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!





why raw milk is greener and maybe even healthier

raw milkHomogenization and pasteurization add a whole lengthy and energy intensive industrial process to milking and make milk processed that way a “product.” Homogenization and pasteurization require trucking the milk from the dairy in huge milk trucks to a facility with machinery that sends the milk through both processes, bottles it, then distributes it to stores and supermarkets. Simplified, homogenization is a process that applies high pressure to force the milk through little holes, rendering the fat globules so small that they won’t separate again. Pasteurization, simplified again, involves the quick heating and subsequent cooling of milk to destroy potential pathogens.

Raw milk from pastured cows, in comparison, is a totally low tech and unadulterated food from nature. Raw milk is something like an emulsion. Even if you shake it up, the milk fat (from which you could make butter or icecream or use it in a sauce or over hot cereal) separates from the skim milk again and rises to the top, leaving that famous cream line.

In recent years the potential benefits of raw milk have turned up on peoples’ radars as we have become more interested in our food supply, a bit more wary of the food industry’s motives, and, perhaps more importantly, how the food we eat influences our health.

Not only is raw milk a lot less labor intensive, ergo “green” as in sustainable and requiring minimal energy input; after all it gets bottled right after the cow has been milked, you can buy it the same day (it doesn’t get any fresher than that) – The End.  It is also a local food since you buy it directly from a farm in your neighborhood.  Moreover, recent research seems to indicate that raw milk is potentially easier to digest (many lactose intolerant people tolerate raw milk), might boost the immune system, potentially prevent various allergic and asthmatic conditions, and is generally a more complex and valuable food because it retains all its nutrients, which otherwise get destroyed during the pasteurization process.

Of course plenty of detractors, but also fearful and perhaps insufficiently informed people have lobbied against raw milk in recent years. Inform yourself, do your research, know your body and your dietary preferences, then do what’s best for you with.

scary GMOs

gmo-orange-kiwiFrankenfoods is the popular name for GMOs or genetically modified organisms.   GMOs can actually be either plants or animals bred for food, but also plants for biofuel or fiber. GMOs involve the deliberate manipulation of genetic material, usually through introduction of DNA foreign to the original organism, to force the alteration of the plant or animal’s genetic make-up.  Brave New World, here we come.

Make no mistake, GMO technology is being used as a solution to agricultural and environmental challenges we have been unable (or dare I say unwilling) to resolve otherwise, such as eradicating world hunger, or agricultural challenges arising from climate change like the need for more drought tolerant crops. The consequences of introducing these questionable man-made creations into nature and our bodies have not been thoroughly enough researched (the time frame has been too short), yet, eager for profit, their launching has been hastened. Some effects are known, some can be anticipated, others will take the population at large by surprise, although already predicted by scientists, but in short they are all worrisome.

Based on research and case studies health consequences may encompass increased exposure to allergens, elevated cancer risks, increased resistance to antibiotics, risks of neurobehavioral defects, doubling the risk of miscarriages in advanced pregnancies, and disruption of the endocrine system.Fish-and-Tomato

Environmental effects are loss of biodiversity, pollen spreading from genetically engineered to non-genetically engineered plants, and interbreeding not only with wild species but also adjacent non-GMO crops. This disrupts the natural ecology and weakens the plants by genetically forcing characteristics external to their own ecosystem on them, which in turn stresses the plants and makes them unfit in the long term. Puerto Rican journalist Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero has written about the large scale environmental problems caused by herbicide-resistant GMO soybeans that have led to deforestation, soil degradation, and pesticide and genetic contamination.  This is huge!

Ricarda Steinbrecher, a molecular geneticist, has documented the scarily unpredictable side effects of genetically modified salmon reared in Scotland that was engineered to grow fast, but which also unpredictably turned green. Oops. And we are finding out that the genes of such Frankensteinian organisms are unstable in later generations.  So who knows what would happen if these green salmon were to escape and mate with nature made salmon.  Scary….

A serious ethical concern, that has farmers already up in arms, is the biochemical companies’ profit driven and complete control over the never ending, and of course unsustainable, dependency cycle on herbicides and pesticides, fertilizers and GMO seeds (Monsanto and others sell them all and require farmers to certify that they will not save seeds from one year to the next!).

gmo-freeTake note that many countries have either never adopted or already banned GMO crops. Our best bet is to refrain from buying, and thus promoting the further use of GMO crops, and supporting GMO labeling. Did you know that open produce in supermarkets is already labeled? A 4-digit fruit label (say #4011) means “conventionally grown banana,” a 5-digit code starting with a 9 (say #94011) means “organically grown banana,” and a 5-digit number with an 8 (say #84011) means “genetically modified banana.” Organic certification forbids the use of GMOs, but almost all conventional soy and corn crops in the US, and much rice and cotton, are now GMO. Why not refrain from buying anything with high fructose corn syrup, and no supermarket cereal – better for your health anyways. And when you buy local corn in late summer ask the farmer – many of our local farmers are aware and don’t grow GMO corn.









sustainable meat

DSC01152These days so many issues fall under the umbrella of sustainability, even meat eating (or not) and how.

Meat eating has lately been harshly criticized by many vegetarians and vegans with a demand to abstain, period. They are indeed right to condem supermarket meat, by which I mean meat that has been raised and processed in big-ag CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Meat that comes from such operations is sad and sick meat, not only because the poor creatures live and die in horror movie conditions (no exaggeration – read Jonathan Safran Foer and others), but also because of the major adverse environmental impact of these types of facilities. This meat cannot possibly be healthy for our bodies and the “production” method is an environmental and moral catastrophe. Why do you think CAFOs are closed to the public and the press? Because the uproar would be such that it would signal the beginning of the CAFO’s demise.

A happy compromise to the meat eating quandary, however, and a sustainable one at that, for those of us who do eat meat (and I am one of them), is to buy grass fed and pasture raised meat from local farms. When the process is transparent and the operation open to visitors you know there is nothing to hide.  Here, the animals graze outside in a natural environment and feed on what their systems are meant to digest (unlike the sickening corn and grain fed diet of CAFO animals).  Here, the animals’ manure is reused sustainably as fertilizer.  Here, the animals have room to roam.  We are so lucky to live in a place with many such sustainable farms.DSC01151

On the surface this sustainably raised meat is more expensive than supermarket meat. But supermarket meat has so many hidden costs that are passed on to us through the back door, costs to the environment, to our conscience and to our health.  Moreover, our meat consumption has skyrocketed to unhealthy levels over the past few decades precisely because meat has become so cheap. Lastly, coming from Europe I am used to eating all parts of the animal, from kidneys to pigs tails and pigs ears, to liver and sweetbreads (a true delicacy in France), which I find respects and appreciates the life we are taking for our own nourishment, rather than wasting many of the animal’s parts. Better therefore to eat (much) less meat but from a sustainable source. As food advocate and author Marion Nestlé says, we should be eating meat in “condiment quantities.”




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