Sensory Heritage Is The New Green

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For some time now green has been the new thing and we live in one of its showcases, with access to all kinds of tropical nature within easy driving distance. But it has been where we live that, for the last few months, has had us greening our own living patterns. There will be a fuller post on that soon, but for now I just smile at my friends across the Atlantic, on a day when our rooster woke me as usual well before the sunrise. And opening the gallinero (chicken coop) on my way to the lower land we are planting, I was sensitive to the smell that I had otherwise stopped noticing until I read this short piece. I appreciate the imaginative approach, probably unique to France, to protecting heritage that some at best take for granted and others find a nuisance:

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French urbanites fuss about rustic noises and smells

Some second-home owners have sued over loud livestock and church bells

France’s sense of itself has long been rooted in the land, even though three-quarters of French people live in towns. Now, however, having locked down in small airless spaces, many city-dwellers feel the call of the wild. Estate agents report an uptick in searches for homes with gardens. Diehard urbanites talk wistfully of a bucolic existence in la France profonde. In a poll, 61% of the French think confinement will encourage people to move to the country or buy a second home. But do today’s townsfolk know what rural life really entails?

The question arose late last year, when Pierre Morel-À-L’Huissier, a deputy from the Lozère, a remote rural area, introduced a bill to protect France’s “sensory heritage”. By this, he meant “the crowing of the cockerel, the noise of cicadas, the odour of manure”, and other rural sounds and smells. Continue reading

Citizen Farming & Victory Gardens, 2020

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LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).

In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:

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You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading

BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day in a Big Way

Birders, in general, tend to be an enthusiastic bunch – and the constraints of the current circumstances actually added extra incentive to find creative problem solving solutions, in finding new birding locations or ways to be safely be in familiar ones.

The BirdsCaribbean Global Big Day video compilation provides proof positive. Enjoy!

 

Akira Miyawaki, More On Small Forests

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A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Photograph: Courtesy of Boomforest

We knew from a recent post about the importance of small tracts of tree cover, based on reporting in the USA. Here is more from Europe, and about the botanist inspiring an acceleration of planting:

Fast-growing mini-forests spring up in Europe to aid climate

Miyawaki forests are denser and said to be more biodiverse than other kinds of woods

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A three-year-old forest in Ormeignies, Belgium. Photograph: Urban Forests

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis.

Often sited in schoolyards or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere. Continue reading

Threads

The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.

Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.

The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading

Fixing Farms In Ireland

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Michael Davoren with his cattle in the Burren, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward/Burrenbeo Trust

Thanks to Ella McSweeney for this story about a young academic’s hands on, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems caused by Ireland’s farmers, who had followed incentives to their economically logical but environmentally disastrous conclusions:

‘Life attracts life’: the Irish farmers filling their fields with bees and butterflies

Rewarding positive environmental impact has revitalised an area of west Ireland. Is this a solution to the country’s ‘acute’ nature crisis?

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In late spring, the Burren is transformed into an explosion of colour. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Michael Davoren shudders when he thinks of the 1990s. He’d been in charge of his 80-hectare farm in the Burren, Co Clare, since the 1970s, and the place was in his blood. The Davorens had worked these hills for 400 years.

But growing intensification fuelled by European subsidies meant that most farmers in this part of Ireland were having to decide between getting big or getting out. Hundreds were choosing the latter.

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Hundreds of farmers have signed up to a scheme that pays them to create healthier fields and clean waterways. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Davoren followed the advice to specialise and chase the beef markets. “The more animals I kept, the more money I got,” he says. “I put more cattle out, bought fertiliser, made silage. Slurry run-off was killing fish. But if I kept fewer animals I’d be penalised 10% of my subsidy.”

The austere appearance of the Burren landscape belies its rich diversity. The thick rocks were laid down 300 million years ago when warm tropical seas covered the area, and the bodies of billions of marine creatures cascaded to the sea floor to form the Burren limestone. Continue reading

Rethinking What Comes Next

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The average size of a new house in the U.S. has doubled since 1970. SHUTTERSTOCK

Thanks as always to Bill McKibben for his view on ways of thinking differently about our shared future:

When Social Distancing Ends, Will We Rethink the World We Want?

Long before the virus, Americans had become socially isolated, retreating into sprawling suburbs and an online world of screens. When we emerge from our pandemic-mandated separation, can we reconnect with each other and reconsider how the way we live impacts the natural world?

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Patterns are notoriously hard to break, even when you have to. Studies find that more than half of smokers diagnosed with lung cancer keep on smoking, even though their odds of survival would go way up if they stopped. Nicotine is powerfully addictive, of course — but we’re beginning to suspect that’s true of lots of other human behaviors too: checking your phone, for instance, which seems strongly linked to the supply of dopamine (which is what nicotine affects as well). One tells oneself that one will change — but change is hard. Continue reading

Looking Again At Tegucigalpa, Seeing Why Place Matters

Starting in 1997 I got to know the entire country of Honduras over two years while working on a sustainable tourism development project for the government. I spent more time in Tegucigalpa than anywhere else because my monthly meetings with the Ministry of Tourism were held there. While poverty was visible, the city had a charm, unique in Central America, based on its particular history. At the time I also had many students from Honduras, most from Tegucigalpa, so it was more than a workplace for me. When hurricane Mitch descended on Central America in 1998, nowhere was more devastated than Tegucigalpa; by the time my project ended in 1999 I could not picture how or if the city would recover. I have not been back since, but continued to wonder. Nando Castillo has given me part of the answer, and I thank him for the clarity of his presentation on Medium, which I recommend taking five minutes to read:

Why Place Matters, Part I.

Can our cities evolve into the places we truly need?

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Image: Fuad Azzad Ham

At Raíz Capital our mission is sustainable urban revitalization. Our vision is for Tegucigalpa, a community with a neglected urban core, to become the creative capital of Central America and regain its glory as a prosperous city. We are still a ways from realizing it, but this is the story of how we found that vision and began to make it come true. Continue reading

From Brooklyn to Beyond

The Brooklyn Film Society has been organizing the Brooklyn Film Festival for decades, providing a public forum for the local community to view an extraordinarily wide range of national and international films. Scheduled from May 29 – June 7th, the 23rd edition of the festival features 6 categories of films: Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Animation, and Experimental.

The primary difference from past editions is the venue… all the films will be available on line, free of charge. So sign up following this link – and enjoy!

THEME: Turning Point

Just a few months ago, nobody, not even the most daring sci-fi screenwriter, could have predicted the current situation and/or the extent of the COVID-19 takeover. Besides the fact that we are all still dealing with the basics and a resolutive approach feels still far away, one thing seems certain: we won’t be able to go back to the pre-virus thinking and lifestyle anytime soon. The fear of the “invisible danger” that threatens our life is radically modifying our own life routine and the way we deal with our neighbors. It is a “Turning Point” in history. It is a moment that will ultimately reveal who we are as human beings. The Brooklyn Film Festival, with its 2020 event, plans to highlight and dissect people’s character and problem solving attitude as it shifts from one time zone to the next. The international role BFF has always played on the world’s stage, will now come truly handy while with our film lineup we travel from one corner of the planet to another. “Turning Point” is about refreshing our own point of view. It’s about rethinking our old assumptions and learning from the people who share our screen whether they live in a different continent or across the street. “Turning Point” is about reinventing our planet and our life.

 

Planting Trees, A Two-For-One Deal

A Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee planting a tree circa 1938. Fotosearch/Getty Images

Thanks to Collin O’Mararough, president and C.E.O. of the National Wildlife Federation, for his idea about how to employ some of the unemployed. Deploy them. Planting trees is not sufficient to solve the looming crisis of climate change, but it is a start:

7.7 Million Young People Are Unemployed. We Need a New ‘Tree Army.’

The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps helped build America at a time of national crisis. Let’s do it again.

Nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed and three million dropped out of the labor force in the past month. Combined that’s nearly one in three young workers, by far the highest rate since the country started tracking unemployment by age in 1948.

Nearly 40 percent worked in the devastated retail and food service sectors. And as the most recently hired, young workers are typically the first let go and often the last rehired, especially those of color.

As our country’s leaders consider a range of solutions to address this crisis, there’s one fix that will put millions of young Americans directly to work: a 21st-century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the C.C.C., he was facing, as we are today, the possibility of a lost generation of young people. The conservation-minded president’s idea was to hire young unemployed men for projects in forestry, soil conservation and recreation. By 1942, the 3.4 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than three billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads.

Continue reading

Birds Caribbean Global Big Day Results

Happy to see the results and first post from Birds Caribbean about the various teams’ contributions to the 2020 Global Big Day. Looking forward to reading the highlights of all the teams.

BirdsCaribbean Takes Global Big Day by Storm, Despite COVID-19

The biggest birding day of the year — Global Big Day —took place on Saturday May 9, 2020. More than 50,000 people from around the world joined in to record their sightings. Close to 300 participants from throughout the West Indies recorded 345 different species of birds! Cuba had the most species by country (135) followed closely by the Bahamas (126) and Puerto Rico (125). Regionally1,051 checklists were submitted, 205 more than last year. That’s an incredible achievement — way to go birders!

Birders from Cuba looking great with their BirdsCaribbean buffs in Zapata Swamp on Global Big Day. We will share more about the birding experiences on the different teams in a second blog post

This year was quite a different experience as much of the world remains under stay at home orders or is following social distancing guidelines. Certainly many of the great open spaces that are go-to spots for birders were not open to the public for safety reasons. Nevertheless, eBird recorded a 32% participation increase from Global Big Day 2019 and more than 120,000 eBird checklists were submitted.   Continue reading

Spoonbills Dream Team @ Macaw Lodge, Global Big Day 2020

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Macaw Lodge dining room observation deck, January 29, 2020

Three years ago today, a few countries north of where I type this, Team Sapsucker had excellent results on Global Big Day 2017. Today I am reporting on the efforts of one part of the Spoonbills Dream Team.

MacawChocThis team’s dream is spread across multiple geographies and results will be shared later. I will share what I know from Costa Rica. A few months ago, in a world that now seems far, far away Amie and I visited the farm where the cacao is grown for the farm-to-bar chocolate we offer in our shops. The farm has a lodge (or vice versa depending on your perspective), and before our visit to the cacao plantation and chocolate-making facilities we started, at dawn, on the deck of the lodge. That is what you see in the photo above. The lodge is closed at present but the deck that you see in that photo normally has birders from all over the world because of the forest conservation surrounding the cacao and the neighboring Carara National Park.

CacaoMore on the cacao-growing and the chocolate-making later. Plus, this is where I first saw a melipona bee hotel and I have photos and video from the recent harvest, so more on that later also. For now, birds. Seth, in New Haven, CT USA joined this team, then asked Amie to join the team, and she asked some birding guides who work at the lodge in the cacao plantation to join the team. I am the scribe for that Costa Rica part of the team. I do not even know who else is on the team in other countries, so will leave that for Seth or Amie to report later.

For now, some photos from the location where the bird experts have spent much of their time in recent years. Continue reading

Support Chefs Who Support Immigrant Workers

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Los Angeles’s participating chefs Photo: Courtesy of Ask Chefs Anything

Devorah Lev-Tov, a writer who covers food, among other things, surprisingly has not shown up in our pages before. I am happy to link to this particular story as a first. Food and agriculture have been central to this platform since we started it in 2011. Also, immigrants-r-us, so I appreciate the effort on their behalf as much as I appreciate the visibility it is receiving in a location surprising to me. Vogue is an unlikely publication for me to source from, but credit where due, a great story:

Ask Chefs Anything: Famous Foodies Are Auctioning Their Time in Support of Immigrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and force businesses to shut down, among the hardest hit are immigrant workers—many of whom worked in the restaurant or other service industries. Now, they are left with no jobs and no unemployment benefits, struggling to put food on their plates and send money home to their families, while fearing getting sick without any support from the government.

In an effort to help them, dozens of famous chefs—including Alison Roman, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Suzanne Goin, and Dominique Ansel—are auctioning off 30-minute virtual discussions where they will share recipes and cooking tips via a new initiative called Ask Chefs AnythingNew York City’s ended last week, Los Angeles’s auction is going on now through May 11, and Philadelphia’s takes place May 13 to 17, with more cities to follow. Continue reading

Actions Speak Louder With Words

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Sophie Leguil, founder of More Than Weeds, stands over chalk names of plants on the pavement.
Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Thanks to Alex Morss for this story in the Guardian about actions in the interest of botanical awareness:

‘Not just weeds’: how rebel botanists are using graffiti to name forgotten flora

Pavement chalking to draw attention to wild flowers and plants in urban areas has gone viral across Europe – but UK chalkers could face legal action

A rising international force of rebel botanists armed with chalk has taken up street graffiti to highlight the names and importance of the diverse but downtrodden flora growing in the cracks of paths and walls in towns and cities across Europe.

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Boris Presseq and fellow botanists write chalk plant names on the pavement in Toulouse, France. Photograph: Claire Van Beek/Handout

The idea of naming wild plants wherever they go – which began in France – has gone viral, with people chalking and sharing their images on social media. More than 127,000 people have liked a photo of chalked-up tree names in a London suburb, while a video of botanist Boris Presseq of Toulouse Museum of Natural History chalking up names to highlight street flowers in the French city has had 7m views.

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Chalkers say their work encourages connection with the natural world around us. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian and Handout

Presseq told the Guardian: “I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city.” Continue reading

How Sweet Is Your City?

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A bee hotel, part of Curridabat’s drive to welcome and protect pollinators. Photograph: Courtesy of Curridabat Municipality

Costa Rica is full of inspirational stories, some big picture and some more granular. Bee hotels are an example of the latter, and first came to my attention only this year. On a farm north of San Jose growing edible flowers, and then again on a cacao plantation in the Central Pacific zone where we source our line of Macaw Kakau chocolates–in both cases the “hotels” were specifically for melipona bees.  Thanks to the Guardian for putting some due attention on this forward-thinking municipality across the city from where I live and work, and especially for the reminder that I have not posted yet on the apicultural wonders I learned about at those two melipona bee hotels:

‘Sweet City’: the Costa Rica suburb that gave citizenship to bees, plants and trees

A suburb of the country’s capital is showing how urban planning can be harnessed to benefit both humans and wildlife

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 ‘Biocorridors improve air quality, water quality and give people spaces to relax, have fun and improve their health,’ says Magalli Castro Álvarez. Photograph: Melissa Alvarez/Courtesy of GIZ/Biodiver_City Project

“Pollinators were the key,” says Edgar Mora, reflecting on the decision to recognise every bee, bat, hummingbird and butterfly as a citizen of Curridabat during his 12-year spell as mayor.

“Pollinators are the consultants of the natural world, supreme reproducers and they don’t charge for it. The plan to convert every street into a biocorridor and every neighbourhood into an ecosystem required a relationship with them.”

The move to extend citizenship to pollinators, trees and native plants in Curridabat has been crucial to the municipality’s transformation from an unremarkable suburb of the Costa Rican capital, San José, into a pioneering haven for urban wildlife. Continue reading

Pep Shot Is The New Bee’s Knees

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For those who can afford it, culinary experimentation could become a practical hobby.HERITAGE / BETTMANN / GEORGE MARKS / AFP / GETTY / PROZHIVINA ELENE / SHUTTERSTOCK / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

$_35Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language.  Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.

m-6D-MUyWNCFYE0NFBe6z9wBut I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.

Current circumstances are pushing us all in new directions of food and beverage production and consumption and for me, for now, the Pep Shot is the new bee’s knees:

In 1950, Americans Had Aspic. Now We Have Dalgona Coffee.

Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.

Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.

Then she learned about dalgona coffee. Continue reading

Crisis Inspired Pivots

The Strade Aperte plan includes temporary cycle lanes and 30kph speed limits. Photograph: Stefano De Grandis/REX/Shutterstock

Looking for silver linings during the current times isn’t always easy, but reviewing how cities strategize over plans to open economies while keeping the public safe is a possible place to start. (It can also be a source of discouragement, so we’re glad to highlight the enlightened…)

In Milan the concept of pivoting toward carbon-free commuting within the city was a far-reaching goal for a future decade. The current crisis has helped to create a thought shift toward action now.

Seriously working on solutions to both the health crisis and climate crisis together could be a silver lining, indeed.

Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

The Strade Aperte plan, announced on Tuesday, includes low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets. The locations include a low traffic neighbourhood on the site of the former Lazzaretto, a refuge for victims of plague epidemics in the 15th and 16th centuries. Continue reading

Biodiversity via Rwanda’s Resiliency

While the actual events of the Environmental Film Festival had been canceled, the wonder and value of each entry remains intact. In fact, the DCEFF is offering hundreds of the films for streaming on line.

So many of these amazing projects strike home, but the one featured above has even more so, as Claver Ntoyinkima was Seth’s field assistant during his work doing bird surveys in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.

A Walk Through The Land of a Thousand Hills

Claver Ntoyinkima, a native park ranger, shares the secrets of Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as he guides us through the forest. With almost 300 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, and dozens of large and small mammals, Nyungwe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Twenty-five years after the devastation of the Rwandan Civil War, the park is now one of the best-conserved montane rainforests in Central Africa. As Claver walks through the forest we uncover the origins of his conservation values and the history of an ecosystem that survived one of Rwanda’s darkest periods.

Find this and more films here.

Heralding Libraries as the Superheroes They’ve Always Been

A bottle of hand sanitizer stands next to free lunches for people under the age of 18 outside the Aurora Public Library as branch manager Phillip Challis, back, looks on in an effort to help city residents and reduce the spread of the new coronavirus Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

This is far from the first time we’ve heralded librarians, media specialists and libraries on this site as the super heroes they are, not to mention their ability to adapt; we will continue to herald their adaptiveness in times of public turmoil:

Public Libraries’ Novel Response to a Novel Virus

America’s public libraries have led the ranks of “second responders,” stepping up for their communities in times of natural or manmade disasters, like hurricanes, floods, shootings, fires, and big downturns in individual lives.

Throughout all these events, libraries have stayed open, filling in for the kids when their schools closed; offering therapeutic sessions in art or conversation or writing after losses of life; bringing in nurses or social workers when services were unavailable to people; and hiring life-counselors for the homeless, whom they offer shelter and safety during the day.

Today, interventions like those have a ring of simpler days. But libraries have learned from their experience and attention to these previous, pre-pandemic efforts. They are pivoting quickly to new ways of offering services to the public—the core of their mission. When libraries closed their doors abruptly, they immediately opened their digital communications, collaborations, and creative activity to reach their public in ways as novel as the virus that forced them into it.

You can be sure that this is just the beginning. Today libraries are already acting and improvising. Later, they’ll be figuring out what the experience means to their future operations and their role in American communities.

Here are some of the things libraries are doing now. These are a few examples of many: Continue reading

Saving The Harvest In Europe

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Strawberries at Greens Berry farm in Wexford, Ireland. Photograph: John Greene

With farmers on our mind, recently, and especially the ability of family farms to get harvesting and distribution done we are watching for stories like this:

Farmers across Europe bank on improvised armies of pickers to save harvest

Growers from Ireland to Spain says coronavirus lockdown has stopped migrant workers from arriving

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Workers on a farm at El Prat del Llobregat, near Barcelona, harvest artichokes in March. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

At this time of year John Greene is usually preparing to welcome dozens of Slovakian strawberry pickers for another harvest at his farm in County Wexford in south-east Ireland.

The work is arduous and repetitive and he relies on their experience and stamina to get the fruit picked, packed and sold.

Greene surveyed his fields this week with foreboding. “I look out my window and there’s no one to pick it. None of them are on site at the moment.”

His pickers remain in Slovakia, immobilised by a continent-wide lockdown. It is a similar story for hundreds of thousands of other seasonal agricultural workers who cannot travel just at a time when Europe needs them for harvests. Continue reading