Weed Harvesting

Though I was an American history major in college, the best class I took was Practical Botany. During that class, I learned the definition of a weed. It is quite simple. Weeds are plants that are in an undesired location. For example, grass growing in your vegetable garden is a weed, even though it is not a weed in your lawn.

Healthy lakes include plant life. In some cases, the plant life is so abundant that it becomes a weed because it interferes with the healthy growth of other species or other desired uses, such as safe boating and swimming.

Goose Lake, where I chair the Watershed District, is a very healthy lake. In fact, it contains designated critical habitats which support a myriad of plant and animal life, as detailed in this report.

Maintaining a healthy balance between sustaining the critical habitat which thrives in Goose Lake, and allowing the lake to be enjoyed by residents and visitors is included within the responsibility of the Goose Lake Watershed District (GLWD). One of our responsibilities is to harvest weeds from the non-critical habitat. A few years ago, we bought a used weed harvester. Since then, we have been able to harvest the weeds as needed instead of depending on the schedule of an unreliable contractor.

However, most people think of weeds as something to pull and get rid of instead of harvest. Given our respect for the environment, we harvest the weeds by transporting those we cut to a nearby organic farmer. The nutrition from the weeds is thereby returned to the earth to grow healthy, organic food.

As you can see, there are a lot of weeds to turn into organic compost. A local homeowner, Fred Mess, has done a marvelous job maintaining our old harvester, including fashioning parts when used parts are no longer available. He volunteers his time to both maintain the harvester and harvest weeds.

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Fred Mess with a full load of weeds, approximately 3500 pounds.

Fred has also trained others to run the harvester as no organization should rely on a single person for a critical task.

Since we also maintain the public beach and boat launch, last weekend while Fred and John were harvesting weeds from the lake, a few of us raked weeds from the beach to make the beach safe and pleasant for swimming.

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Nick Homan raking the beach weeds in order to transport them to an organic farm along with the weeds cut by the harvester.

Harvesting weeds to improve our lake and convert an undesired plant into organic food is a perfect example of environmental systems change. It is also a metaphor for systems change in many other areas of life.

Rather than simply getting rid of things that are undesirable through seclusion and restraint in our schools, or incarceration, the better approach is to use tools such as positive behavioral support and restorative justice as a form of positive harvesting.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline: A New Approach

Previously, I wrote optimistically about Putting an End to the School to Prison Pipeline.  I suggested systemic approaches to this horrific problem, such as implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.  As promising as this approach is, it does not solve the problem for children who are currently caught up in the School to Prison Pipeline.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with an excellent local public defender, Debbie Stahl, who used a new approach to push back against the School to Prison Pipeline on behalf of her 14 year old client with multiple disabilities.  As often happens in such cases, the court ordered a competency evaluation, and a psychologist met with the child for an hour and determined that he was competent to stand trial.  Ms. Stahl learned that this psychologist made no inquiry into her client’s special education needs and failed to review his special education records.

After Ms. Stahl reviewed her client’s records and met with her client’s special education teacher, she concluded that there was substantial evidence that her client could not competently decide whether to accept a plea offer.  Nor, could he effectively assist her at trial.  So, she asked if I would review his records, meet her client and his teacher and testify as a special education law expert, with additional expertise on the ethics of representing a child with a disability.  We both knew that this approach was somewhat experimental, but decided it was worth trying.

After I reviewed the boy’s special education records, and met with him and his teacher, I concluded that he could not make an informed decision about the plea offer, nor could he effectively assist his attorney during the trial.  Indeed, his Individualized Education Program (IEP) required his school to provide him a note taker, and was replete with documentation  that he was unable for focus for more than 10 minutes at a time, and often acted as if he understood something, when in fact, he did not.

Upon hearing my testimony, the court accepted me as an expert, and determined that Ms. Stahl had presented sufficient evidence to discredit the prior evaluator’s finding that the child was competent to stand trial.  Accordingly, he ordered a new evaluation by a different psychologist.

While this particular case is not over, it does illustrate the creative ways in which lawyers can bridge the gap between special education and juvenile justice in an effort to connect them in ways that disrupt the School to Prison Pipeline. Hopefully, we and others can do this more often, and both schools and prosecutors will refrain from putting many children with disabilities through the School to Prison Pipeline unnecessarily.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.