SPOTLIGHT on the Healing Powers of Regenerative Agriculture

Posted by Ecogardens


It’s true that we at Ecogardens don’t grow food for a living. But if we did, we would totally do it the regenerative agriculture way.

Human agricultural methods have evolved over thousands of years. While a thorough investigation of the human relationship with farming methods is beyond the scope of this spotlight, suffice it to say:

Our modern methods are not what they used to be. They are, in fact, harming the Earth.

Killing it, even. We take from the soil and we don’t give back. We add nutrients that will enable monoculture crops to grow, but we don’t truly nourish the land. We strip the soil through obliterative farming practices that leave it barren for future generations.

*cough* dust bowl *cough*

Well, good news: Regenerative agriculture is a type of stewardship that has the power to change all that.

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Choose the Right Locations for Planting Natives

Posted by Ecogardens


You know we need more native plants up in here … but where exactly should we put them? Is it enough to plant them in your garden, or should you be looking elsewhere?

Native prairie is rare enough these days to make passing one remarkable. Perhaps you whip out your camera phone, or maybe you point out the rolling landscape to your kiddos. If you see a bison, you basically throw a ****ing party. Because really, who sees bison outside of Yellowstone?

That’s the problem … we shouldn’t be jumping for joy when we see a tiny sliver of landscape that once dominated this continent.

Before Europeans arrived, the United States was composed of vast swaths of native prairie and savanna (prairie with trees dotting the landscape). According to Yale University, these rich grasslands are irreplaceably diverse.

For instance, “The Southeast is one of North America’s great, but forgotten, grassland regions. Its native prairies and savannas have been reduced by more than 90 percent since the first Europeans arrived, almost 100 percent in many areas. Yet the remaining scraps include more grassland plants and animals than the Great Plains and Midwest combined.”

If you’re thinking “Dang! That’s like some rainforest style diversity right there!” then you are correct. And we need to bring it back. To the Plains, to the Midwest, to the South. To everywhere.

But how?

By finding the right locations for planting natives and putting them to good use in stewardship of the Earth.

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Increase Your Mental Health with Time in Nature

Posted by Ecogardens


It is no secret that we are facing a mental health crisis here in the United States. Buckle up, because this might get a little depressing – but don’t worry, Nature is once again here to save the day!

According to a recent study undertaken by Mental Health in America:

  • In a 5-year period, rates of severe youth depression have increased.
  • 50% of screeners age 11-17 often think about suicide or self-harm throughout the week.
  • Over 76% of youth with severe depression – 1.7 million kids - did not get treatment they need.

And that’s just our kids. Adults also face steep rates of depression, much of which is caused by lack of access to proper care, other research finds.

“Mental health services in the U.S. are insufficient despite more than half of Americans (56%) seeking help,” says the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Limited options and long waits are the norm, but [there are] some bright spots with 76% of Americans now seeing mental health as important as physical health.”

That’s good news indeed. Better news, if you’re one of the enlightened who knows how important it is to seek out mental health improvement: Nature can help.

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Topics: Stewardship

SPOTLIGHT on Bioaccumulation and Why It Matters (Even to Humans)

Posted by Ecogardens


It hardly bears saying that we humans tend to act without considering the consequences, but this is truer than ever in the case of bioaccumulation. Here’s why we should all be freaked out by this concept.

What do a tiny piece of phytoplankton and an orca whale have in common?

They’re both riddled with toxins, byproducts of human activity that these organisms have no choice about and can’t do anything to prevent.

It’s depressing. We’re depressed right now.

Because bioaccumulation is no joke. It’s the idea that chemicals concentrate in animals as they eat food or are exposed to substances containing them. The same is true for plants.

The true kicker, though, is that plants and animals take chemicals in faster than they can get rid of them through normal metabolic processes.

And that really sucks.

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Compost If Your City Doesn’t Offer Municipal Pickup

Posted by Ecogardens


Wondering what to do if your city doesn’t offer municipal curbside compost pickup? Never fear; there are plenty of ways to keep food scraps out of landfill.

If you’re anything like us, it kills you to toss a banana peel in the garbage. Watching those carrot shavings languish in the trash can is tantamount to murder. You’re tempted to secretly bury apple cores in the nearby park in the dead of night.

Because trashing food – even if it’s only scraps we’re talking about – just feels so wrong.

And, well, it is wrong. Compost has amazing benefits for the world, and has been a valuable aspect of human stewardship for many millennia. But today, it seems we’ve forgotten its importance.

The result is that more than 15 percent of municipal solid waste ends up being food scraps, with 22 percent of landfills represented by food waste (as of 2015 numbers, the latest available). That’s 39.7 million tons and 30.3 million tons respectively, the difference accounted for by combustion for energy recovery.

Of that original 39.7, only 7.4 percent is combusted and only 5.3 percent is composted. Not good enough, we say.

But assuming your city doesn’t offer municipal compost pickup, and most still don’t, what are you supposed to do? Without that bin, what composting alternatives do you really have?

Well, it turns out, quite a few. If you're wondering how to compost outside your home, here's what you need to know.

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Support Land Conservation Efforts

Posted by Ecogardens


Land conservation is an increasingly acute concern, but most people don’t know what they personally can do. Here’s a rundown of how to play your part.

Land conservation sounds like a Big Thing.

An overwhelming thing. An undoable thing, even.

But it doesn’t have to be. We’re trying to expand our understanding of what exactly this concept means and what we can do to support it. If you’re with us, then here are several ways to understand and support land conservation efforts.

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Topics: Stewardship

SPOTLIGHT: What Is Biophilia and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by Ecogardens


Do you love nature? You’re not alone; it’s in our blood.

If you’ve ever felt that automatic intake of breath upon looking out over a grand vista …

If you’ve ever felt a tear come to your eyes when the woods rain leaves down in fall …

If you’ve ever held a friend’s puppy and had the fleeting urge to kidnap it and move somewhere no one could ever find you

… then you might have a strong case of biophilia. (Or you might just be a sociopath, but that’s a different blog post.)

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Topics: Stewardship

How to Make Outdoor Holiday Decorations More Sustainable

Posted by Ecogardens


Sadly, the most wonderful time of the year is not always so wonderful for the environment. There are, however, steps we can take to minimize the impact of holiday decorations.

We hate to Scrooge things up, but holiday decorations are a serious bugbear when it comes to urban ecology and environmental stewardship as a whole.

Sure, that giant glowing Santa in your neighbor’s front yard may look cute (when it’s not keeping you up at night), but it’s definitely not an environmental win.

Actually, we just realized that giant glowing Santas don’t have any redeeming value.

But what about evergreen bunting? Wreaths? Twinkle lights? After all, what are the winter months without these charming touches of holiday cheer?

We feel you. Truly, we love a good winter wonderland just as much as anyone else, which is why we’re tackling this problem head-on.

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Topics: Stewardship

Transforming the Landscape Ethic: An Interview with the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association

Posted by Ecogardens


The landscape industry is rife with environmental problems, but several big organizations are stepping up to change that. Prime among them is the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA), a leading voice since 1959.

Download a free PDF version of this report to share with your colleagues and friends!

It’s no secret that the landscaping industry is one of the most problematic for the ecosphere, though it is sadly less talked-about than it should be. Even green roofing, ostensibly a purely environmental effort, adds to the issue.

Among the leading troubles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are higher pesticide concentrations in urban and suburban areas than agricultural ones. (If you’re gobsmacked by this, you’re not alone.)

Pesticide exposure – affecting non-target plants and humans alike – is also a major concern. As the EPA says, “more than 31,000 pesticide exposure incidents related to the use of pesticides on lawns were reported from 1995 to 2002.” And because people don’t know enough about these issues, they don’t know what to do instead.

For decades, the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association has striven to be a voice of change, fighting for the rights of the environment. Today, that message is more important than ever.

Recently, we were lucky enough to catch up with several members of the ILCA Sustainability and Ecological Landscape Committee to talk more about it.

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Topics: Stewardship

SPOTLIGHT on Antifragility, a Concept with Sweeping Environmental Implications

Posted by Ecogardens


Never heard the word “antifragility” before? You’re not alone, but if you’re in the green space, it’s time you change that.

Antifragility (or anti-fragility) is a relatively new concept. Thus far, thought leaders have applied it to both business and personal development settings.

But it is our humble (read: expert) opinion that we need to put this idea to work stewarding the planet stat.

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Topics: Stewardship