issues and community garden resources.
Newsletter: There was discussion concerning editing. Swan Huntoon has reported that distance and a full agenda preclude him from being editor for the Spring issue. Jon and Mike will co-edit in the interim. The newsletter editorial content was discussed, as was seeking submissions of upcoming issues.
Media: The films “The Greenhorns” (a series of interviews with young farmers), and “Farmageddon” (farmers butting heads with the national security state) will be showing in March at several venues including the Lawrence Conference Center, South Haven and perhaps at WMU. Movie procurement was discussed in the event that MLT pursues such programming. In other news, Maynard will give a talk on diversified, indigenous flora in South Haven on Earth Day.
New Business: The MLT will support the Taylor Reed letter to Senator Stabenow concerning provisions for access to land in the new state farm bill. Due to legislative gridlock, this may not pass. Ken then agreed to put his ‘Report from the Chair” in the organization’s newsletter. The meeting wound down with general discussion on expanding farmers’ markets in Kalamazoo and South Haven. Finally, Norm initiated a discussion on obtaining new farm loans and networking local agrarian investment.
Ken will facilitate communication for the next MLT meeting for the coming late spring or early summer.
Respectfully submitted
Mike Phillips
Alternating Secretary

If you haven't checked lately there is a couple of new articles on the MLT website at : http://www.michiganlandtrust.org/ARTICLES.HTM

Our Woodland

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