FRESH New London is a six-year-old project created by Art and Emily Lerner to address the sorry state of food security in New London. (FRESH stands for Food: Resources, Education, Security, Health.) It was created to address the fact that New London was listed as 154th out of 169 towns in Connecticut in a Community Food Security report.
Its mission is “to encourage and empower broad participation in the hands on transformation of our food system from what it is to what it ought to be: healthy, just, sustainable, accessible, productive and beautiful!” You can learn a lot more about FRESH on their web site, www.freshnewlondon.org.
We’ll meet at 5:00 at the community garden FRESH created in 2007 in a highly visible location that was an abandoned tennis court. The garden is used by community gardeners and by teachers at the nearby middle school, and apparently served its inspirational purpose. From 2007 to 2009 community gardening in New London tripled; in 2010 it will double again! They have just erected a pavilion on the site with a wood fired pizza oven. FRESH connects with local farmers to provide compost for the gardens and local fresh food for sale in neighborhoods where it is needed.
At the garden we’ll learn about FRESH’s vision and history, how it has accomplished what it has, about its plans and funding for school gardens and hear from some of the youth and other partners they work with.
Hope you can join us!
Organic farmers and gardeners know better than almost anyone just how many insects can fill a summer sky, but may be less aware that bats are a key partner in controlling insect populations. As voracious insectivores, individual bats may consume up to a thousand insects an hour, reducing pest populations that would otherwise destroy agricultural crops or threaten public health. In turn, organic farms and gardens foster an abundance and diversity of insects that conventional growers destroy through the use of pesticides. This prey base means that organic farms consistently host a higher abundance and diversity of bat species than their conventional counterparts. In this respect, as in so many others, organic agriculture comes closer to maintaining a natural, sustainable ecological equilibrium. Unfortunately, this partnership between humans and bats is being severely disrupted as Northeastern bat populations are decimated by an emerging fungal pathogen.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in upstate New York in the winter of 2006-2007. Named for the characteristic white fungus found encircling the muzzles of infected individuals, the disease has rapidly spread to thirteen states and two Canadian provinces. It is estimated that in four winters, WNS has killed well over a million bats as they congregate to spend the coldest months of the year in caves or abandoned mines (termed “hibernacula”). Though the syndrome's pathology is still not well understood, the fungus has been identified as a new species, and named Geomyces destructans for its devastating effect on overwintering bat populations. While the fungus is the most visible symptom of the disease, it seems not to be the primary cause of death. Affected bats are essentially dying of starvation—something about the syndrome causes the fat reserves accumulated before entering hibernation to be depleted long before the winter is over.Since their insect prey is not available in these cold months, they simply run out of energy and perish.
Mortality rates between 70 and 90 percent are typical in WNS-affected hibernacula, though many colonies have been entirely annihilated. Caves that once hosted hundreds or thousands of bats are now empty. Seven species are currently known to be affected—the little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, tricolored bat (formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle), eastern small-footed bat, and two federally endangered species—the Indiana bat and the gray bat.
The origins of the disease are still unclear. Currently, the leading hypothesis asserts that cavers with infected gear introduced the fungus to North America--a genetically identical fungus has been recently confirmed on bats in several European countries--though this has yet to be confirmed as the sole vector of introduction. Scientists believe that white-nose syndrome is primarily transmitted among individual bats as they gather to hibernate colonially, though it may also be acquired from fungal spores present in hibernacula. Several lines of evidence suggest that humans are also partially responsible for the spread of the disease—the geographic pattern of spread has been described as “leapfrogging” because sequentially infected hibernacula have been located great distances apart (farther than infected bats are likely to disperse), many of the first caves to be infected were popular recreational caves, and caves inaccessible to humans are, as yet, less likely to be infected. This year, WNS has been newly confirmed in Maryland, Tennessee, Delaware, Missouri, Ontario, and Quebec, and has continued to leave a wake of empty caves littered with tiny bodies in already-affected states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Perhaps most tragically, we, as land managers, farmers, gardeners, or general bat appreciators, remain largely helpless in the face of this epidemic. The most substantive efforts to stem the WNS catastrophe have been administrative cave closures—several state and federal agencies have closed their caves to recreational use so as to minimize human-mediated spread. However, a major lack of funding has hobbled cohesive research and management efforts—to date, Congress has appropriated only a small fraction of the amount deemed necessary by biologists and wildlife managers. Because the scale of the WNS epidemic necessitates that it be addressed on a national level, this month NOFA chapters in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont co-signed a plea authored by several conservation groups for increased federal funding for efforts aimed at understanding and mitigating this crisis. As concerned citizens, our most useful role is to pressure our political representatives to give this issue the resources and attention it merits. Do this the old-fashioned way—call or write your Congressional representatives to voice your concern.
The Northeast is now facing the loss of the vast majority of its bats, and other regions may soon confront a similar plight. We are engaged in the proverbial race against time, and scrambling more desperately by the week to keep sight of the possibility that bat populations can be sustained, and in time recover, so the summer twilight may be punctuated by the flight of these unassuming allies for years to come.
For more information about WNS, visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_white-nose_syndrome/index.html