Hedgerows by Joan Donaldson, author of several books for young readers including the new YA novel On Viney’s Mountain

Most of us know that over time, small acts such as each year planting a tree can create a forest. On our organic farm, my husband, John and I have planted thousands of trees, sturdy white pines with feathery needles, broad Douglas firs, and honey locust trees with drooping white blossoms filled with nectar for bees. We lined the trees in hedgerows, making living fences that border pastures and hay fields. Trees not only convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, but our hedgerows also provide homes for many different creatures.

Different kinds of birds called flycatchers roost between the evergreen needles, and tree swallows look for holes in the locusts’ trunks. Swallows and flycatchers eat many insects and I love to watch them darting over fields, snatching bugs for their lunch. Underneath the trees grow snow asters, goldenrod and other low plants where insects deposit eggs along twigs or attach cocoons. Some of the insects attack our alfalfa plants, but other beneficial bugs, such as praying mantis or lace wings eat the ones that harm our crops.

On hot summer afternoons, my husband and I rest in the shade of the trees when taking a break from baling hay or weeding a long row of raspberry plants. The living fences also resist the constant winds that blow off of Lake Michigan. These winds shove snow into drifts and can pick up and carry away soil from a freshly tilled field, but the grid of hedgerows protects our soil from wind erosion. When heavy rains pour, the tree roots absorb moisture and also limit soil erosion. The black locusts’ blossoms not only feed bees, but their roots “fix” nitrogen that fertilizes the ground.

As organic farmers, we want to do all that we can to protect our soil. When the folks who come to you-pick our fruit and ask questions about organic farming, I avoid talking about what we don’t do, such as using toxic pesticides or herbicides, but I emphasize how organic farmers work to improve an ecosystem. I explain that we add compost and minerals to our dirt to improve its fertility because healthy soil will grow healthy plants that can resist diseases and even pests. My husband sprays fish emulsion, a smelly brown goo, and liquid seaweed to fertilize our blueberry bushes’ leaves. Vigorous bushes will produce tastier and sweeter fruit that I believe is better for us. I point to the hedgerows and explain how the trees protect my land.

Like most organic farmers, I want to work with the earth; this is why we use solar panels and a wind generator to make electricity for our home. We’ve also planted acres of wildflowers, red and pink poppies, blue bachelor buttons and white daisies to feed bees. For me, organic farming is not just a job, but a way of living that begins with simple acts, planting trees, sowing a small bed of flowers, playing in the yard instead of driving somewhere in a car.

No matter where we live, we can work together to help our planet. Like those rows and rows of trees encircling my farm, when we link our actions, we become a living fence that protects our earth.

Here is a quote from the Rutgers University’s Economics for Kids review of my latest novel:

“On Viney’s Mountain offers an old-fashioned love story wrapped around a plot based on some fundamental economic principles. The protection of natural resources, the development of farming and herding skills, the requirements for establishing a lumber industry, and conflicts over the distribution of property rights are all important economic ideas that the author uses to motivate the storyline. A fiercely independent and incredibly stubborn lead female character further contributes to the potency of this richly-satisfying work of historical fiction.”

Joan Donaldson is an award-winning author of books for young readers, from picture books to YA novels. She also does podcasts for WMUK Public Radio from Western Michigan University. To learn more about Joan’s unique farm life and her books, visit www.joandonaldson.com.

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