Traditional Christmas or Cedar Tree Conservation?

I contacted Bridging the Gap about its annual Red Cedar event because I loved the idea that a freshly cut cedar tree for Christmas contributed to local conservation efforts.    But what I found at Mildale Farm on Saturday afternoon was much more than a day of conservation.    Although the day was cloudy, the weather was perfect.   It was just chilly enough to feel like December and to huddle around the bonfire to enjoy the free s’mores and hot chocolate.

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After parking your car and signing in you could hitch a ride on the tractor or walk out to the field to find and cut-down your perfect Christmas tree.     There were plenty of volunteers scattered about to help.   There was no tree to small (or too large in some cases).    I visited with a few of the families that had been coming to the event to select their Christmas tree for several years.   They started coming when there children were young and now the annual visit to Mildale Farm is how they start their Christmas holiday.     The smallest of Christmas tree hunters could not even walk yet….but he was grinning and enjoying the holiday cheer.   In a few years he will be one of the little boys running through the field.   I even spotted a few young couples, maybe just married or on a Christmas tree date.    The scene reminded me of reading the Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   The girls were bundled into the sled and they would go out to select their Christmas tree.    It seems to me is that this is how Christmas should begin.   The focus on family, tradition, and connecting with nature by selecting your tree and bringing it back to your home to be part of the holiday experience.    The day was certainly wrapped in joyful Christmas feelings.

Mildale Farm is in Edgerton, Kansas (Johnson County) just outside of Kansas City.  The Farm is 22 acres of rolling hills, ponds and wooded areas full of red cedar trees.    The location holds several events throughout the year so that the public can enjoy this beautiful green space in Johnson County.

_snf3421_snf3449Right now the main use of the farm is private and it is available to rent for events, including weddings.   Here’s a challenge for a 2017 December bride and groom.   If you are conservation minded and want to think out of the box, think about making a difference as you celebrate your vows.   How about a red cedar tree christmas wedding.    As part of the reception and celebration guests could cut down their own christmas tree for the holidays.

Eastern red cedar smells wonderful but these trees are somewhat of a nuisance in many states, including Kansas.   The odd thing about red cedar is that it is one of the few invasive _snf3343species that is actually a native plant.  The red cedar is actually the only native evergreen tree in Kansas.   The cedar tree does have uses other than providing annual Christmas cheer.    The cedar tree, if planted in a single row, can provide excellent wind barrier protection and will also provide shade for livestock.   The tree is also an ecologist of sorts.   It is a species that can spread and grow into areas with poor and eroded soil.    Once it puts down roots and provides shade this can held stop the erosion.  In addition, the cedar trees can provide a good habitat for some small wildlife, however they are a threat to prairie areas and grasslands.   As the cedar trees spread they limit the grasslands for grazing wildlife and livestock and negatively impact many small prairie birds and species.   Simply put the quickly spreading red cedar trees alter the prairie ecosystem.     Like many conservation issues, the red cedar did not become an invasive species until the area was settled.   Prior to settlement the spreading red cedars were controlled by the natural occurring fires and all the roaming bison.    Human presence altered the natural occurring cycles of the prairie lands.

buffalo, cropped, field, fishing lake, grasslands, K-95, Kansas outdoors, Lake Scott State Park, prairie, recreation, remote, Scott City, September, spring-fed lake, State Park, sunset, US-83, USA, Western Kansas
Before settlement over 20 million bison roamed the Kansas prairie lands. This bison (buffalo) was photographed in Western Kansas.

If you live outside the city limits, you can start your own annual red cedar Christmas tree tradition by cutting a red cedar tree in your own backyard.   If you are a city dweller, skip the purchase of your Christmas tree at the local store.  Mark your calendars for the first Saturday of December in 2017 (Saturday December 2, 2017) so that you can share in this experience and start your Christmas tree tradition for conservation.

After Christmas, continue with good conservation and please recycle your Christmas tree.   After removing all the lights, tinsel and ornaments, here are some suggestions.

  •  Johnson County christmas tree recycling is available at Shawnee Mission Park, Kill Creek Park and Heritage Park Marina
  • Missouri christmas tree recycling information
  • If you live outside of town you can consider disposing of your tree in a pond or other body of water to contribute to the fish habitat.   However, you need to make sure your tree has not been treated with any chemicals or pesticides.   Hopefully you checked this before purchasing the tree (and did not purchase the tree).
  • You can remove the limbs and you have a nice cedar post for landscaping, lining a garden bed, post for bird house/feeder (just a few suggestions).
  • Should not use for firewood if the wood is wet or sappy because evergreens burn extremely hot because of the trees oil.  This can cause damage to your fireplace or chimney.     This is why you usually get the spits and crackles when you burn cedar.   However the dried wood and branches can be a great fire starter for fire pits and wood stoves.
  • Everyone loves cedar….think of your favorite cedar items (mulch, coasters, get creative).

As a side note, there is good news for nature enthusiasts, Johnson County has designated Mildale Farm and the surrounding area for a future park site, including perhaps another dog park.   I am looking forward to finding out more about this development and will be sure to share any additional information.



Make like a Pilgrim and eat LOCAL!

If you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving like the pilgrims and indians (and you do not have time to catch your own wild turkey) consider ordering a local turkey for your Thanksgiving feast.

Wild Turkeys in Linn County, Kansas

How does your Thanksgiving Turkey grow?

  • Free-range means your turkey was not raised in a cage.
  • Organic turkeys are raised on organic feed and usually are free range/live outdoors.   It also means they are raised without hormones and steroids and have been processed without preservatives.

    Turkey at the Paddock
    Beautiful male Heritage Turkey–raised free range. Image from istock by Getty Images
  • Heritage turkeys are a growing trend.    We all know the Heritage turkey because it is the Thanksgiving turkey Icon we recognize and love.    The heritage turkeys are known for the colorful patterns in their feathers.    The breeds include Standard Bronze, Black Spanish, Slate, Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff,Narragansett and White Holland.     These turkeys have a longer life span which is one of the reasons they are not used for mass production.   You can read more about Heritage turkeys at Local Harvest and The Livestock Conservancy.
  • Factory farmed means mass production.   You should beware because if you are buying a frozen store turkey most likely what you are eating has been injected or fed hormones, antibiotics and/or steroids.    The Broad Breasted White Turkey is the most popular domestic turkey for production.
    Image from Compassion in World Farming.

    As you may guess from the name it naturally has more white meat, which everyone craves.  These turkeys have been manufactured to fit demand the tradeoff is that these poor birds are plagued with health issues.   One interesting fact is that Broad Breasted White turkeys require artificial insemination to produce fertile eggs.    Learn More!

How to find your Turkey?  For anyone living close to the Kansas City area here are some possibilities for a local turkey.    All others just google for your gobble……local, organic, turkey (whatever your preference).   Or you can see the end of the blog for some online resources for turkeys and other local/organic resources.

  • If you live close to Lawrence or don’t mind the drive then you can pick up your turkey at The Merc Co+op.   They will have local turkeys arriving Saturday, November 19th.   The turkeys come from Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms of Garnett and Vesecky Family Farms of Baldwin City.
  • You can order your pastured raised turkey directly from Vesecky Family Farms.    You can also rent a chick for Easter.
  • Bryant Family Farm are not selling turkeys for 2016 but you can check out the website for grass-fed beef and other meat products.   Family farm that does not use any chemicals or hormones.   Included in the Eat Wild Kansas directory.
  • Walnut Crest Ranch sells beef and turkeys.   Something to note for next year if you are a Herd Partner (eat their beef) you can get a discount on your Turkey.

During the Thanksgiving meal you can be very THANKFUL that you know where your food comes from.

Learn More!  Links and resources for local, free-range and/or organic year round.   Become a member and sign-up for newsletters!   Be informed about what you eating.   Be good to your body!

Door to Door Organics blog re Thanksgiving  Door to Door Organics (delivers to Kansas City).   Check website to see if will deliver to your zip code.    Door to Door has frozen organic turkeys but there may still be time to preorder a fresh humanely raised Turkey from Plainville Farms a family farm in Pennsylvania Amish Country.   The turkeys are vegetarian-fed, antibiotic free and hormone free.    The blog also has vegetarian alternatives for Thanksgiving.

KC Food Circle is a resource in the Kansas City area to local, organic, free range food.    KC Food Circle members love to have fund and host several fun food and farm events through the year including wine tastings, seed exchange, and learning events.   One event I attended last year was a tea party with a local beekeeper.   Educational and fun!

From the Land of Kansas is a website to find all different produce, meats, wines that are grown in Kansas.

Organic Farm Food is a website you can use to find organic farms in your area.

Eat Wild is another resource to help you find farms using healthy practices in raising food. The premise being that we are probably not going to go back to foraging in the wild for our own food.   Finding responsible farmers and supporting them is the next best thing.

Local Harvest is yet another resource to help find local, organic, healthy foods.

Thanksgiving Resource Guide from Compassion in World Farming.


Hidden Kansas Treasure

In October, I was searching online for organic and/or sustainable pumpkin patches around the Kansas City area.    I am sorry to report that this search was not very fruitful.    A topic for a future blog.   However, I did find a few surprises in my search.   One of these was Washington Creek Lavender just southwest of Lawrence, KS.    An eco-friendly, organic lavender farm right in my own backyard.   After all, lavender is indigenous to the Mediterranean so not something I would think to google search in Kansas.

I visited the farm this last week.  Upon arrival I was greeted by the one of the lavender growers and owners.   Kathy and her husband, Jack, turned their passion into reality.   Now they operate a lavender farm and sell the products for all of us to enjoy!  Even though Kathy was busy setting up for the their annual open house this weekend, Saturday and Sunday (November 5 & 6, 2016), she took the time to give me a tour of the lavender field and shop and share the farm’s story.

After hearing the story of the farm what else could I do?   I shopped!   There are a lot of great gift ideas in the shop.  I do not need to remind anyone that the Christmas holiday is right around the corner.

They have a lot of items but one of my favorites is the reusable dryer sheets.   Who knew lavender could also be green!   It is good for your health too-calming lavender!

It is fall in the midwest and so the lavender harvest is over.  There was not much lavender color left in the field.   _snf1994However, the butterflies were happy to flitter among the few remaining blooms.   Not pausing on any one bloom for very long, especially if I was hovering close by with my camera.  The farm is host to several different types of lavender plants.  To name a few:  Buena Vista, Grosso, Folgate, Melissa, Royal Purple, Edelweiss, French Fields, and Gros Bleu.  Kathy and Jack started out with just a small garden behind the house.   They soon discovered that the lavender grew and survived the Kansas change of seasons, especially winter.   Now they have over 6,000 lavender plants.   Looking around the field it is easy to tell they have a special lavender place.   The field is located at the top of a hill surrounded by trees.   I am sure the trees provide a much-needed buffer from the elements and the elevated location looks like it has good drainage.   This combination seems to be a habitat the lavender needs to grow.    Some readers may be surprised that we have hills in Kansas.   Kansas does have its share of prairie grass and flat fields, but luckily there are some areas with diverse terrain.

The lavender plants at the farm all vary in size.  This is because each year new plants are added.  The lavender plants do suffer in the Kansas extreme weather conditions and some will die off each year.  The result is an annual replanting as needed.   Two examples of climate issues in recent years include too much rain that does not drain off the plateau and an extremely cold winter with little snow for insulation.    Replanting is not the only annual maintenance required to care for the lavender field.  From Kathy’s comments it sounded like there is quit a bit of weeding.   Th858 is does not surprise me because I have lived in the midwest my whole life and I know that there is no shortage of growing weeds (no matter the weather).    However, I have a feeling this is all done in stride…quoting the farm’s brochure, the farm is their “labor of love!”

As mentioned above, the farm is organic and eco-friendly.   The barn and farm use solar energy for electricity.   The solar panels are attached to the barn and there are several barrels for collecting the rain water. The lavender plants themselves do not require much water, however the rain water is used on the other plants and flowers around the farm.


_snf1880The lavender is dried at the farm.    Unfortunately, we have not found a way to capture smell by camera and I apologize that there is no way to insert a scratch and sniff.   However, you can certainly go in person to check out the amazing fragrance in the shop.   Also if you buy some lavender items while you are there, the added bonus is free car freshener for your drive home.

I am planning many more visits to this Kansas lavender farm.    At the very least I have to return to see the field with all its glorious lavender color.    I am marking June to August, 2017 on my calendar.

You can learn more about Jack and Kathy Wilson and their wonderful Kansas lavender farm on the website or even better take the time to visit the farm and little shop.    If you cannot make it to the store, there is online shopping on the website.   Lavender is a great gift idea for the holidays.   And it is always good to support local farms especially ones that are organic and friendly to the environment.    Also keep in mind for next year (maybe Valentine’s and Mother’s Day).


Map Link to 858 E 800 Rd., Lawrence, KS 66047


Humpback Whales Then and Now

Last week I traveled from the US to Brisbane (Queensland) Australia to volunteer with the EarthWatch Institute research project with Humpbacks & Highrises.   The basecamp for the project was on North Stradbroke Island at the Moreton Bay Research Center, University of Queensland.    The research station’s location makes it ideal for field research and education purposes.

Moreton Bay Research Station and residential housing across the street, The University of Queensland

Upon arriving, we discovered that we would be surveying humpback whales in an area with a strong whaling history.   I remembered this as we spotted our first humpback whale (a mother and calf) in the Moreton Bay channel with Moreton Island in the distance.    The irony was not lost on me.   The research to help protect and understand the humpback whales is the same area that so many humpback whales were harvested in the 1900’s.

Most people are familiar with the tales of Moby Dick by Herman Melville and perhaps we all have visions of whaling with the wooden ships and harpoons from the 1800’s, but whaling has been around for 1,000 of years and was an active industry until the late 1900’s.   The blubber (oil) and baleen (referred to as whale bone) have been valuable commodities in the more recent centuries.   Even in America the original colonies relied on whale oil for lamps.

Land Based Whale Station on Moreton Island Australia. Photo from Tangalooma Island Resort website.   Read more about the history of Moreton Island.

After World War II there was a high demand for whale oil.   Australia and New Zealand were perfectly situated to harvest humpback whales because the whales travel between their feeding grounds in the Antarctica to the warmer waters in the north to give birth to their calves.   They still use the same migration paths today.

Whale Migration chart provided by

Part of the reason for the close of the industry by 1970 was fossil fuels had replaced the demand for whale oil.    But also the whale numbers were drastically diminished by this time.   In 1970, the United States banned whaling and added many species to the endangered species list.    The International Whaling Commission (IWC), which was set up in 1946, finally called for a moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1982.     Although, Norway and Japan continue whaling today.

The land based whale station on Moreton Island processed over 6,000 whales from 1952 to 1962.    Before whaling the Eastern Australian population was estimated between 10,000 to 15,000 and by the time Australia finally banned whaling in 1963 the population estimate had dropped to around 500.   Today this area is the Tangalooma Island Resort..

As we discovered the profit in hunting whales, did we forget about our traditional reverence, mythology, and even fear of the giant leviathans of the sea?   So many stories and references in our history– Jonah and the whale in the bible, the tales of Pinocchio and the whale, and whale totems used by Indian tribes.    Many tribes and cultures have believed in the spirit and wisdom of the whales and even that they may carry their ancestors with them.

Today we are still profiting from the whales through the tourism industry.    Hopefully we will be able to do this in a way in which both humans and whales can co-exist.    I will tell you, standing on the deck of the boat with a humpback whale breaching just meters away will never fail to take my breath away.     I agree with the reference of humpback whales as the gentle giants of the sea.


See Resources for more information:

History of Whaling, Department of Environment and Energy Australian Government

National Geographic Big Fish:  Brief History of Whaling

Whale Facts-History of Whaling

Most Humpback Whales Off Endangered List

Flansing Deck Tangalooma Whale Station 1960 .png

More Photos of Flensing deck, Tangalooma whaling station, 1960