Taproot Nature Experience Deepens Children’s Connection to the Natural World

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Taproot Nature Experience was founded on the simple idea that kids need to have time outdoors.

Launched in September 2007 by Zac Wedemeyer and his wife, Elesa, this Iowa City-based company has several different programs that connect children with nature: an after-school program; a summer camp; and Sprouts, a program for pre-school-aged children.

Wedemeyer says that kids used to be allowed to go outside more, but now parents are afraid to let their children out of the house alone. As a former elementary-school teacher, he saw firsthand how little time kids spend in nature and how much time they spend watching television and playing video games….

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Eye of the Whale by Douglas Carlton Abrams

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Intrigue. Romance. Danger. Life. Death. Loyalty. Betrayal. Eye of the Whale has what it takes to get a reader’s pulse racing clear to the last page. But there’s more to this novel than a mystery. After years of thorough research, author Douglas Carlton Abrams has skillfully woven a tale that teaches as much as it entertains. Abrams combines hard scientific facts about the pollution that threatens the world’s sea creatures with a page-turning thrill ride.

Eye of the Whale is an excellent literary vehicle for making the current threat of pollution immediate and real. The author accomplishes this by creating characters — not all of them human — that readers come to know and care about. From a mother whale who begins a new, mysterious song that carries around the world to a ravenous shark whose violent kills are simply a means of survival to a male whale stranded in a California river, the animals have compelling plot lines that draw the reader in.

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1 Mississippi Photo Contest Ends Sunday

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The Mississippi River has long been memorialized in song, story, and legend for its beauty and the spirit of adventure it inspires. Uniting 31 states in its watershed, the river is a part of our culture and our heritage as Americans. And it serves as a superhighway for goods that flow north and south, connecting communities along the way. This valuable asset deserves our protection and our respect.

A group called 1 Mississippi has invited both amateur and professional photographers to submit photos of this diverse and important waterway that unites our nation. But hurry! The contest ends on Sunday.

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Iowa River Call – Teaching Kids to Love Their River

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How do you teach a child to love a river?

It’s not hard to figure out that you can’t love something you don’t know. Surprisingly, to an awful lot of Iowa kids, a river is just something they cross over in a car. I say, “surprisingly,” because Iowa has the image of a pastoral state, where children skip stones into the water from the riverbank, go fishing with their friends, and swim in the creeks that feed the rivers. But the reality is much different for the majority of city kids, like those who live in the Iowa City Community School District.

For the past two days, fourth graders from Hills Elementary (Monday) and third- and fourth-graders from Twain Elementary (Tuesday) participated in a field trip experience designed to help them fall in love with the Iowa River.

You might wonder why falling in love with a river is important. The answer is simple: As Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love.”

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Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability

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Economics. Environment. Equity. Though the word “sustainability” means various things to different people, it can be pared down to just these three words. True sustainability must take into account all three concepts. The reason most of humanity does not understand this is because we cannot grasp how all three can work at the same time.

Humanity is good at the economic portion. Capitalism focuses on economics and often neglects environmental and social issues; in many cases, economic success comes at the expense of the environment and social equity. Even capitalism does not always work: When our banks fail and need federal bailouts, we end up in a recession. Our economy is based upon the consumption of dwindling and non-renewed natural resources — how long can this last? …

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Beyond the River Banks – IRR Annual Conference April 30 – May 2

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If you love Iowa’s rivers, you won’t want to miss the 5th annual conference hosted by Iowa Rivers Revival at the end of this month. The conference will be held from April 30 through May 2 in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. This year’s theme is “Beyond the River Banks: Celebrating Iowa’s Cedar Valley.”

As Iowans — and those who followed the severe Midwest flooding of 2008 — know, the Cedar Valley experienced historic water levels, reaching beyond the 500-year floodplain in Cedar Rapids and other places along the Cedar River watershed. The conference “emphasizes a watershed approach that recognizes that rivers and streams need space to expand and recede, coexisting in harmony with the communities and habitats they shape,” according to IRR’s executive director, Rosalyn Lehman.

“The floods of 2008 and threats of future flooding have many Iowans talking about a new vision for Iowa’s waterways to ensure the safety of river communities and to preserve and enhance Iowa’s natural heritage,” Lehman says….

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They’re Blowing Up Our Mountains – There Oughta Be a Law!

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In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned that the U.S. needs “continued investment in … clean coal technologies.”

But, according to Matt Wasson, Ph.D., Director of Programming at Appalachian Voices, as well as many other experts, when you look at the entire process — from mountaintop removal through burning and coal ash disposal — there is no such thing as clean coal.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Dr. Wasson about the activities of Appalachian Voices, and about coal in particular…

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Francis Thicke on Small Farms and Local Foods

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Francis Thicke and his wife, Susan, are organic dairy farmers who recently received the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture. Francis is also a scientist and a highly respected thought leader on agricultural policy. In this, the third post in a four-part discussion with Thicke, he discusses ways to encourage the growth of small farms and local food production….

BPGL: How can we increase biodiversity in agriculture?

THICKE: On the federal level, we have the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is being implemented now. The CSP, which was authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, provides farmers with incentives to adopt resource-conserving crop rotations. Those incentives will help farmers go beyond growing just corn and soybeans. The incentive payments will help defray the cost of adding perennial and cover crops to crop rotations….

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Hope Springs Eternal for the Cedar River

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I remember the summer of 1967, when I fished the Cedar River for the first time, accompanied by my twin sister and older brothers. Against the backdrop of the Hormel packing plant, cane poles in hand, we caught bullheads, bluegills, and rock bass off North Main Street in Austin, Minnesota, population around 27,000 at the time. I also remember the dirty water and the smell.

That afternoon, a tired and hungry not-yet-seven-year-old, I sat at the supper table with questions for my parents: Why is the river so dirty? Can something be done about it? Why would anyone want to live in a town with a polluted river running through it? Does anyone care? They are questions I have asked repeatedly, since that first day of fishing over 40 years ago….

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Photographer Della Calfee Focuses on Green Clients

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When Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Bay Area artist and ecopreneur Della Calfee, we were intrigued by her self-description as a “green” photographer. How does that look in terms of her portfolio of images? we wondered. And, What kinds of clients hire a green photographer? We asked Calfee about these topics when we spoke with her by phone from her San Jose, California home.

CALFEE: I’ve been shooting pictures for decades, but it was only a couple years ago that I looked back at my body of work and realized that I was a “green” photographer. Once I realized that, something crystallized, and I have been able to move forward with much greater passion and direction and confidence.

To me, “green” means making environmentally conscious choices in every action taken. It means respecting life — including people, but not exclusively. So my photography focuses on clients working toward a better environment. Sustainably produced products; and green-minded services, leaders, and events would all be examples of “green” photography clients. …

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Book Review – Who Turned Out the Lights? Your Guide to the Energy Crisis

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Being an environmentalist means I have to choose from a million aspects of concern, direction, and interest. Planet Earth is facing a flood of problems, too many for one writer to assimilate, even for one magazine. For me, there is too little time to read about all the daily assaults on our planet, let alone verify the data in print; seek out authorities on the subject; interview them; type, edit, and post their points of view.

Being a journalist, as well, compounds the problem. Now, it is just as important to seek the opposing opinions and compare conflicting scientific data. Every topic has many angles, often many points of view, and frequently, two polar-opposite conclusions.

The fact that I try to keep an open mind on these issues is exactly why I like this book. The writers, Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson, have tried to present both sides of every energy issue, or at least, remain neutral in their presentation. The book gives “just the facts,” not opinions, and provides extensive end notes for the reader to verify all sources. …

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Notes from Namibia — Waiting for Elephants

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As a Peace Corps Volunteer working in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in Namibia, it never occurred to me I would be intimately involved in human-wildlife conflict: I consider having to wait 40 minutes for elephants to cross the road before driving the last hundred yards to our campsite pretty intimate.

But does this really come under the heading of human-wildlife conflict? Not for me anyway! I found it terribly exciting and only lamented the fact that I couldn’t get a really good photo through the windshield of our Land Rover.

It is sobering, though, to realize that year after year, people where I work lose not only crops but sometimes their lives to wildlife. …

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Planet Earth Video Inspires Awe and Action

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“A hundred years ago there were one and a half billion people on earth; now over six billion people crowd our fragile planet. But even so there are still places barely touched by humanity,” says narrator David Attenborough in the opening scene of the 11-part mini-series, Planet Earth. “This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”

Four years before audiences around the world saw the wonderment of Planet Earth on television, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) set out to make the most ambitious documentary ever witnessed. Planet Earth captures the full range of experiences in observing wildlife in their natural setting, and arouses emotions in the viewer typically associated with major Hollywood films….

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Soil Is a Finite Resource – Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone for Good

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I asked Angie Tagtow, a registered dietitian who serves as a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy out of Minneapolis, to speak to the issue of soil quality in farmland. Tagtow previously served 10 years at the Iowa Department of Public Health. This is Part Two of a two-part interview.

TAGTOW: Having a registered dietitian talk about environmental resources and natural resources conservation is a little bit of an anomaly — I am often drawn to the work of Sir Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann. But the justification is there, because if you don’t have a healthy environment, you’re not going to be able to produce healthy food.

For me, the connection to soil started on our property more than 15 years ago. We live north of Elkhart, Iowa, and when we bought the property, we didn’t have the means of taking care of it. So we continued to cash-rent it to the farmer who sold it to us. Over the years, we noticed that we had a tremendous amount of erosion. We had flooding. We were witnessing a lot of destruction that we were not prepared to observe. …

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Healthy Soil -> Healthy Food -> Healthy People -> Healthy Communities

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E. coli on lettuce. Salmonella on peanuts. Corn sweetener laden with mercury. Growth hormones and antibiotics in dairy cows. Arsenic in chickens. Sub-therapeutic antibiotics in swine. … Consumers have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the safety of our food supply.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) asked Angie Tagtow, a registered dietitian, who has spent many years working in the public health sector, to talk with us at about the role of public policy in assuring safe, nutritious food. …

TAGTOW: After leaving public health, I recognized that policy is influential with all elements of our food system. So I am connecting the dots between soil, food, and health. Food, of course, is directly related to environmental issues — soil, water, biodiversity and those types of things. I do a lot of public speaking. I work quite a bit with universities, with undergraduate and graduate classes in delivering the message that there is a very important connection between the health of our environment, the health of our food system, as well as overall public health. …

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Michael Roberts – Creating a Healthy Environment and a Healthy Bottom Line

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Michael Roberts is a futurist, an environmentalist, and a capitalist – inclinations that he feels all work in perfect synergy. “I’m looking for where the business opportunities are going to be in the future. If we take the position that we can create quality of life without destroying the planet, there’s money to be made doing that.” He firmly believes in a healthy environment and a healthy bottom line. “My daddy worked for the post office for 39 years. We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor. We just didn’t have any money. Well, you can accomplish a lot more with capital than just by work alone.”

Roberts and his brother, Steven, his partner in an estimated $500 million business empire that encompasses real estate, hotels, broadcast, telecom, entertainment, publishing, and aviation holdings, have always been eco-conscious. “We started out building green before anyone knew what LEED was. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Sustainable building was reputed to be more far more expensive than typical construction practices. In our experience, it only added about five percent to our cost, and now, as people become more ecologically conscious, they’re seeking our properties out. ‘Green’ brings another form of green,” he says…

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Ecotourism – Leave Nothing but Footprints and Goodwill

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Perhaps you’ve dreamed of vacationing at a resort on a tropical island, surrounded by a luxury hotel with every convenience you could desire: Food and drink served in abundance in any number of dining locations. Beach chairs and umbrellas on the pristine sands of an exclusive beach. A swim bar in the middle of a sparkling pool for guests only. Nightclubs with live entertainment right on the property. Sophisticated staff from countries around the world. And a direct shuttle to carry you safely between the airport and the hotel.

Why would you care to venture out and see the island, with everything you need right here? And why would you want to meet the local people, when their extreme poverty would put a damper on your luxury vacation?

Why, indeed?…

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Tips for Eco-Friendly Hiking and Camping

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There is perhaps no better way to enjoy the warm weather and new life of spring than taking to the woods. Whether you enjoy day hiking, camping, or more extended and remote backpacking trips, the following guidelines will help you protect the outdoors you love so much. Most of these tips apply to parks, forests, and wilderness areas, both locally and nationwide…

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Kiawah Island Golf Resort – An Eco-Friendly Vacation Choice

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Picture yourself at a lush island resort. The melodic call of sea birds and the sound of breaking waves beckon to you. Nature’s splendor surrounds you in all directions. Three bountiful meals await you at your choice of 12 dining venues. Your hotel room features luxurious furniture and every amenity you could ask for. The golf course is minutes from your door. If this sounds like an idyllic vacation spot, it is; South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort is all this and more …

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Tiny Houses Offer Sustainable Living Alternative

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Gregory Johnson doesn’t have a bathroom in his house. In his 7’ by 10’ home, his office, kitchen, and bedroom are all just a footstep away. One side of his house is his office. On the opposing wall is the kitchen. The bedroom is the loft, accessible only through a hole in the ceiling. As I looked inside his tiny home, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How does he live here?”

I find it difficult to imagine living in a home this size; perhaps you do, too. But what if everything you needed in a dwelling could be condensed into a 140-square-foot house? Could you live in a house without a toilet, a shower, or a refrigerator? How would your life change? …

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