On the demise of Organic Gardening magazine

I have been a devoted reader of Organic Gardening magazine for a number of years, ever since ordering my first trial issue via an advertisement printed on an aluminum foil Stonyfield Yogurt lid (!). However, I recently discovered that Organic Gardening is being “re-branded” as Organic Life magazine. For the past several days, I have been mentally composing a distressed letter to the decision-makers. It goes something like this:

Dear Organic Gardening decision-makers,

I am shocked and saddened to hear of the “rebranding” of Organic Gardening magazine into something called Organic Life. Organic Gardening was a unique, 70+ year old magazine; Organic Life is neither. More disturbing, this change clearly signifies a shift in target audience from the producer to the consumer. Just what the world needs – more consumers! Although almost anyone with even the tiniest plot of land (including a rooftop or an abandoned parking lot) can be an organic gardener, not everyone can have an “organic life”. In fact, as the owner of one small New Hampshire beef farm said, “I can’t afford to eat my own meat.”

Your old audience was willing to stand in the mid-afternoon sun, sweat pouring off their foreheads, backs aching and covered in dirt, pulling carrots out of carefully prepared soil. Your new target audience, I fear, is big-city foodies who are more interested in how pretty that carrot looks on a plate than in how it got there. Though Organic Life promises a gardening component, this shift in emphasis feels, to me, like a betrayal of your roots at every level. If you felt like something was wrong with your decision, this is it: Organic Life will join the ranks of a number of magazines of similar ilk (I can think of five or six off the top of my head), while simultaneously leaving farmers and gardeners, literally, in the dirt. The recent explosion of the localvore and food justice movements (including a proliferation of community gardens, CSAs, school gardens, farmer’s markets, farm-to-school endeavors, veterans’ farms, inner city gardens and farms, etc.) calls for support and guidance, not abandonment.

Your recently published Organic Gardening Special Collector’s Issue, which I assume will be the last, profiles J. I. and Bob Rodale, both highly politicized, radical pioneers of the organic food movement. Though this issue purports to pay homage to these highly respected farmers and activists, I find it more likely that both of these men, unfortunately, are rolling in their graves. Unless my predictions prove wrong (in which case I apologize), I will, with great sorrow, be canceling not only my own subscription, but my gift subscriptions as well.

 

What do you think?

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To feed or not to feed?

In recent years, a controversy has sprung up around the time-honored and very popular tradition of backyard bird feeding. Once viewed as an unabashedly positive activity (“Look, I’m helping the birds!”), a couple of recent studies done in the U.K. have indicated that feeder-fed blue tits and great tits (relatives of the chickadee) laid fewer eggs, had lower hatching success, and ultimately fledged fewer chicks. (The question of “why?” was not answered.) It is important to note that these are only a few studies amongst many that have shown positive benefits. Other studies have shown the exact opposite impact: earlier laying dates, larger clutch size, and higher overall breeding success. A study of chickadees in Wisconsin showed a dramatically improved over-winter survival rate (69% for feeder-fed birds, vs. 37% for non-feeder-fed birds). (For more details, see here: http://blog.nature.org/science/2015/01/05/winter-bird-feeding-good-or-bad-for-birds/.).

By Ano Lobb (Flickr: Black Capped Chickadee hovering at feeder) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Ano Lobb (Flickr: Black Capped Chickadee hovering at feeder) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
So, what’s a nature-lover to do? I tend to err on the “feed” rather than the “not-feed” side, given the preponderance of evidence – and, for better or for worse, the fact that I enjoy backyard birdwatching. I currently have only two feeders: a standard tube-type, which I fill with sunflower seeds, and a suet feeder. That’s not a lot of feeders, and the birds don’t come very often; only every few days, rather than all day, every day, as has been my prior experience. I suspect that a neighbor provides a better food supply, and the birds only come to my yard when that runs dry. Alas! If the ground wasn’t frozen, I might add some more feeders. In the interim, I am investigating a heated water supply, though this is probably unnecessary, as birds have long-since adapted to northern winter weather without such fancy, modern devices.

By Ted [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Ted [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
For a brief but thorough and non-commercial summary of bird feeding tips, see Minnesota DNR’s page, here: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/birdfeeding/winter/index.html

Happy birding!

Frigid morning

Woke up to a frigid morning. NOAA reported the temperature at -1 degrees (F) at 8:30 am, though my partner reported -4 in his car. Bad time to have run out of wood, though the oil is doing a surprisingly good job of fighting the bitter cold that presses against the walls and oozes though the windows. This house, though originally built in the 1840s, is much better insulated than our prior house, a 1790s drafty bucket with almost no insulation beyond some lovely double-paned windows. At almost 3K square feet, mostly closed off and unheated during the winter, we nonetheless went through 6-7 cords of wood a year. Yes, this new house is definitely an improvement.

A kind but strange neighbor generously donated a cord of wood to us not long after our arrival here this summer, but then spent several subsequent days staring longingly down our driveway. For a week or two, it seemed that he took daily walks by our house, hovering near the edge of the property like a hungry sparrow. I’m not sure he wanted the wood back so much as conversational opportunities, but his behavior was so odd that I took to staying in the house every time he came around, and finally he gave up. I felt a little guilty, but do not plan to be held hostage by anyone’s generosity, whatever the motivation. I hope he has found some friends.

Anyway, yes, it is frigid this morning. En route to collect the last, skinny maple logs, I found a number of tracks in the snow. What do you think they are? (The first 5 photos are all the same animal.)

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