becoming earth literate


Sr. Miriam Macgillis

Genesis Farm’s mission is to teach and promote earth literacy as we exit the short earth era defined by oil powered machines and environmental hubris. What is earth literacy, you might ask?

The green living movement has gained prominence in recent years with recycling efforts, carbon awareness, pollution control, biofuel, farmers’ markets and what not. But during Sustainable Warwick’s visit to Genesis Farm in Blairstown, NJ on April 16 we got a taste of an example of true earth literacy – and it is very different from and goes way beyond composting your kitchen scraps or going on a week-end hike.

Besides Genesis Farm’s mastermind, Sr. Miriam Macgillis, with her broad cosmology and spiritual ecological vision for the future, we also met Dr. James Conroy, aka The Tree Whisperer. Dr. Conroy comes from a traditional scientific background in horticulture and plant pathology, and worked for years treating diseased plants with agricultural chemicals. He made a 180o turn when he woke up to the realization that his methodology, and that of our culture at large, was like being at war with nature. He became aware of his intuitive ability and began treating plants cooperatively as living organisms.

deer flags around a fruit tree

deer flags around a fruit tree

“Dr. Jim Conroy’s philosophy is based on rejuvenating trees’ inner health.  Inner healing occurs when a plant’s or tree’s inner parts, systems, and the aggregate of inner processes are bioenergetically transformed and imprinted with new and healthy patterns of operation,” he explains on his website.

deer flags around planting beds

deer flags around planting beds

In addition to healing trees he has now expanded his intuitive ability to communicating with the deer on the Genesis property. In order to avoid fencing specific areas in, he works cooperatively with the deer, identifying those areas on the farm that are set aside for produce gardening with flags  they supposedly have learned to recognize. The deer are free  to roam and eat from all other areas on the farm. Asked whether the deer listen to him, Conroy answers with a smile that it seems to be working so far, but that every spring the new born deer walk all over the place and have to be taught anew where they can and cannot go. Way beyond bringing your own grocery bags to the store!





shut your engine!

A few weeks ago I received an office supplies delivery. The delivery truck driver left his engine running while he was rummaging in the back for my stuff.   I often see parents idling their car while waiting to pick their child up at school. At the railroad tracks in Warwick most – I don’t want to say all (and I am not one of them) – people idle their car while waiting for the (usually long) freight trains to pass. And I have never seen people turn their engines off while waiting at the drive-up ATM for their turn, at a red light or at a drive-through.

UPS is making an effort to reduce idling their trucks while the drivers deliver, because they know it wastes gas, which costs money (probably their first concern, before the CO2 emissions), although in our context air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are the deeper concern.  They report in a press release that ” Idling for 30 seconds uses more fuel than restarting your engine, and idling for 10 minutes a day wastes an average of 24.6 gallons of gas per year.”

Various cities and states in this country have already implemented anti-idling laws and there are penalties for idling more than 3 or 5 minutes, depending on the locality.  But we know this is difficult to enforce.  In Europe people are more conscientious about shutting their engine off while waiting at the railroad tracks for the train to pass.

But do we really need an ordinance telling us that spewing CO2 into the atmosphere while the car is not being used is a waste? Pollutes the air? Contributes to greenhouse gas emissions? Why not get into the habit of shutting your engine off as soon as you realize that you will be standing there for a while? Why not do your bit to conserve energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions?

toxic dry cleaning

too much plastic

too much plastic

I am always surprised by the types of clothes people bring to the dry cleaner – men’s dress shirts, women’s blouses, sweaters, cotton slacks. A lot of it can safely be washed at home for a lot less money and at a lower environmental (for all of us) and health (for the dry cleaning staff) price.   Dry cleaning is a chemically intense process that involves the toxic solvent perc (follow the link for information about dry cleaning), still used by 85% of all dry cleaning businesses.

I only get business suits and dresses dry cleaned since they cannot be laundered at home.  I never even brought sweaters in and hand washed them instead, the way my mother always did; but luckily I now have a washing machine with a hand wash program that does it safely and gently.  And, I concede that you’ll have to do some ironing if you launder more at home and don’t care for wrinkly slacks and dress shirts.

To add insult to injury, dry cleaners wrap the cleaned clothes in those long thin plastic sleeves to protect them from dust while awaiting pick-up, and then for the way home. So, while I have brought my own canvas shopping bags to the supermarket and farmer’s market for years to avoid using environmentally unfriendly plastic bags, I have only now awoken to the nasty dry cleaning plastic wrap scourge. Unlike the plastic supermarket bags, the thin dry cleaning plastic bags cannot even be recycled! Between toxins and trash, a double whammy that ends up in the garbage stream.

I have now asked my dry cleaner to refrain from slipping those plastic sleeves over our clothes. They have been very cooperative and are hanging our unwrapped clothes on a pick-up rack by the door.

Lastly, there are now two environmentally safe dry cleaning methods, professional wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning (follow the link for information on environmentally friendly methods). Keep a lookout for cleaners that adopt these new safer methods.

In conclusion, consider saving on the dry cleaner by washing more of your clothes at home, looking out for dry cleaners that use environmentally safer methods, and if you must, at least forego the plastic.

leave the plastic at the dry cleaner's

leave the plastic at the dry cleaner’s


where we go from here

WarwickReykjavik plans to be entirely off fossil fuels by 2050, imagine! Already now this mini capital “gets its energy for heat, hot water and electricity entirely from hydropower and geothermal resources – both of which are renewable and free of greenhouse gas emissions,” as Maria Trimarchi and Jacob Clifton report in Of course, Reykjavik sits on hot springs, so geothermal is a no-brainer. Every place has to figure out its own best way.  When you’re in the desert solar makes sense, when you’re in the Windy City wind power is it, when you’re in Reykjavik it is geothermal, and hydrogen fuel cells will be the future in many other places. It’s all about working with local circumstances, and many solutions will be hybrids. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The scientific evidence on climate change is quite terrifying – what with the prospects of frying in the blistering sun, being continuously flooded by reoccurring torrential rains, running out of water (in the West and Southwest), running out of oil because we haven’t seen it coming (say what?), and other nasty thoughts?

We all really have to do our part, right now, right here in our backyard. So how sustainable can we make Warwick? What can we do as a community to prepare for climate change and all it entails?

Jeremy Rifkin, social scientist, economist, prolific bestselling author, brilliant global thinker and inspirational change agent, who I heard speak at last fall’s Omega Institute Conference on Sustainability, has been writing about our environmental predicament (sounds milder, but it really is closer to a catastrophe) as the cause of our cultural paradigm, since the mid 1980s. His books are easy to read (I really recommend them), totally eye-opening and perspective changing, and show the road to where we’re headed if things are not too late (Rifkin consults with the European Union because many over here are not yet ready to hear his message).  But his vision goes way beyond the mere replacement of oil with renewable energy sources, to predicting and envisioning a culture that no longer exploits for short-term gain, to a new cooperative, sustainable and compassionate culture whose goal is everyone’s  wellbeing for long-term gain – peace, stability, and a decent standard of living for all, not just a few.

A sustainable community provides for quality of life while continuously renewing the environment and its resources. This can only happen in a cooperative and cocreative culture. So how sustainable can Warwick become? Let’s work together on such a vision for our town.

change begins with YOU and ME

There are people out there who say that our environmental challenges are just so overwhelming that bringing your own reusable shopping bags to the supermarket or putting solar panels on your house won’t make a difference; that we are doomed if the bigger entities won’t make drastic changes in policy and commitment.

Well, I agree to disagree. And here is why.

drying rackIt’s about becoming aware individually first, about awakening, about incorporating a small change or two into your life. That small change is likely to trigger an inquiry, perhaps an interest, it will mushroom out. It may even inspire a spark to nudge a friend, your children, your parents. See? Now you’ve already made a difference among several people. And how you teach by example is huge, and it spreads. That’s how grassroots movements are born, that’s how change happens. It is our individual awareness that must awaken before we can expect our government, our local politicians, the big corporations to follow suit. Remember, our politicians, the employees of the large corporations, are all people like you and I.   They go shopping, like you and I. When they go to the supermarket and are handed a reusable shopping bag with a nudge to forego the flimsy single-use plastic bags that end up in trees and oceans and pollute our environment, they become aware.  That’s how we need to start. The more of this nudging on all fronts, the better.

What can you do easily and immediately besides bringing your reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, the farmer’s market or the mall (and do keep them in your car so you won’t forget)?LED

  • dry your clothes on a line or a drying rack – consumes less fossil fuels and saves you $
  • reduce, reuse, recycle
  • switch to LED lightbulbs, they last about 23 (!) years and consume only 1/2 the electricity of a compact fluorescent, you’ll save huge!
  • insulate your house – saves you $ and reduces the use of fossil fuels
  • shop and resell you gently used clothing at second hand stores – saves you $, gives you a more diverse selection, recycles good clothing, your money stays in your community and goes to a small local businessreduce reuse recycle

Your children, your partner, a friend will notice the changes, they may inquire, it opens a discussion. Change begins with YOU and ME! Yes, the challenges are huge. But without awareness and commitment from you and me, without you and I taking responsibility and making small changes for starters, things won’t change “up there.”

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