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Photo: Annette Ruzicka/ Guardian
Ngarinyin children playing in a region of Australia that’s reclaiming indigenous place names.

As a fan of efforts to preserve rare languages, I believe that using native people’s names for geographical places is also important. Brian Friel captures the concept in Translations, his play about English soldiers changing place names in Ireland: “It can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of … fact.”

Colonists always try to impose their culture, but in the end, it is unlikely to turn out well.

At the Guardian series “Indigenous Investigations,” Annette Ruzicka reports in a photo essay that the reinstatement of traditional place names in a region of Australia “signals a new wave of empowerment” for aboriginal people called the Ngarinyin.

“Hit the Gibb River Road out of Derby, Western Australia, and you find yourself heading towards the northern Kimberley plateau, a breathtaking landscape of sandstone ranges, rivers and boab-dotted savannah country. About 63,000 sq km of this land is Wilinggin country of the Ngarinyin people and their connection to country dates back 60,000 years.

“One of the first stops towards Wilinggin country passes the Queen Victoria Head – a rock formation bearing an uncanny resemblance to the famous monarch. While it’s a blunt reminder of colonialism, it’s also the gateway to an area that until very recently had far more dubious name – the King Leopold Ranges, named after the Belgian king responsible for grievous atrocities, brutal oppression and enslavement of African people. …

“After two years of work behind the scenes, traditional owner groups made some new headlines with a historic name change to the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges. It’s a hybrid name to represent both the Ngarinyin (Wunaamin) and Bunuba (Miliwundi) traditional names.

“Since then, another seven places in this conservation park have changed back to their Ngarinyin name.

“Since the Wanjina Wunggurr Wilinggin native title determination in 2004, the Ngarinyin people have made significant moves to empower their community and return to, and care for, country. One of the first things they set up after determination was an Indigenous ranger program: the Wunggurr Rangers.

“Ngarinyin man Robin Dann was one of the first rangers employed and is now head ranger, living on country in the Ngallagunda community, with his family. His younger brother Kane Nenowatt is more recent addition to the Wunggurr rangers while his wife, Tanya Spider, sits on the Wilinggin board of directors. …

“One of locations changed back to its traditional name is (the formerly named) Barker pool, now Dudungarri mindi. The name refers to the dreamtime story of the Wanjina spirit and the Yawarlngarri jirri (blue catfish) which live in this pool. This represents a rich and ancient history that Ngarinyin people hope to share with visitors alongside the staggering beauty of the region. …

“With it comes a genuine economy: employment and investment brought to the region by the people themselves. With a second ranger group on the way, the determination of the Ngarinyin people to stand on their own is a shining light in an uncertain world.” More at the Guardian, here.

On Facebook, I started following a different group of Australian indigenous people, NPY Women’s Council. The home page says it “is led by women’s law, authority and culture to deliver health, social and cultural services for all Anangu.” In one post, Nellie Patterson reported, “We went to the Olympics so that all the people there would see the strength of who we are. The Olympic experience has made us strong with a resolve that has never been shaken since.

“We did a really important inma (ceremony) in Sydney and we did it with the intention of making a deep impression on the people who saw it and in the hope of better relationships and collaborations with other people in the future. It was a very important occasion.

“My sister carried a great deal of valuable knowledge and she and I made this inma available through Women’s Council for the benefit of everyone across the country.” For more about the council, click here.

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Photo: Library of Congress
In the early 1900s, people knew ventilation was essential to stop the spread of tuberculosis. Above, an open-air classroom in Chicago.

Now is the time we start to learn which of the many approaches to conducting school during a respiratory pandemic works best — and where. An outdoor version of school might work better in the South than the North.

Or maybe not. New England once held school outdoors, right through the winter. People in those days knew that ventilation was essential to slowing the spread of tuberculosis. The attitude to science was different then.

Dustin Waters writes at the Washington Post, “Nine schoolchildren sat at their desks wrapped in chunky layers of flannel, their feet resting on heated soapstones as the frigid New England air stung their faces. In January 1908, amid a tuberculosis epidemic, these Rhode Island students were part of a unique experiment to combat the infectious disease: America’s first open-air school. …

“In the early 1900s, it was estimated that as many as 30 percent of school-age children in Providence carried tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that often attacked the lungs. Although many of the infected children showed no outward symptoms, the infection could lie dormant for years and ultimately contribute to death in adulthood. To combat this, medical experts urged the importance of plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

“Tuberculosis specialist Mary Packard — one of the first women to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine — wrote to the Rhode Island state medical examiner in August of 1907 to propose a plan. Along with fellow Hopkins-educated physician Ellen Stone, Packard had overseen an open-air summer camp for tubercular children. The students who attended the camp were set to return to their cramped classrooms in the city at the start of the school year. The doctors feared that any progress that had been made over the summer would be lost. They suggested the creation of a new type of classroom.

“Work soon began on an unused schoolhouse on Providence’s East Side. The large, open classroom on the second floor was painted a soft shade of green, save for the wall facing south. This was demolished and replaced with a row of large windows operated by pulleys. Despite the harsh winter temperatures, these windows remained open during class — filling the room with fresh air and sunlight. …

“The school’s pupils varied in age and grade level, but they did share a similar set of characteristics: They were all underweight, anemic and weak. For some in attendance, it was their first opportunity to participate in an actual classroom due to a lifetime of poor health. Some had recently lost parents to tuberculosis. Each child was weighed and examined by a physician after arriving to class.

Then the children would be wrapped in large flannel sacks lined with paper and cotton, many of which were donated by a local church’s sewing circle.

“Each student’s desk sat atop a movable platform that allowed for the pupils to be easily shuffled around during the day to chase the rays of direct sunlight. Students were led in breathing exercises and singing practice to strengthen their lungs. Owing to its former use as a cooking school, the classroom was outfitted with a cavernous oven that served as a source of warmth.

“News of the school quickly spread, with newspapers across the country running an identical report shortly after the school opened: ‘Little faces that were sallow and pinched a few weeks ago have a healthy flush, and children who were too tired to play are beginning to show some interest in life. All of this … is what the fresh-air school has accomplished.’ …

“Wrote historian Richard Meckel in a 1995 article in Rhode Island History. ‘Virtually all the children attending the school had gained weight and improved in general health, and even a few had been able to return to normal classrooms.’ …

“[In today’s pandemic,] members of the Providence Teachers Union are worried that some classrooms are not safe. One of the concerns, according to the Providence Journal, is ventilation and classroom windows that are unable to open.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: John Stone
While researching Scots economist Adam Smith, a Canadian academic found an edition of Shakespeare’s last play in a Scottish Catholic college in Spain!

Sometimes when scientists are doing basic research with no practical application in sight they land on the missing piece to understanding a rare disease. And when conservationists preserve some creature no one else cares about, the world may later find that the creature is essential to a whole ecosystem. Unexpected discoveries are often the best kind.

Meanwhile, in the department of Treasures Found While Seeking Something Else, there’s a delightful report at the BBC on the unsought discovery of a rare copy of Shakespeare’s last play. No one would have found it if they were looking for it.

Reevel Alderson from BBC Scotland writes, “The Two Noble Kinsmen, written by Shakespeare with John Fletcher, was found by a researcher investigating the work of the Scots economist Adam Smith. …

“In the 17th Century, the seminary in Madrid was an important source of English literature for Spanish intellectuals. The Two Noble Kinsmen was included in a volume made up of several English plays printed from 1630 to 1635.

“Dr John Stone, of the University of Barcelona, said he found it among old books in the library of the Real Colegio de Escoceses — Royal Scots College (RSC) — which is now in Salamanca.

” ‘Friendship turns to rivalry in this study of the intoxication and strangeness of love,’ is how the Royal Shakespeare Company described the play, which is based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.

“It was probably written around 1613-14 by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, one of the house playwrights in the Bard’s theatre company the King’s Men. …

“Described as a ‘tragicomedy,’ the play features best friends, who are knights captured in a battle. From the window of their prison they see a beautiful woman with whom they each fall in love. Within a moment they have turned from intimate friends to jealous rivals in a strange love story which features absurd adventures and confusions.

“Dr Stone, who has worked in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, said: ‘It is likely these plays arrived as part of some student’s personal library or at the request of the rector of the Royal Scots College, Hugh Semple, who was friends with the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega and had more plays in his personal library. …

” ‘In the 17th and 18th Centuries, collections of books in English were rare in Spain because of ecclesiastical censorship, but the Scots college had special authorisation to import whatever they wanted.’ …

“The rector of the Scots College, Father Tom Kilbride, said the college was proud such an important work had been discovered in its library.

“He said: ‘It says a lot about the kind of education the trainee priests were getting from the foundation of the college in Madrid in 1627, a rounded education in which the culture of the period played an important part. To think that plays would have been read, and possibly performed at that time is quite exciting. There was clearly a great interest in Spain at that time in English literature.’

“The RSC no longer trains men for the priesthood in Scotland, but offers preparatory six-month courses for those expressing a vocation, and holds regular retreats and conferences for the Scottish Catholic community.” More at the BBC, here.

Hat tip: ArtsJournal.com.

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Free Art about Voting

Art: Kambui Olujimi
Professional artists have donated their work for “Plan Your Vote,” a nonpartisan initiative.

Lately I’ve been getting requests from friends for ideas on how to participate in voter outreach, and I’ve put together a pretty good list of nationwide volunteer opportunities. You probably know my leanings, but I’d rather not get overtly political on the blog,

I’m writing today about Vote.org, which is nonpartisan. If you want anything of a more partisan nature, email me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com. Even though the work of knocking on doors or running for office like my mother did (two-time Congressional candidate) is definitely not my thing, I do find that some level of action combats a sense of powerlessness.

The arts ‘zine Hyperallergic has a nice article about how Guerrilla Girls and Julie Mehretu and 60 other artists want to help you and others “Plan Your Vote” to increase voter turnout.

Valentina Di Liscia writes, “A new, nonpartisan initiative launched by the nonprofit Vote.org seeks to channel the power of art to encourage voter participation. … The ‘Plan Your Vote‘ website offers a digital library of voting advocacy visuals that are free for anyone to download and circulate. The images are based on original works created by more than 60 contemporary artists, including Kamrooz Aram, Sanford Biggers, Leidy Churchman, Guerrilla Girls, Jenny Holzer, Elka Krajewska, Caitlin Keogh, Julie Mehretu, Kambui Olujimi, and Wangechi Mutu. …

“ ‘Voters this year face numerous barriers to participation, and widespread misinformation,’ said [Vote.org’s] executive director, Christine Messineo, in a statement. ‘Communicating critical information about how to register to vote has become increasingly difficult.’ …

“Indeed, the 2020 election may go down in history as one of the nation’s most fraught, as voter suppression and the threat of foreign interference collide with the challenges of getting to the ballots during a global pandemic and targeted attacks on mail-in voting. These are compounded by a more longstanding issue: voter non-participation. According to the Knight Foundation, nearly 100 million eligible voters in the US did not cast a ballot for president in 2016 — representing 43% of the eligible voting-age population.

“Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey believes that art may hold the key to educating and mobilizing citizens across the nation to exercise their right to vote. …

“ ‘Plan Your Vote’ is supported by an alliance of museums and arts nonprofits that are posting campaign images on their social media and promoting the initiative in their newsletters, as well as including an active voter engagement ‘sticker’ on their websites. So far, 56 institutions have become alliance members, including MoMA PS1, the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim, ICA Boston, and MIT List Visual Arts Center.

“A complete list of participating artists and organizations can be found here, and all artworks can be downloaded on the campaign website’s free digital library.” More at Hyperallergic, here.

By the way, an original founder of Vote.org has started Vote America. Suzanne recommends getting trained there in how to reach potential voters who don’t usually participate. She says, “I sent 2000 voter registration texts to people in Michigan in about 45 minutes yesterday. Texts are sent via an online platform from your computer, not your phone, so you can send a lot quickly, and no one has access to your personal phone number.”

From the website: “VoteAmerica is a nonprofit organization founded by a small team of elections and technology experts (including the founders of Vote.org and Vote.gov), who have come together to combat the chaos of the 2020 election cycle by helping to drive record-shattering voter turnout. We will accomplish this via hyper-aggressive and targeted outreach to the millions of low and no-propensity voters who are generally neglected by partisan groups. [Collectively] we’ve registered about 20 million voters and run GOTV to tens of millions more in our past roles. Now we’re scaling up.”

Suzanne knows Debra from college days and is an admirer. VoteAmerica.com has more on Debra’s background on its site: “Debra Cleaver is the founder and CEO of VoteAmerica, a national nonprofit leveraging research-driven campaigns to register and turn out the 100+ million Americans who are traditionally excluded by partisan outreach efforts. Debra is a serial founder whose organizations include Vote.org (2016), ElectionDay.org (2018), Long Distance Voter (2008), and Swing the State (2004). Debra is an alum of Pomona College and Y Combinator, and a former Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship.”

Debra Cleaver, serial founder of successful voter organizations

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I was assisting the teacher in an English class for immigrants about a year ago, when she asked the students what was customary for them to do when they couldn’t sleep.

Some people said they drank water, which surprised us. Others favored warm milk, exercise, a book, or music.

Today I thought I would go online to see what the experts recommend. This article is from WebMD.

Susan Davis wrote, “Whether you drank one cup of coffee too many earlier, or you’ve got a lot on your mind, it’s time to decide whether to get up or stay in bed. …

“If you do get up, though, you’re not giving up for the night. You still need rest. So your goal should be to get back to sleep as soon as possible. Some activities help with that. …

“Give yourself about 10 more minutes in bed. While you’re lying there, try not to watch the minutes tick by.

“Worrying about how long you’ve been awake backfires. It ‘perpetuates insomnia,’ says Russell Rosenberg, MD, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation.

“He recommends keeping clocks out of sight and guessing how long you’ve been lying there. If you’re still awake after what feels like 10 minutes, it’s time to get up for a little while. …

“As comfy as your bed may be, it’s best to leave your bedroom when you get up. Do something ‘mildly entertaining’ but ‘sedate,’ Rosenberg says, until you’re sleepy enough to go back to bed. …

  • Read.
  • Listen to music.
  • Meditate.
  • Do relaxation exercises …

“Avoid doing anything that will rev you up and make it harder to doze off. … Resist the urge to get stuff done, even though you’re wide awake. This is one time when it’s better to be inefficient. Keep your TV, computer, and phone off, and leave work alone. Your to-do list, online banking account, and Facebook can wait.

” ‘Try to avoid [doing] anything productive,’ Rosenberg says. ‘If you feel good about getting something done, you’ll reinforce the habit of waking early.’ …

“There’s another reason to stay powered down. Anything with a screen lights up. The light from that screen could trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and that you need to be awake, Rosenberg says.

“Everyone has a bad night from time to time. Working on your sleep habits can help. That includes going to bed at a regular time, making your last hour of the day relaxing, keeping your bedroom restful and devoted to sleep, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.

“Try that for a couple of weeks, and your sleep should get better. If not, talk to your doctor to check on any medical reasons for your insomnia, get more sleep advice, and see if you should see a sleep specialist.” More at WebMD, here.

One thing that helps me counteract the bad thoughts that keep running over and over on the same track is to plan some kind of action or actions for the next day. Which I have done.

What do you do?

We put a lot on your frail but strong shoulders. Now it’s our turn.

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Photo: Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for the New York Times
Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard once wrote about getting into trouble in America because he couldn’t do small talk.

When I saw an article in the Atlantic about how Americans need small talk, I thought immediately about Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s disastrous meal with an unnamed famous America author.

First, James Parker’s small-talk overview in the Atlantic: “The correct answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is Not too bad.

“Why? Because it’s all-purpose. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the conditions, Not too bad will get you through. In good times it projects a decent pessimism, an Eeyore-ish reluctance to get carried away. On an average day it bespeaks a muddling-through modesty. And when things are rough, really rough, it becomes a heroic understatement. Best of all, with three equally stressed syllables, it gently forestalls further inquiry, because it is — basically — meaningless.

“Small talk is rhetoric too. Americans in particular are small-talk artists. They have to be. This is a wild country. The most tenuous filaments of consensus and cooperation attach one person to the next. So the Have a nice days, the Hot enough for yous, the How ’bout those Metses — they serve a vital purpose. Without these emollient little going-nowhere phrases and the momentary social contract that they represent, the streets would be a free-for-all, a rodeo of disaster.

“But that’s the negative view. Some of my most radiant interactions with other human beings have been fleeting, glancing moments of small talk. …

“I was out walking the other day when a UPS truck rumbled massively to the curb in front of me. As the driver leaped from his cab to make a delivery, I heard music coming out of the truck’s speakers — a familiar, weightless strain of blues-rock noodle. … Yes. It had to be. The Grateful Dead, in one of their zillion live recordings. And I knew the song. It’s my favorite Dead song. ‘ “ China Cat Sunflower”?’ I said to the UPS guy as he charged back to his truck. A huge grin: ‘You got it, babe!’

“The exchange of energy, the perfect understanding, the freemasonry of Deadhead-ness that flashed instantaneously between us, and most of all the honorific babe—I was high as a kite for the next 10 minutes.” More at the Atlantic, here.

Now for Knausgaard and the inevitable culture clash.

“I told [my American photographer Peter] about the last time I was in New York, when a well-known American writer invited me for lunch. I brought three of my children with me, none of whom speak English. I thought we might have some difficulty, but hoped for the best. He came and picked us up at the hotel, and we took the subway down to Chinatown, where we found a suitable restaurant. I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn’t come up with a single topic of conversation.

“He talked a little, I listened, nodding politely now and then, said: ‘Oh, really? Is that so?’ while all the time I also had to communicate with the children, who weren’t used to strangers either.

“When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email. …

“ ‘Who was it?’ Peter asked.

“I told him.

“ ‘It’s deeply un-American, you know, not to make small talk. It’s a very important part of the culture of this country. You remind me a little of my dad. He didn’t know how to make small talk, either, when he first got here. Or maybe he didn’t want to. But he does now.’ ” More.

As someone who helps out in ESL classes, I’m thinking it could be important to teach new Americans how to do this. Small things can connect people or push them away, and in this country, it seems that small talk is big.

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Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
John Fallon gathers squash at the 8,000-square-foot traffic island in Beverly Farms.

Today my friends surprised me with a bag of apples from a tree in their yard. They are not farmers, but many nonfarmers are getting into growing things these days. Some gardeners are growing especially to share.

Consider the Beverly, Mass., man who appropriated a traffic island for a community garden.

John Laidler reports at the Boston Globe, “Growing up in Beverly Farms, John Fallon developed a talent for cultivating vegetables by helping his Irish immigrant father tend the family’s backyard garden. A half-century later, Fallon is drawing on those farming skills — refined through many years of his own gardening — to help improve the lives of people in need.

“Since 2016, Fallon has been growing vegetables on a traffic island in Beverly Farms and donating them — together with vegetables from his own garden — to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that serve low-income families.

“In the first four years of his nonprofit operation, Fallon annually harvested and donated on average 3,000 pounds of produce. This year, in response to COVID-19, he expects to raise that volume to about 5,000 pounds. …

“Now retired as a test engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fallon, 61, cited the need to promote economic and social justice as a motivation for his philanthropic farming. …

“ ‘Everyone should help those less fortunate than them,’ said Fallon, who experienced losing a job himself when he was laid off from his longtime semiconductor job in 2007.

“Fallon’s philanthropy began in 2014 when he donated surplus tomato plants from his home garden to a farming program for inner-city children. …

“In 2016, Fallon came up with the idea of growing crops on the idle traffic island on Hale Street. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the island, authorized him to farm the land for free provided he donate any crops he raised to charity. …

“His 8,000-square-foot Beverly Farms Gardens produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, regular and golden zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, and acorn and butternut squash.

“Fallon does all the growing and harvesting himself, with occasional help from volunteers, including students from Landmark School in Beverly, and Gordon College’s women’s soccer team. …

“Although his program is self-funded, Fallon has received donations from individuals, local businesses, and churches. The Farms-Prides Community Association helped him purchase compost last year and plans a fund-raising effort to assist him with other expenses.

“ ‘I have watched John over the last five years turn a barren plot of land into a lush, productive garden supplying food to needy families,’ Rick Lord, the association’s president, said by e-mail. …

“Fallon hopes he can inspire others to do similar work. … ‘My vision would be for each town or city to set aside 4 acres, whatever it takes to feed the homeless in their area,’ he said.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Another take on the story is at the Salem News, here.

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Photo: RVshare
RVs4MDs is a volunteer group that has been matching altruistic recreational vehicle owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing during the pandemic.

I’m grateful to people who witness some kindness in our troubled world and let the rest of us know about it so we don’t lose all faith in humanity. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t even matter how few people are involved in the example, just that there is a kindness plant growing somewhere.

At the Boston Globe, Leila Philip wrote recently about something her neighbor signed up to do.

“The text from my neighbor had come at 5 a.m., ‘Mother passed yesterday evening.’ … My neighbor had been caring for her mother, who had dementia for many years, and for the past three weeks she had been keeping vigil, not leaving the house and living mostly on oatmeal. When I offered to make her a rhubarb crisp, she answered emphatically, ‘Yes!’

“As I pulled into her driveway, I was startled to see an enormous motor home. Even more startled when my neighbor popped out, broom in hand. Was she already planning a trip?

“ ‘You didn’t know I had this, did you?’ she said, taking the still-warm crisp. Then she explained that she’d been waiting for an opportunity to list her Coachman with RVs4MDs, a volunteer group that was matching RV owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing.

My neighbor had just lost her mother, but there she was, cleaning her expensive motor home so she could loan it to someone else whose life had been upended by COVID-19. …

“Rvs4MDs began when two women in Texas saw a concrete way to help others. Within a week of their putting up their Facebook page, hundreds of people had joined as volunteers. … They have matched 1,500 RVs with nurses, doctors, EMTs, and paramedics. …

“Said Holly Haggard, one of the founders. ‘It has brought hope to so many.’ Her cofounder, Emily Phillips, agreed, ‘We didn’t realize it when we started, but in addition to helping medical workers, we were building a community. Nobody brings their politics to the group.’ …

“Barbara Ludwig is a professor of nursing with a specialization in critical care. An Air Force veteran, she did not hesitate when the call came in April to work in a COVID-19 unit, but she had a problem: Members of her immediate family were high risk, and she feared bringing the virus home and infecting them.

“Barbara was in the middle of searching for an affordable hotel room when she learned about Rvs4MDs. She posted about her situation and Krystal Muci responded, offering to loan her 42-foot-long motor home. Within days, Krystal and her husband had not only driven their RV to Barbara’s house outside Kansas City (a three-hour drive), but had found an electrician to do the needed electrical work and complete the hookup.

“When Barbara got off shift and walked into the RV, she found a gift basket and a poster of photographs of her family that Krystal had made. …

“ ‘Knowing someone had cared enough to do this for me, it brought tears to my eyes,’ said Barbara, ‘and it allowed me to focus on taking care of patients because I knew my family was safe. In my work as a critical care nurse I am used to dealing with mortality, but the amount of loss that was happening every day … it took a toll on me that I was not prepared for.’ …

“Now that we are six months into the pandemic, the unprecedented emotional toll it has had on the mental health of caregivers and health care workers has begun to emerge. Preliminary studies in Italy show that over one-half of health care workers there suffered some form of PTSD. …

“More than 192,000 Americans are dead of COVID-19. [Meanwhile] ordinary Americans like my neighbor and the many volunteers at Rvs4MD show how we can prevail — when we remember our American tradition of lending a hand, the transformative power of kindness.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Bedrock Gardens in Lee, New Hampshire, is open to the public.

Many of the activities people used to seek out for entertainment are closed these days, so more of us are walking in woods and shady cemeteries or looking for nearby public gardens. One of our favorite gardens was started by friends in Lee, New Hampshire, but we haven’t visited there for a while. Silly reason, I suppose: since Covid-19, I’m afraid to use a public bathroom on the highway.

Arnoldia, the voice of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, recently touched base with staff of public gardens around the country to learn what their days have been like in the shadow of coronavirus.

“Public gardens,” the magazine reports, “like other cultural institutions, were confronted with the same stay-at-home mandates that shuttered their communities. According to the American Public Gardens Association, more than 25 percent of gardens closed on a single day (Monday, March 16), and by the end of March, only 4 percent remained fully open to the public. The plants, of course, did not wait to begin growing until gardens reopened. The sunshine-colored blossoms of forsythia and daffodils put on their radiant shows no matter what.

“The unrelenting arrival of spring was, in many ways, incongruous with the national mood. It also meant that horticulturists at public gardens continued working despite closures and event cancellations at their institutions. Schedules changed. Procedures changed. But there were plants to be tended. [Thirteen] horticulturists from gardens around the country describe the on-the-ground realities of caring for their collections during the first months of the pandemic — the months in which an old normal faded and a new normal was created.”

Among the updates is one from the Bellevue Botanical Garden near Seattle, the New York Botanical Garden, the San Francisco region’s Filoli (“birdsongs provide a sense of vibrancy during the day, and large animals [like cougars, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons] leave evidence of nighttime visits”), Utah’s Ashton Gardens, the Boston region’s Wakefield Arboretum, Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory, Pennsylvania’s famed Longwood Gardens, Denver Botanic Gardens, the Morton Arboretum in Illinois, and Florida’s Naples Botanical Garden.

Conor Guidarelli, Arnold Arboretum’s horticulturist, had a rather sad entry about the Covid-19 version of the annual Lilac Day, and event that Suzanne and I loved to attend when she was small.

He says he “spray-painted white arrows on the sidewalk to request one-way traffic to limit potential exposure of those in the garden. I spent the afternoon posting normal signage (‘Please don’t pick the lilacs,’ ‘No picnicking at the Arboretum’), along with another, ‘Don’t smell the lilacs.’ ”

Golly. There’s almost no point in going if you can’t smell the lilacs. We once spent a whole day sniffing as we tried to find a particularly fragrant variety we thought was called Persian Lilac.

The Arnoldia article concludes, “By the end of the spring, gardens and arboreta began to reopen. Bellevue Botanical Garden and the Arnold Arboretum were among the few whose grounds remained fully open throughout the early months of the pandemic. Ashton Gardens reopened on May 1, allowing visitors to catch the late-blooming tulips, and Filoli reopened on May 11. Attendees at both gardens were required to purchase timed-entry tickets. Filoli initially offered eight hundred tickets each day and later raised the number to fourteen hundred.

“Prepurchased tickets became the modus operandi for gardens — a way of preventing attendance surges and of reducing interactions between visitors and staff at entrance bottlenecks. Denver Botanic Gardens reopened with a ticketed entry on May 22. The Morton Arboretum reopened to members on June 1 and to the general public on June 15. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens reopened on June 13, allowing a one-way path through the indoor conservatories. Longwood Gardens reopened on June 18, about three weeks before a massive corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) came into bloom.

“Due to state-mandated limits on guest capacity, the garden significantly expanded their evening hours so that more visitors could obtain tickets to experience the rare and short-lived bloom. Some visitors were relieved to find that the notoriously foul smell of the flowers was muffled by their masks.

“Naples Botanical Garden fully reopened on July 6. New York Botanical Garden partially reopened on July 21. By the end of July, the Wakefield Arboretum had opened for limited reservation-only tours and special programs.” Read more at Arnoldia, here.

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Photo: Russell Ledet
Russell Ledet in his job as a security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center in 2010 and as a medical student there in 2020.

As readers know from my post on Shagufa Habibi, I am one of a group of people who believe in this young Afghan immigrant and her dream to end child marriages, first by gaining relevant skills. It doesn’t matter that the dream seems impossibly big. After all, when people believe in you, big things do happen. Young Greta Thunberg may not have ended global warming, but you know she won’t stop until there are serious changes.

Today’s story is about a young man from a poor family in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who had people who believed in him.

As Kellie B. Gormly wrote at the Washington Post, “Russell J. Ledet spent four years patrolling the doctors’ parking lot at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, where, as a security guard, he watched people in white coats come and go from the building. He fantasized about what his life could be.

“In a moment of bravery one day, Ledet was walking with a doctor and asked: ‘Hey, do you think I could shadow you?’ To Ledet’s surprise, the doctor, a surgical resident, replied: ‘Yeah, why not?’ Ledet recalled.

“Whenever Ledet had free time over the next several months, he was in the operating room and visiting patients with Patrick Greiffenstein.

“ ‘It just so happened, God put me in the right place at the right time, and it worked,’ said Ledet, 34, of Gretna, La.

“Now, seven years after he was a security guard at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Ledet is assigned to the hospital as a medical student. He is doing his pediatrics rotation at the Louisiana hospital and is in his third year at Tulane University School of Medicine. …

“He sometimes runs into people he used to work with when he was a guard. Once when he was recently in the emergency room, one of them yelled out: ‘You did it! You actually did it!’

“Ledet grew up in Lake Charles, La., with a single mother who worked as a certified nursing assistant. They relied on food stamps to eat. After high school, Ledet joined the Navy and was stationed in Washington, D.C., from 2004 to 2007. He entered the Reserves, and his wife — Mallory Alice Brown-Ledet, whom he met in high school — persuaded him to go to college while she worked at a bank. They moved back to Louisiana in 2009, and Ledet enrolled in Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge.

“Ledet initially thought he would become a social worker, like the ones who had helped his family when he was a child. But one day, his chemistry professor told him that based on his performance in class, he should major in biology or chemistry. Ledet took on both sciences as a double major. That same year, he started the security-guard job to help support his family — which included a new baby, Maleah. …

“The doctor whom Ledet shadowed 10 years ago — now is a trauma surgeon at University Medical Center in New Orleans. … ‘It’s hard not to like him right away,’ said Greiffenstein, explaining why, in part, he said yes when Ledet asked to shadow him. He said Ledet’s path to becoming a doctor has been ‘remarkable.’

“Ledet graduated from college in 2013 and … moved east with his family to attend New York University, where he earned a PhD in molecular oncology in 2018. … His research on prostate cancer earned recognition, but Ledet fondly recalled his shadowing days in Baton Rouge and felt called to the clinical, hands-on work of a physician. …

“About an hour after his second daughter, Mahlina, was born, Ledet got an email from Tulane University in New Orleans: a full scholarship to medical school. …

“Over the summer, Ledet started his third-year rotations, after indicating his location preference for Baton Rouge General Medical Center. He was thrilled when he got it. …

“He plans to open a clinic in New Orleans offering mental health services for marginalized communities. And to be a better business owner, Ledet managed to squeeze in one more project: He is working on an MBA while in medical school. …

“ ‘I’m just grateful, man,’ he said. ‘I’m grateful I made it here. I’m grateful that I didn’t give up. I’m grateful that people believed in me.’ ”

Read more here.

There are just some people who if they say they are going to do a thing, then you know it’s going to happen.

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Saving the Stork

stork-festival-vyn

Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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Photo: Music for Milestones
Spurred by a grant from Dragon Kim Foundation
, Los Angeles teenagers Katheryn Williams, left, and Charu Balamurugan set up a music program for children.

As I often say to my grandchildren when they come up with creative ideas, “I love people with ideas!” And nowadays I find young leaders with ideas especially inspiring. I think if teens and 20-somethings working to end gun violence and reduce global warming are successful, they will have earned the mantle of the Great Generation.

Today’s story is about a couple of teens who wanted to use music to help children smile.

Kyle Melnick writes at the Washington Post, “After asking nine children on her computer screen to retrieve a piece of paper and something to draw with, Charu Balamurugan explains the class’s next lesson.

“ ‘We’re going to listen to parts from each of these three different songs,’ Balamurugan says, ‘and you’re going to use … different types of lines [or drawings] to show how it makes you feel; the emotions you feel.’

“A few moments later, when Balamurugan plays the first song, Peter Schmalfuss’s version of ‘Clair De Lune,’ the children put their heads down and draw images that pop into their minds.

“By the time Balamurugan has streamed three classical songs during this Zoom class on a Friday evening in late August, the kids’ papers feature drawings of watermelon, roller coasters, chocolate bars, sunsets, cupcakes, pumpkin patches and Snoopy.

“Los Angeles high school students Balamurugan and Katheryn Williams created this class, Music for Milestones, to provide local children a creative outlet through music. The free Zoom classes give children a chance to socialize and clear their minds at a time when they’re usually stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘The most meaningful part about all of this is getting to see the kids smile every single class and the joy on their faces,’ Williams said. …

“Balamurugan began playing the piano at age 6. She went through hour-long practices almost every day and partook in local competitions. Balamurugan enjoyed playing waltz, but she also liked performing pop songs to energize family and friends. Playing the piano would boost her family members’ spirits after they returned from work.

“In high school, the piano became more of a creative outlet for Balamurugan as she realized how composers deliver a story or message through their performances. She taught piano to family friends who had money for lessons, but she wanted to reach those who didn’t.

“Meanwhile, music was a driver in Williams, improving her state of mind. When she was 9, she lost motivation to pursue goals in and outside of school. She felt angry at the world.

“Around that time, Williams’s grandmother, Delmy Lopez, played her ‘Esta Vida’ by Jorge Celedón — a song that preaches appreciating the small pleasures in life. That song changed her perspective, and the next day she signed up for her school’s band, learning the bass, guitar and drums. She later gained the confidence to try out for the school’s basketball team.

“In December, Balamurugan and Williams attended a meeting at their school about the Dragon Kim Foundation, which offers a fellowship program that provides $5,000 to a handful of California teenagers, helping jump-start programs they aim to form in their communities. … They wanted to team up to create a music program.

“They decided they would teach music to children around the Los Angeles area. They would create a free workbook for the class and use the grant they’d receive to purchase keyboards for the children participating. …

“Balamurugan said, ‘Katheryn is an amazing public speaker and has such an affable personality, and with me taking the reins on the organizational aspects, we played on each other’s strengths.’ …

“The original plan was for the hour-long classes to occur in-person, but they shifted to Zoom when the pandemic arrived. Online classes have allowed Balamurugan and Williams to expand their reach, as families have inquired about joining from multiple states. … Balamurugan and Williams go over the basics of music notes and tempos, give instructions on how to play the piano and suggest how to use music to improve one’s mind-set. …

“Balamurugan and Williams are proud to inspire children by showing them women of color can create and teach music, too.

“ ‘We want kids to know that through all your struggles, through anything that you’re facing,’ Williams said. More here.

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Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
“The Maine Lobstermen’s Association said about 30,000 miles of rope has been removed from the ocean’s surface,” the
New York Times reported last year. That’s important for saving the lives of the remaining right whales, but it won’t be enough.

This morning, three Blue Jays were arguing over something they thought was good to eat in my backyard, and I got to thinking about how my attitudes are evolving as from the kitchen window I watch creatures come and go during the pandemic.

It occurred to me that the Blue Jays don’t know it’s my backyard. They don’t even have a way of registering the information. Nor, for that matter, do the baby skunk, the possum, the chipmunks, the squirrels, the cardinals, or the numerous rabbits.

Perhaps we’re all just a bunch of critters using this space for now.

That’s my prelude to a post on the conflicting interests of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the lobster fisherman.

Some lobster fishermen are doing their bit to live in harmony with nature. Karen Weintraub reported on this issue at the New York Times late last year, after a right whale well known to scientists was found dead.

“Marc Palombo has been fishing lobster for 41 years, and he wants fishermen who come after him to be able to do the same. That’s why he’s testing a new type of fishing gear that, along with other efforts in New England and Canada, is being designed to avoid harming North Atlantic right whales. …

“This year [2019], about 10 have been found dead, but that number is uncertain. Not one of the nearly 30 right whale deaths in the last three years has been attributed to natural causes, said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist with the New England Aquarium, which maintains a catalog of North Atlantic right whales. Mr. Hamilton blames climate change, which has driven the whales northward in search of food.

“Over the last decade, warming in the Gulf of Maine has driven zooplankton, which the whales feed on, northward into Canada’s waters. As the whales follow, they are swimming across fishing and shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are vulnerable to being struck by ships or entangled in fishing lines — often long lines of rope connecting buoys at the surface with traps at the bottom.

“ ‘The only way to save the right whale is to have all stakeholders, including industry, at the table collaborating on proactive solutions that will protect them while ensuring the future of the lobstering industry,’ Patrick Ramage, director of Marine Conservation, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a statement.

“Fishermen, like Mr. Palombo, and others have been testing new equipment, like ropeless gear, to protect the passing whales, and their fishing livelihood. …

“ ‘We know that entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships are killing these ocean giants,’ Megan Jordan, spokeswoman for Oceana, an international advocacy and conservation organization, said via email. ‘Reducing the amount of vertical lines from fishing gear in the water and requiring ships to slow down can help save North Atlantic right whales from extinction.’ …

“In Canada, a multipronged effort to protect the North Atlantic right whales is underway. After 17 whales were killed in the 2017 fishing season, including 12 in Canada’s waters, the Canadian government initiated a three-year research project. …

“For example, snow crab fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence use rope that can withstand 14,000 pounds of force, Mr. Cormier said. His team is testing rope that breaks below 1,700 pounds, a weight that would allow a whale to free itself. …

“[Meanwhile,] the Maine Lobstermen’s Association recently pulled out of an agreement to reduce the number of fishing ropes in the water by 60 percent. The association’s executive director, Patrice McCarron, said the deal treats Maine lobstermen unfairly, because their fishing gear has not been the cause of any of the whale deaths in the last five years. She also said almost 30,000 miles of floating rope have been replaced with line that sinks.

“Mr. Palombo and collaborators at the New England Aquariumare testing a ropeless system that would leave lobster pots attached to a spool of rope at the bottom of the sea rather than to a buoy on the surface. A few days after setting his pots during a testing, Mr. Palombo headed back to the area and pushed a button on his boat that sent an audio signal to the spool. The rope rose to the surface where it took only a few minutes to retrieve.

“ ‘It’s pretty gratifying,’ he said about testing the ropeless system. ‘We’re the adventurers, we’re the people that are breaking the ground.’ ” More here.

In January, David Abel at the Boston Globe reported on delays in new regulations: “Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for protecting the critically endangered species, had planned to issue the regulations last year. But they were delayed after months of criticism from the region’s powerful lobster industry, which is worried that new requirements could be harsh and expensive.”

I sure am hoping for compromises that take everyone’s concerns seriously, including the whales’.

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102320moroccan_women_carpet_market

Photo: Taylor Luck
Bargaining over a Berber rug in Khemisset, Morocco.

Yesterday I mentioned to Nancy that the pandemic may have affected the timeliness of some of the stories I’ve collected for future blog posts. I wasn’t sure, for example, if the Berber women who weave carpets and manage their markets in Morocco were still working.

Today I found a late May report indicating the weavers work from home and continue to produce for export companies despite Covid-19 lockdowns. So I think I can share this article from the Christian Science Monitor. When it’s safe to return to public spaces, I’m counting on women like these to be fully in charge once again.

Taylor Luck writes, “The carpet palace is at the far end of the bustling, dusty, weekly outdoor market here. Past heaps of wheat and grain, mounds of clothes, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with vaulted archways and bushels of thread and fabric.

“But visitors drawn by the allure of Berber rugs of every hue must abide by one important law: Inside this palace, women rule.

“For here at Khemisset’s zarabi souk – literally ‘rug market’ – women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

“Moroccan connoisseurs know their straight-from-the-source products: the minimalist, black-and-white geometric weaves of the Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols, and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; patchwork confetti-like Boucherouite rugs of leftover textile scraps; the blue-and-red, lightweight, tightly-nit kilims.

“Anyone who wishes to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multicolor Berber rugs must first go through these merchant matriarchs. … The women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to drive a hard bargain.

“Situated 60 miles east-southeast of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Berber-inhabited Middle Atlas Mountains, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele. For the past three decades, women from the town have teamed up with relatives and contacts from the outer villages to sell carpets and rugs directly to vendors. …

“Khemisset merchants such as Fatima Rifiya gather at the marketplace to await dozens of women from far-off Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means ‘free people’) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 a.m.

“The sellers and middle-women then rummage through the piles of rugs, evaluating every piece by size, coloring, thickness, weave, and pattern. Khemisset women say their secret to success is an eye for desirability – fitting each carpet to the target audience and buyer who never knew they always needed it. …

“ ‘Once we grade the carpets, we explain to the weavers the values and who their customers may be, [and] we set a price and our commission,’ explains Ms. Rifiya, herself a transplant from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as a head matriarch and an Arabic translator. …

“Carpet dealers come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls muttering, ‘Really, that is too much,’ or, ‘I swear to God, I can get half that price somewhere else.’ But Ms. Rifiya and her sisterhood stand their ground. She and some of the more veteran sellers such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

“Simple rules such as: Never appear desperate for a sale. Let the customer walk away, they’ll always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to open up bargaining. …

“This souk is not sponsored by a charitable association, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is an organic, grassroots product of local residents and shared interests.

“Here at the zarabi souk, women are selling individually yet banding together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a dash of solidarity.

“It was not always like this. Three decades ago, most Berber weavers say they would sell to middlemen who would go off to market towns and sell at any price they wished, or to traveling ‘dealers’ who would purchase directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops. But each Berber woman would not know how much others were being paid for their work or what the market rate was for their carpets.”

Sounds like this market has made a real difference in people’s lives. Here’s hoping that post-Covid, these strong women will see to it that everything goes back to normal. More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Jay Feinstein
Shawn Cooney and his wife Connie own Corner Stalk Farm, a container farm in East Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you get the radio show Living on Earth where you live? I find it fascinating no matter what topics they cover. Here is a recent episode on urban farming.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: Industrial agriculture today is a resource-intensive endeavor, requiring big machines, plenty of land, water, and energy to produce much of the food on a typical American dinner table. And as the public trends more toward plant-based foods, some are thinking outside the box by bringing farms inside the box. By retrofitting old shipping containers with grow lights and hydroponic gear, what would take about an acre of land to grow vegetables such as lettuce can be fit into just 8 by 40 feet. Living on Earth‘s Jay Feinstein and Aynsley O’Neill took a trip to Corner Stalk Farms in East Boston, Massachusetts to find out more. …

“O’NEILL: I see these shipping containers. I mean, right in the middle of these houses and behind the auto body shop … here we are!

“FEINSTEIN: You know, the funny thing is a farm like this would not have even been legal until 2013, when Boston revamped its zoning code. …

“COONEY: My name is Shawn Cooney. And I’m the partner and owner of Corner Stalk farm in East Boston, Massachusetts, and we started in 2014. So this is it. … Basically you’ve seen the whole of the farm by walking the 120 feet or so. …

“O’NEILL: Are those the plants in those columns all up and down?

“COONEY: Right. You really need just an industrial area [where] you can basically bring as many plants as possible into as little amount of square footage as possible. … In a real farm, you’re talking about square footage and acreage. Here, it’s really cubic feet. We’ve got so many feet on the floor, but we plant plants up to ten feet high. …

“We’ve got a climate control system, and a lot of fans keep the air moving so that everything’s happy. And the plants get a little bit of stress. If you just leave them without any movement, the plants actually get weak. …

“They do need to be moved around for them to have a good texture to them, so that the cell walls are thick enough, so that it’s not just eating a piece of water. …

“You can log into it from the outside world. If you want to fiddle around with settings, or just check on everything, you can do that from home, you can do it from from vacation. …

“FEINSTEIN: So how did you get into this?

“COONEY: I started three software companies and sold them. … My wife and I myself funded it, and we have loans [from] the US Department of Agriculture. …

“Mainly we grow lettuce. That’s our business. And we’ve grown tomatoes, we’ve grown lots of flowers, we’ve grown all kinds of herbs, and God knows what else. But [what] people buy every day is our greens, even our restaurants, that’s what they want. …

“FEINSTEIN: What type of environmental cost are you saving? …

“COONEY: One of the things we definitely don’t do is waste any water. No matter how good you are at growing outside, you could never grow with the kind of water use we have. We use, say 1000 plants we can grow in one unit, we probably use 25 gallons of water a week. So you couldn’t water your patio plants for a week with 25 gallons and keep them alive. …

“We adhere to the organic principles. Generally, the way we control any kind of a pest in here is kind of preemptive. We basically use ladybugs. We ship them in once a month or so, and sprinkle them around, and they pretty much do the policing of any kind of bugs in here. And when we have had to use something it’s called chrysanthemum oil. …

‘You guys want to try something a little, little further on the edge? This is called wasabi arugula. And I grow it for a couple of restaurants. And they use it instead of wasabi on their crudo and their raw fish and their raw meats. So here, take a leaf of that and be prepared. …

“FEINSTEIN: It does taste like wasabi. But it it’s a little milder, but I love it.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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