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a male mallard duck takes flight in a restored wetland on what was once an illegal dump on the south side of Chicago

People are asking, more and more, if there are any updates about our trial date given the pandemic. To be honest, it is somewhere in the middle of the miles-long list of things we don't know.


For each of us, just like you, there are many more urgent ones:


Will our children be well?

Will our parents?

How do we connect with our neighbors in this time?

How can we relieve the pain of those dying alone together?

Is this the spring thaw?


We were planning on being all together with some dear friends in Winona this week, planning for our upcoming time together in late May and early June. We called that off a couple weeks ago, when the unknown unknowns of this time started to stack up. Unlike so many cancelled meetings, however, we have no easy virtual replacement. Six of our team members do not have internet access at their homes. With cafes and libraries closed, their usual ways of keeping in touch are limited. Not being able to be together is just another microcosm of the loss and separation playing out on the largest scale possible right now.


It's not the first time for us. A meeting we'd scheduled for the first week of December was delayed for two months by an epic snowstorm. Nearly all of our meetings in Duluth have been extended by "snow days" that make departure impossible. Yes, even a particularly memorable May snowstorm that stranded one lawyer and a support team member overnight. With this perspective, the current crisis fits into a larger scale of disruption we are already familiar with.


On that subject, I'd like to invite Tim DeChristopher and Wendell Berry, each inspiring in their own way, into your living room. May their conversation wrap you into a vision of hope and resilience in the midst of everything you are bearing right now.

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All of the Four Necessity Valve Turners, and most of the support team, tend a garden or a farm in one way or another. Whether you live in a city or on a farm, it is the season to plan for summer gardens. The biggest gamble is, when will the last frost come? And, have I started the seeds soon enough to be ready for it?


My mother taught me that her father started seeds on St. Patrick's Day. It's a good and common practice to tie earth-tending activities to holidays, holy days, moon phases, and other seasonal signs, both as a mnemonic and to entrust our gardens to the patronage of saints and angels. I start my own seeds nearly a month earlier, closer to St Valentine's Day, though on a map I'm located a full zone further north than my parent's hometown. Part of this, doubtless, is that I'm growing hardy kale and onions (neither deemed worthy of space in grandpa's carefully curated postage-stamp backyard garden) and my own willingness to risk a little bit to stretch the growing season as far as it will go. I'm hardening off kale, cabbage, nasturtiums and onions this week in Chicago, hoping weather cooperates with planting them while the moon is big in the sky next week. But another factor, which should not be overlooked, is that the USDA hardiness zones that growers rely on to plan are noticeably shifting northward.


My mom insists, year after year, that the frost free date where I am farming cannot be Mother's Day. In her mind, that is her frost free day. The reality is that zones have shifted northward a full zone for both of us - if she wanted to, she could safely put plants out as early as tax day (What a holiday! If there's a more meaningful feast that consistently falls in the teens of April, I'd be happy to re-term this).


Unfortunately, the volatility of weather (a side effect of global warming sometimes humorously referred to as global-weirding) that has accompanied climate change makes it hard for midwestern farmers to really take advantage of this shift to start production earlier. A hail storm, flood, late snowfall, or any number of other "rare" occurrences, like the tornadoes that swung through the south this week, easily kills a crop set out too soon. As US farmers, whose average income in 2018 was negative, balance the risk of crop loss against the reward, it pays for many to limit their liability and hold planting out until they are sure.


Are you planning a garden? We'd love to see your photos and hear your progress (or questions!) on facebook. One of the most healing actions we can take in this time is to be in tune with what sustains us, most directly through farms and food.

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Flags fly at Standing Rock Camp, photo by Lukas Zhao

On the grounds that authorities issuing permits, including the Army Corps of Engineers, did not sufficiently take into account the potential impact of a spill, including all the various ways leaks occur, challenges to detecting and correcting leaks, and the poor track record of the parent company in addressing failing pipeline infrastructure in the past. The courts have ordered a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the pipeline now, and is requesting both sides submit a briefing on the potential precautionary measure of shutting down the pipeline for the duration of the time it takes to prepare and assess the EIS.


Of this victory in a hard-fought, long campaign, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith says, "Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”


The full story is well worth a read here.

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