“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
I think it’s safe to say that this has been a challenging few weeks for all of us, and admittedly more so for some than others. The threat of COVID-19 has forced us into our homes, distanced us from loved ones, and made simple acts like going to the grocery store something that can generate fear. Our neighbors are facing unemployment, food insecurity, and new realities for which they may not feel prepared. For those working in service sector positions–grocery workers, delivery people, health care professionals, etc.–who have to interact with many people daily, that fear is undoubtedly elevated even more. There are days when the gloom and dread of our new reality can be overwhelming, which is why reconnecting with the earth to support our physical and mental well being is more important now than ever.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and while normally we in the Sustainability community would be busy hosting clean-up events, talks by environmental experts, and other activities to get people engaged, this year we’re being forced to rethink how we encourage people to connect to the Earth. It may seem like we’ve lost an opportunity, but if we change our perspective perhaps this experience gives us more of a chance to appreciate our global home. As we have turned to screens for learning, working, and communicating with those we love, many of us have also started to recognize (or perhaps remember) how much we need to step away from the screen sometimes too.
The great news is that there are tons of things that you can do to celebrate Earth Month from the comfort of your home and/or neighborhood! Here are some of our favorite suggestions and we encourage you to join the ARCC Sustainability Team for the Earth Day Ecochallenge for more ideas on ways that you can make this a memorable and impactful Earth Day.
While it’s still too early to plant most things and to clean up your garden beds (shh! Many pollinators are still sleeping. Check out this post from the University of Minnesota Extension about when to do your spring garden clean up), it’s not too early to start thinking about supporting our pollinator friends this growing season. The state of Minnesota is offering grants this year through the Lawns to Legumes Program to Minnesotans who are willing to plant pollinator-friendly native plantings in residential lawns. The second application period for Fall 2020 plantings is now open (through June 2nd). Learn more about the Lawns to Legumes Program, and find tons of resources on planting for beneficial pollinators, at the Board of Water and Soil Resources’s Lawns to Legumes page.
We may not be able to participate in “official” community clean-up events this spring, but the good news is that getting outside (while maintaining proper social distancing of at least 6 feet from other people) is highly recommended! Why not use that outdoor time to also help clean up your surroundings? The Friends of the Mississippi River have a great post about picking up litter as part of #DIYEarthMonth, so we encourage you to check out their post for tips. Remember to bring a trash bag (or waste disposal collection device of some sort) and wear gloves. We’d LOVE to see your good work, so feel free to comment on this post and/or post on your favorite social media with the hashtag #ARCCSustainability.
Another wonderful program available here in Minnesota is the Adopt-a-Drain program. This program, run out of Hamline University, asks participants to locate storm drains near them using their online mapping tool, then to “adopt” one or more drains. As an adoptive drain parent, you’re asked to keep your drain clear of leaves, trash, and other debris throughout the year. The website has wonderful suggestions about how to do this safely, as well as how best to keep waste from your yard from making it to your storm drain, and eventually our local waterways.
Plant a Victory Garden
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” -Audrey Hepburn
While our food supply chain in the United States is still intact, the experience of being forced to stay-at-home has caused many people to think about their own personal food supply, and ways to make themselves more food secure. We can, of course, still make trips to the grocery store during this time, but why not also use this time to plan for longer term food sustainability? Victory Gardens were planted throughout the United States during World War II, and were promoted by the federal government as a way for citizens to provide their own fruits and vegetables when labor, and transportation shortages, as well as rationing, made it difficult to obtain them through markets. Seed companies have seen massive increases in demand over the past few weeks as a result of this global pandemic. Your Victory Garden could be as small or as large as you like, and the good news is that there’s still lots of time to plan and start seeds indoors before the outdoor gardening season begins in earnest. Here are some tips for Designing Your Coronavirus Victory Garden from Mother Earth News.
Monitor Invasive Species
Many invasive species threaten our state, and one thing that we can do during this time of social distancing is to identify, and potentially remove, those that are starting to show their face this time of the year. One such plant is Garlic Mustard. Garlic Mustard is beginning to be visible but has yet to go to seed, which makes it a great time to identify and/or pick it. If you’re interested simply in identifying it, check out the document at right, and consider downloading the Water Reporter app. This app allows you to take pictures of the Garlic Mustard you find and log where you found it using the #garlicmustard hashtag. If you want to pick it, be sure to pull it out at the root and dispose of it promptly in a trash bag.
Explore Natural Areas
“Recent research has shown that the smell of humus exerts a physiological effect on humans. Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child, between lovers. Held in loving arms, no wonder we sing in response.”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
Finally, not everyone has extra time on their hands right now, but if you do find yourself in that situation this is a wonderful time to get outdoors and explore your local parks and natural areas. Empirically-based studies support the beneficial impacts of being exposed to nature on our overall well-being and cognitive functions. We here in the Twin Cities metropolitan area are blessed with a wealth of options for getting outdoors, many of them within our very neighborhoods. While events have been cancelled, most parks are still open, and the City of Minneapolis has even recently closed the boulevards adjacent to some popular trails to allow for further social distancing. For ideas of places to explore close to home, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Three Rivers Parks District, and Discover the Forest.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that you’re not doing it alone! We may be physically separated from one another at this time, but we are still very much interconnected and our actions can help to make our Earth a happier, healthier, and more sustainable place. Don’t forget to join the Earth Day Ecochallenge and Happy Earth Month!