Reading the Ecological Landscape

Contributed by Helen, Tad, Sandy, Zea

“I loved the connection he made between the history of the people and animals who lived in Vermont and the history and development of the land itself.”

On June 1st, we welcomed Connor Stedman to our land to lead a workshop. Connor is a planner and agro-ecological designer with AppleSeed Permaculture LLC, a writer and organizer with the Greenhorns and Agrarian Trust, and an educator around North America.  His work bridges regenerative agriculture, deep nature connection, stories of place, and socially engaged ecological design.  As an educator, Connor serves as lead faculty for the Omega Institute’s Ecological Literacy Immersion Program and a lead facilitator for Art of Mentoring trainings around the US.  He holds an M.S. in Ecological Planning from UVM and lives in the Hudson River Valley of New York. 

This workshop came about thanks to a new permaculture committee that's formed at Cobb Hill.  The hope is that this is the first in a long series.

The morning dovetailed with a talk Friday with Connor, sponsored by a number of local groups and Resilient Hartford, called "Thinking Like a Watershed" - on watershed-scale resilience in the face of climate change.

Many topics were touched on and we all walked away with various take-aways. These are not simple concepts and indeed this metaphor was made: trying to do ecological design on a piece of land like Cobb Hill is like taking one's kidney out of one's body, putting it on a table, and looking at it. Connor share a range of historical facts and stories to give background, like the Doctrine of Discovery leading to private land ownership, the history of beavers in our area and how they shaped the landscape, rattle snake eradication and how that has affected tick populations today, and how soil surveys came about and what they tell us.

We did discuss some site-specific ideas and problems. Water flow and drainage are issues in some places on our property - we went out and looked at some spots and the current mitigation techniques. We touched on some pest control options, like humming birds as deterrent to berry poaching birds and planting flowering strips in orchard rows to encourage biological control of orchard pests. Lastly, there was some interest in agro-forestry beyond the mushrooms we are already cultivating.

“I took away a much deeper understanding of the historical background of Vermont's geology and socio/cultural pressures that shaped our land use as we see it today.  I also am excited about maximizing biodiversity here using hedgerows, owl/kestrel boxes, landrace seeds, and a swale garden and other water retention methods to slow and filter water around our property.”

Extinction Rebellion Upper Valley


Facing Abrupt Climate Change

by Stephen Leslie

These may be the best of times or the worst of times---in the end it doesn’t matter---what we know for certain is this is our time and we have to make the best of it. Let’s start out by taking a deep breath and being grateful for the miraculous fact that we are alive at all.

And then we must cut to the chase: We are facing the greatest existential threat in all of human history. 

In every great religious and spiritual tradition of the world one of the principle ways the awakened person develops a sustained capacity for living in the present moment is by encountering the certainty of their own death. Regardless of whatever beliefs or experiences the practitioner may have regarding life after death, the facing of one’s own demise brings clarity like none other to the mind.

For the first time since our early ancestors climbed down out of the trees and ventured onto the savannah one million years ago, we as an entire species are having to face the imminent possibility of our own extinction.

This may drive a lot of people to act insane. We have the gravest reasons to be concerned. Drought, fire, flood, heat waves, super storms and rising seas---all point to the collapse of agriculture which means the collapse of global civilization. Food and water shortages seem inevitable. Famine breeds war.

But this moment is also without doubt an unprecedented opportunity for the human race to make a collective leap of consciousness into self-realization of our oneness with the living planet. Abrupt climate change, as its name attests, is now upon us. This is driving an accelerated cultural evolution. More and more people are waking up and grasping our predicament.

We can create an ecologically regenerative civilization.

Youth are rising up.

A school girl from Sweden is speaking truth to power with a tongue as true and on fire as Joan of Arc.

Youth in America are proposing a Green New Deal.

Peaceful warriors, first in England, and now all over the world, are carrying forward the Extinction Rebellion.

Veteran climate and environmental activists such as and Indigenous Environmental Network are welcoming this surge of newcomers to their ranks.

These people stand on the shoulders of all the lovers poets prophets dreamers and rebels who have come before.

Here in Vermont we are hoping to form a broad coalition of climate, environmental, and peace and justice advocates in order to inform the general public and to press our political leaders to put the climate emergency foremost on the legislative agenda. This is an issue that cuts across divides of politics, race, class, gender, and species. Abrupt climate change is already affecting every living being on our beautiful planet. And while many of us have been involved in protest and advocacy groups for years and have already taken steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, the cascading effects of a warming atmosphere are outpacing the predictions of climate scientists. We need decisive action now. In order to save the planet this action must happen on a planetary scale. We need a non-violent uprising of citizens to demand that our political leaders tell the truth about climate change, declare a climate emergency, and immediately undertake a rapid transition to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us. This may be our last best chance to save earth.

In the interest of public health and safety we demand that our government tell the truth about abrupt climate change and loss of wildlife.

We ask news media outlets to do the same.

We demand that our government take action now to cut this nation’s carbon output to net zero by 2025.

Engineers and scientists worldwide assure us that it can be done. They say all we lack is political will.

Our democratic institutions are failing us.

We demand the formation of Citizens Assembles to help set goals and oversee implementation of transition policy.

If we succeed, fossil fuel corporations and governments in the highest carbon emitting countries should be held accountable in international court for crimes against humanity and ecocide. Reparations must be made to all frontline and indigenous populations and also used for habitat restoration----universal base income, education and healthcare provided to all those in the global south who are hardest hit and often reduced to such desperate measures as cutting down the remaining tropical forests, grazing livestock on marginal lands, or over fishing dwindling ocean stocks, etc. simply to survive.

It seems we have arrived at a threshold where it is increasingly clear that the only way to save ourselves from the most disastrous effects of accelerated abrupt climate change is to undertake systemic structural change at the most macro-levels of society---energy policy, transportation, agriculture, etc. I don't think for a moment this discounts all the work that we and so many others around the world have been doing in the places where we live to try and re-localize and regenerate community connection and food production. It just adds an enormous "and" to the equation, as in, we must rapidly transform our society to net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. There is a growing consensus among both leading social thinkers and climate scientists that this change will only be possible if it is driven from the outside---in other words, a massive social movement of citizen activists rising up on a planetary scale.

Learn more, get involved:

Extinction Rebellion Upper Valley (XR UV)’s Facebook page

XR Main Website

On Ticks, Starving Owls, and Restoration

Ticks, Lyme disease, ecological disruption, climate change and biodiversity loss, a thread about how it is easier to break something than it is to fix it.

Two days ago, after a one hour walk in the woods I spent another hour removing ticks (55 of them! - mostly deer ticks, and thus potentially Lyme disease carrying) from our big black furry dog, changing my clothes and taking a shower to make sure I was tick-free myself.

55 ticks - talk about an ecosystem out of balance!!!! And for those of you who are lucky enough to not live with deer ticks, picture the search for 55 sesame seed sized black specks in long black fur.

I'm still learning about the complex ecology of Lyme disease and its hosts and vectors, and I don't think there is a definitive science of this ecology. But enough is known to make it clear there's not just one simple thing out of balance in these Northeastern woodlands.

Though we work on removing it, our land has some amount of non-native brushy/shrubby/thorny invasive plants - things like barberry. Studies have shown that these areas make safe havens for mice and other small mammals on which the ticks live and multiply. More invasives means more mice, which means more ticks.

Another reason there is a boom in small mammals is a lack of predators. Vermont used to have rattlesnakes, which preyed on small mammals, but with a state sponsored bounty on them in the early 1900s they were mostly wiped out. Habitat loss and past waves of hunting mean other large predators are missing too, like wolves and bobcats. That leaves foxes, weasels, coyotes and some raptors to keep prey species in balance. Fewer predators means more mice, means more ticks.

Around us last winter (noted for layer after layer of ice storms - a pattern that is maybe becoming more common for us with climate change) Barred Owls were found starving in high numbers, because…they hunt their prey by plunging through the snow to capture it. Their body weight is enough to do this through powdery snow, but not through layers of ice. Mice, safe from owls below layers of ice in the winter, means more mice in the spring, means more ticks.

Can you see the years of violence, short-sightedness and disruption all coalescing in something that now, finally registers as a problem? Generations before my birth, mass culls of snakes, DDT harming raptors, someone importing pretty ornamental shrubs without thought to ecological consequences, greenhouse gas emissions changing snow and ice leading to starving owls.

We are talking now about how to make our land better habitat for predators, whether we can build nesting boxes for kestrels and owls and corridors for larger predators, and how to make it less good for mice, by working harder on removing invasive species.

That's a lot of work, and a lot of repair. It's also interesting, enlivening work, to think that we may be able, at least in small ways, to help repair, restore and reweave, to begin the centuries-long work of restoration that we know must begin almost everywhere starting now.

Join our Shiitake CSA


We just finished our third 2019 mushroom inoculation workshop. Our logs are all set for next year and soon we’ll be fruiting mushrooms for our summer CSA. Shares are available for purchase - 1/2 lb, 1lb, or 2lbs per week; pick up every Wednesday at our farm stand in Hartland. Please CLICK HERE for more info.

We are also now on Instagram! Follow our mushroom antics @cobbhillmushrooms.

Annual Visit from Japanese Students

Tohoku University of Art & Design (TUAD) in Japan sends students each year to install a contemporary art exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum led by their Professor, Minatsu Agriga.  Cobb Hill has become part of their yearly experience and we welcomed 12 students and two faculty to Cobb Hill on March 9th.  Their weekend stay at Cobb Hill included home stays with families on the Hill, a lecture from Coleen O’Connell on Ecology and Community, and a lecture by Phil Rice on the maple syrup process.  Coleen also conducted a Nature Printing workshop with the students.  As is their tradition, on Sunday they cooked a Japanese feast for the Cobb Hill Community.  The time is always too short, but great memories were made.