Author Archives: Barbara Lynn Weaver

Filter Fred

  1. Power: Filters water, like, really well.
  2. Name: Filtering Fred
  3. Motto: Better than a Brita
  4. Outfit:
  5. Appearance: see above.
  6. Transportation: rides on a cloud.
  7. Weakness: pollution
  8. Sidekick: Composting Kid (power: has seen compost before)

  1. Villain: Plastic Pete

Growing Youth: The Impact of Agricultural Science in Public Schools (Abstract)

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Roosevelt Franklin

Agricultural science and the natural world have found themselves pushed out of increasingly competitive school environments. Students from pre-k onward are being prepped for college acceptances instead of for our changing environment. The lack of attachment to green spaces and the reinforcement of fluorescent halls has led to increased negative effects on today’s youth, particularly in their education and overall health. This paper explores the overarching need for environmental education in public schools through access to classroom gardens. Detailed are groups around the United States that have worked to implement “agriscience” into public school classrooms, with a focus on the Durham Public School System’s Hub Farm. These organizations will be used to evaluate the impact gardens have on the habits and long-term well being of students. This paper aims to offer a holistic evaluation of the benefits of gardens in public school classrooms, and their ability to build our youth for the future.


Preliminary Perennial Permaculture

Mark Shepard’s insistence on returning the land to its “natural form and function,” while still producing food drew me to his style of permaculture. Regarding his 106-acre perennial farm, he made the point that, “if we were to disappear tomorrow, this land would continue producing food for thousands of years.” It blew my mind. Inspired by Shepard, I called my parents and asked to try permaculture in our yard at home. I said, “It’s like our regular garden, but instead we plant only perennials.” I went on to share my limited knowledge about topsoil disruption, pesticide use, and the productivity of the permaculture farms from the movie. Amazingly, they didn’t say no.

My parents have agreed to plant five new food-producing perennials before summer, on the condition that they are native to North Carolina. As the financial share-holders and creators of my life, they generously delegated the research of indigenous plants to me. The list below shows my preliminary findings, all of which are native to the piedmont region and courtesy of the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

  1. Pecan tree (nut-producing)
  2. Shagbark hickory tree (nut-producing)
  3. Beech tree (nut-producing)
  4. Hazel tree (nut-producing)
  5. Black tupelo tree (for honey)
  6. Persimmon tree
  7. Black cherry tree
  8. Pawpaw tree
  9. Crabapples
  10. Plums
  11. Wild strawberries
  12. Low bush blueberries
  13. Huckleberries
  14. Blackberries
  15. Raspberries
  16. Fox Grapes

I figure the best way to convince my parents to continue down a permaculture path even long after I’ve grown up and moved more than thirty minutes from home, is to grow what they like. While I am incredibly intrigued by pawpaws, those might best be tested further down the road. I’ll start with persimmons, black cherries, and plums. They are familiar and I’ve seen them grown in Raleigh without difficulty. Additionally, we already have three pecan trees in our backyard, so hazelnuts would be an interesting addition.

I also think that with the right amount of coercion, I can get my dad to agree to put a bee hive in our yard if I also put a black tupelo tree, given his affinity for Tupelo Honey. While the bees may not actually produce pure Tupelo Honey due to the other nectar sources, my dad doesn’t need to know that. It would kill two birds with one stone: planting a perennial, and increasing biodiversity in our yard.

Persimmons, black cherries, plums, hazelnuts, and black tupelo. Those are my five as they stand now. I am in awe of Mark Shepard’s farm, and hope to create a sliver of the good work he does there in my own backyard.

Photo Ark and Apathy

In a stroke of absolute luck and incalculable coincidence, I got to hear Joel Sartore speak, just three days after watching his photos project across buildings worldwide in the final minutes of Racing Extinction. Sart0re travels month after month in an attempt to photograph each of the almost twenty-thousand species currently living in captivity; a project called the Photo Ark. Through his work, Sartore has seen species after species pushed out of their habitats by human consumption, and left to fade into existence only on the pages of history books.

His portrait-style photos aim to capture charismatic vignettes of the animals, which he then gives back to the zoos to use in promotional material, or publishes online. During the Q&A session after his talk, someone asked Sartore why, if these animals are so endangered, he takes character shots, instead of more scientific ones? He replied that science already has the anatomical shots of dead animals, and that his job is to make people care about the still Very Much Alive ones. Dead animals unfortunately don’t get much press, like the extinction of the Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog, which was allocated a trivial 264-word story by the Associated Press. That’s shorter than this blog post, and far shorter that their 798-word story on Taylor Swift’s concert at Formula One.

Sartore’s photos are meant to alleviate apathy, and to give the public something to connect with. Most of the animals, like those below, face this ambitious task with direct eye contact. In his talk, Sartore mentioned that his focus on the eyes is meant to humanize animals and help people find something in them worth saving.

The Photo Ark started as a passion project, and now the photos have acted as catalysts for species conservation and education worldwide. It is his hope that the Ark photographs will change the way our world views the loss of biodiversity. In addition to his environmental art, Sartore uses public speaking as a platform to call young minds action. He speaks primarily for younger audiences, imploring them to find something that they care about. He finished his Duke talk with the following:

People ask me what they can do to save these animals. You have to find something that you are fiercely passionate about and become the best at it- which will happen if you have enough passion, trust me- and then use that thing to change the world. It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.

All photos courtesy of Joel Sartore.

Take a Hike

On Tuesday, I took off to Eno River State Park and hiked the Laurel Bluffs Trail. It follows the river as it winds up into the forest, and circles around the old rock quarry. Setting out, my feet hit the packed orange clay with enthusiasm and my fingertips brushed up against wildflowers. The trees cast dappled sunlight on the shallow river, as it mumbled softly in the back ground. Decaying leaves were spotted with spring moss, and all was warm and peaceful.

Then the incline changed, not remarkably, but just enough to bring me above the river as it rambled off softly in the opposite direction. The trees were taller here, the sky darker. Nothing grew beneath the evergreen canopies. The blanket of slick pine straw dampened my footsteps, and the shadows drew long lines in the dirt, like bars of a cell.

I’ve hiked the trail before, but no matter what time of day or season, this particular bluff always makes me pause. It sets me on edge, as if something is going to step out from behind one of the conveniently human-size trees. This goose-bump inducing phenomenon made me wonder why one section of a trail could make me feel so much more uncomfortable than another section. Despite months of consideration, I’d never landed on an answer until Tuesday. Perhaps it was that I was looking at the trail through the lens of a camera, but suddenly is was so obvious.

Rows. The trees are growing in rows. The uniformity must be what puts me off when I walk this particular stretch. It seems so distinctly man-made and “unnatural” (in the sense that it has clearly been cultivated by human hands). The discovery seemed so clear, and yet it took me months to nail down. Below is an image showing the clear rows of pine, and it’s hard to miss when I really look back at it.

My discovery, as most do, unearthed a more questions than it answered. How long ago were the trees planted? What was this land before it was a state park? Why were the trees planted in rows, instead of a seemingly random orientation? Why does this striking uniformity unsettle me so much, when this is exactly the type of suburban uniformity I see in Durham every day? And finally, what separates our urban landscapes from the wild ones?

I don’t have all the answers, but I am happy to have figured out what makes that bluff so unpleasant. It serves as evidence of humans changing the environment, and now that I am aware of it, I can look for evidence of human development everywhere I go.

Health and Socioeconomic Disparities of Food Deserts

Brielle Tobin and Barbara Lynn Weaver

Health and Socioeconomic Disparities of Food Deserts

Food insecurity exists when communities experience inconsistent access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. While especially relevant in today’s social climate, food insecurity in and of itself it not a new issue. Historically, there have always been parties who don’t know where or when their next meal will happen, such as early hunter gatherers. However, despite the time elapsed since we transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle, one in six Americans still experience food insecurity, either lacking funds to provide food or lacking access to food (Hartman). The latter can be described using the term food deserts, which are defined as “households being more than a mile from a supermarket with no access to a vehicle” (Chinni). The most recent societal transition from urban life to suburban life has exacerbated food insecurity as wealthy families move out of cities, and grocery stores move with them. For families with cars, this spread of resources doesn’t create a problem, but for families without transportation, the distance to the grocery store, and therefore access to food, can become impassable.

In areas such as Durham, North Carolina, where a history of redlining defines and restricts economic opportunities for all households within specific areas, families must rely on supermarkets and grocery stores that cater to low-income budgets for nutritious meals (Michaels). Redlined districts were originally based on racial division, and those within the districts were and still are deliberately denied loans based simply on the area in which they live. As a result, private transportation is often a luxury that only those of higher socioeconomic status, or those living in higher graded districts, can achieve. Grocery stores that carry the healthiest food are also oftentimes the most expensive. Consequently, chains such as Whole Foods are focused in areas of higher wealth, like suburbs, where families that can afford cars and gas can also afford the more expensive goods. The need for transportation and mobility to reach nutritious food is then the first barrier between a well-rounded dinner for four and items off the four for four menu at a fast food restaurant.

As demonstrated by redlining, low income populations facing discrimination are almost always populations of minorities. These populations are more likely to be living in areas affected by food deserts. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture states that, “the percent of the population that is non-Hispanic Black is over twice as large in urban food deserts than in other urban areas” (Dutko). A history of oppression coupled with increasing economic disparities creates areas of poverty in which food deserts appear. This causation is evident in the specific locations of grocery stores, as stated in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine: “Studies have found that wealthy districts have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones do, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black ones do” (Morland). Distinction between white and/or wealthy neighborhoods and lower income communities with minorities is not a new phenomenon; however, the issue of food security is a pertinent and daily battle in which every person regardless of wealth or race must participate.

Discrimination in terms of supermarket placement is not solely found in densely populated cities, as food deserts outside of urban areas also present immense obstacles for rural communities. For instance, the subject of food sovereignty is prioritized in numerous Native American communities. An exemplification of this issue is the Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota’s Pine River Reservation who rely on 95 percent of their goods to be shipped in from outside of the Nation (Elliot). The dependency caused by this food desert restricts the lives of those within the community and prevents communities from maintaining their independence. The experiences of people living within urban and rural food deserts establishes the pressing matter of food deserts as an environmental justice issue. Withdrawing access to goods from specific communities based on race and income rejects the rights for all to lead safe and healthy lives, and stresses the increasing importance of providing equal opportunities for adequate food.

Food deserts are indicators of more than just socioeconomic injustice; they indicate public health and safety concerns for those living within their borders. Residents with a chronic lack of access to adequate food resources are shown to have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease (Corapi). Families who cannot afford grocery stores will purchase food from the ever-available and affordable fast food restaurants, causing higher than usual rates of chronic illnesses to develop in the population. Along with medical bills that may exceed what a family is capable of paying, these chronic illnesses can cause diet-related cancers and even premature death. These severe consequences of living in a food desert represent the potential for a life expectancy far shorter than counterparts living near a grocery store. For example, adults diagnosed with diabetes can anticipate a life 15 years shorter than otherwise would have been allotted to them (Gallagher). In this case, consistent access to healthy food is truly a life or death situation.

Image 1: Diagram of the Impacts of Food Deserts by Barbara Lynn Weaver

Along with experiencing shorter than average life expectancy, families living within the bounds of food deserts are also subjected to decreasing wealth as time passes. By their very nature, food deserts are located in areas of low population and low income, but as time progresses, these two characteristics are exacerbated. As wealth abandons a neighborhood, businesses follow. This means that all too often, when new stores do open, they choose areas of relative wealth and prosperity. Without new businesses to bring economic attention to a neighborhood, that neighborhood will get less wealthy over time. This trend of decreasing wealth represents a positive feedback loop, in which low initial wealth causes even lower wealth to develop within a population. Additionally, food deserts have long term impacts on the economic success of the children raised within them. Children facing poor nutrition or chronic illness are statistically more susceptible to encountering social and behavioral problems in school (Child Hunger). Such problems can hinder educational advancements, causing children to incur administrative discipline or academic probation. Living in a food desert can stand between educational, and therefore economic, success or failure.

While causes of food deserts are systemic and their impacts often cyclical, many solutions are emerging that attempt to address multiple aspects of the harm caused by food deserts. A favorable program promising the eventual erasure of food deserts originates from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The goal of the USDA’s Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program is to increase access to local nutritious food by working with producers and consumers to promote independence, create long-term solutions, and construct programs that are beneficial for the whole community (CFP). Another solution is the opening of community-owned food cooperatives. In areas such as Greensboro, North Carolina, communities previously living within food deserts are given a sense of responsibility when shopping at their co-op grocery store because not only are they improving their own health, but they are also showing the value of communities that mobilize and make democratic decisions to benefit one another (Johnson). However, a point often overlooked is that increasing access to supermarkets and grocery stores does not necessarily change behavior. According to a pilot study in Philadelphia, members of a community in which access was expanded did not show an increase in the consumption of fruits or vegetables (Cummins). To further decrease the harm of food deserts, new initiatives need to be created to address the connected between community awareness and individual action.

Examining the causes, impacts, and solutions of resource insecurity found inside food deserts reveals the complexity of the problem and the importance of environmental justice. Historical events like redlining, which separate people of socioeconomic status, are inextricably linked to the creation of food deserts. Food deserts in turn lower the wealth and health of affected communities, leading to increasing public health concerns and propagating the cycle of poverty. Programs that acknowledge the issue, and bring it into the public sphere, are key to combating food deserts. Grocery stores alone cannot solve food deserts, and it is vital that the culture of fast food and convenience be examined in relation to socioeconomic disparities. Environmental justice, behavioral change, and exposure to adequate food have the potential to bring the development and expansion of food deserts under control when used in combination.


Works Cited

“Child Hunger in America.” Feeding America. Web. Fed 28, 2017.

Chinni, Dante. “The Socio-Economic Significance of Food Deserts.” PBS. June 29, 2011. Web. Feb. 29, 2017.

“Community Food Projects (CFP) Competitive Grants Program.” National Institute of Food and Agriculture in partnership with the USDA. Web. Feb 27, 2017.

Corapi, Sarah. “Why it takes more than a grocery store to eliminate a ‘food desert’” PBS. Feb 3, 2014. Web. Feb 27, 2017.

Cummins*, Steven, Ellen Flint, and Stephen A. Matthews. “New Neighborhood Grocery Store Increased Awareness Of Food Access But Did Not Alter Dietary Habits Or Obesity.”Health Affairs. N.p., 01 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. <>.

Elliot, Scott. “Tribal Communities Strive to Regain Food Sovereignty.” National Institute of Food and Agriculture in partnership with the USDA. Nov 17, 2015. Web. Mar 2, 2017.

Gallagher, Mari. “The Chicago Food Desert Progress Report.” Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group. June 2009. Web. March 1, 2017.

Hartman, Brian. “Food Insecurity: 1 in 6 Americans Struggles to Buy Food.” abc News. Sept. 8, 2011. Web. Feb. 28, 2017.

Johnson, Cat. “New North Carolina Coop to Turn a Food Desert into a Food Oasis.”Shareable. 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Morland, K., Wing, S., et al. “Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. January 2002, vol. 22(1): p. 23-29. (3/05/11)

Paula Dutko, Michele Ver Ploeg, Tracey Farrigan. “Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts.” Economic Research Service, USDA. Aug. 2012. Web. Feb. 27, 2017.
Will Michaels, Frank Stasio. “Mapping Inequality: How Redlining is Still Affecting Inner Cities.” WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio. Jun 26, 2014. Web. Mar 2, 2017.

The Future Without Bees!

(adapted from Margaret Atwood’s “It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Everything Change”)


The future without bees! Let’s imagine our best case scenario, and call it Image One.

There we are, sitting in rocking chairs on our back porches, watching the electronic, solar-powered bees pollinate our victory gardens. (Not victory of a war, but the victory of human survival. Scientists postulated that we wouldn’t get this far.) Thanks to the genius of robotics, we have eliminated the need to follow insect pollination patterns, and plants can be pollinated year round. We have just one season now, a perpetual spring. We managed to halt global warming in a temperature sweet spot. Crops grow with fervor unseen before, and every day is a beautiful day to spend the afternoon outside with a good book.

Everyone gave up beef. When we first lost the bees, the cow feed took a hit, and then the cows. Tofu is the new normal, and it’s okay- really- once you get used to it. Kids today won’t even know the difference.

We live in small, community oriented towns. Our homes are low-impact. Wind turbines line the country side, arranged so as not to interrupt avian flight patterns. Solar panels and geothermal wells power the robotics industry. And the robotics industry powers agriculture. Our invincible spring is pleasant and productive.

That’s Image One. It’s nice. It’s more or less plausible. Less, probably.


Then there’s Image Two. Suppose that colony collapse disorder was accelerated and the future without bees arrived tomorrow. Suddenly, no bees, anywhere, at all.

You’d notice it slowly. Markets would empty over time. First to go would be the fruits and vegetables. And after the meat industry realized they had nothing more to feed the cattle, the hens, the hams; that too would disappear. The devastation of a bee-less world would demolish whole food chains. Within weeks, panic would set in.

There would be a run on the supermarkets. Anything left on the shelves would be pillaged and hoarded in post-apocalyptic basement bunkers. Some bright minds would rally and suggest solutions, but in the midst of a Food War, their ideas would come too late. “We could clone dead bees!” some would say. But there is no substitute for the natural way of the world.

There would be survivors, after the wars are said and done. And some foods would remain. Not many, but a chosen few. (Bees don’t pollinate everything, after all.) The world population would be drastically reduced. Humanity has expanded to fill the space made possible to it by bees, and without those bees, it would shrink with astounding rapidity.

Image Two is extreme, and also unlikely, but it exposes the truth: our lives depend on bees and without them, we can’t eat much of anything. We ought to be investing a lot of time, effort, and money in ways to protect them.


In addition to Image One and Two, there’s also Image Three.

In Image Three, we incentivize farmers to establish habitats for honeybee populations. We stop using pesticides because bees aren’t pests after all. We plant flowers. Everywhere. Highways and backyards and front yards and schoolyards and graveyards. We create habitats for the creatures that create our dinner. In doing this, we are preventing collapse or at least preparing to weather the storm.

The death of bees could present a problematic future not unlike Image Two, but the main point is that the problems are not happening in some dim, distant future. They are happening now.

Cereal in the Anthropocene

Cereal in the Anthropocene

Charlie reached into the cabinet,

He grabbed a bowl, a spoon, and the box.

“Chocolate Flavored Puffs: With Lots of Artificial Flavors and No Preservatives!”

Nothing to preserve if the chocolate wasn’t real to start with.

Charlie doesn’t know the difference.

He doesn’t have to decide whether to pour the milk first or the cereal (age old debate)

He doesn’t have to eat soggy cereal,

since there isn’t any milk to pour.

Charlie doesn’t know the difference.



Victoria Grant, Brandon Foreman, John Desan, Barbara Lynn Weaver

BREAKING NEWS: Government announces that energy budget for each citizen will be cut indefinitely, effective immediately. Wristbands will reflect the changes as of 8:00 am this morning. Make adjustments in your lives accordingly. No exceptions will be made.
A government controlled energy ration system. Each citizen is allocated a fixed amount of energy that is controlled by a wristband. They have to budget the energy for everything they want or do: electricity, transportation, food preparation, hospital visits, physical activity. The wristband has a modest, sleek design with a clasp that is nearly impossible to undo. The wristbands design does not inhibit anyone’s sense of style and makes it impossible for anyone to lose. Energy was once freely exchanged in the world but, now it must be conserved, even to the point on monitoring, and limiting physical actions.

Buying Nature

Buying Nature

When I was in elementary school, my mom topped off each bag lunch with a plastic water bottle. Only used once. When the clay soil in my backyard wasn’t conducive to plant growth, I bought better soil from the plant nursery. It came in a plastic bag. When my friend sent me a picture from her college, it was of the oxygen bar that just opened on her campus. She paid money to breathe ‘better’ air. While these experiences are my own, they are not unique. As Wanuri Kahiu said, “I am not so unique that my story is relevant only to myself.” The bottling and purchasing of natural resources happens worldwide.

In her TEDx Talk, Kahiu, who directed Pumzi, said that she thinks the idea of bottling nature and selling it for profit is ridiculous. She asked, “where does the idea of buying natural things end?” And her question is a difficult one, because the short term answers are very different from the long term ones. For short term end points, bottled water is convenient, bagged soil creates life, and canned air is entertaining. Natural resources under this mindset are continuously consumed and thrown away, without regard to the effects and ethics that the distribution of these products can have in the long run.

Regarding the long term, buying natural things can end in instability and poverty for entire nations of people, as depicted by the Nigerian oil conflicts in Oil on Water. The sequestration of nature can also have psychological repercussions, like the plaguing paranoia that the nature we take advantage of will one-day cease to exist, and take us with it, as exhibited in The Petrol Pump. Kahiu, through Pumzi, presents perhaps the bleakest long term outcome of them all: the eradication of hope.

My personal experiences buying nature are not unique, and neither are the experiences of the millions of people who have to face the long term repercussions, like those mentioned above, daily. Their stories are not so unique that they are relevant only to themselves. Buying natural things does not end at the checkout counter; it ricochets around in the lives of others around the world.



Kahiu, Wanuri. “No More Labels.” TEDx Talks. Feb 4 2014. Web. Feb 8 2017.–BIlZE_78

Environmental Issues and Culture

How do environmental issues register differently in different cultures?

 (Or do they?)

While cultural differences can be found by observing communities separated by oceans, like in the South Pacific short stories from this past week, there is a prime example much closer to home. The installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline and recent mistreatment of Native American heritage sites has created a cultural divide in the United States over the course of the last year. As the pipeline threatens to cut through areas of spiritual significance, Native Americans are standing and defending, not for money or power, but for their connection to the earth.
The resistors call themselves “protectors, not protesters” (Elbein). The subtle difference creates a huge message that the people of Standing Rock are defenders of nature, not owners. Grassrope, an indigenous tribesman, further illuminates the cultural divide between Native Americans and otherAmericans:

“Most people who come here never had a role to play in their own lives. We saw a lot of lost people, people who don’t realize they’re more than Americans. Their ancestors are indigenous from somewhere, which means they were once caretakers of the Earth” (Elbein).

This mentality of being keepers of the environment comes in stark contrast when considered next to the business-like, immediate-fix mindset that plagues so much of the United States. One protector was asked how long she would stand with Standing Rock, and “She laughed: “Until it’s done. Where would I go?” (Elbein). Her commitment characterizes the dedication of Native Americans to the earth as one that transcends time. These protector’s lives will not carry on when water quality and the earth are in jeopardy.

Environmental issues absolutely vary from culture to culture, just as cultural responses to such issues vary. For Native Americans, the DAPL is threatening a member of their tribe, the source of life. For other Americans, it may be threatening land value or their subjective ideal of nature. However, while the environmental issues register differently, one thing remains unchanged: “Water is Life.”

Works Cited:
Elbein, Saul. “These Are the Defiant “Water Protectors” of Standing Rock.” National Geographic. Jan. 26, 2017. Web. Feb. 1, 2017.