Fiction or nonfiction, Howard County writers are covering sustainability from all angles.
Ned Tillman, a Columbia environmental scientist, has written about the environment and ecology of the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding regions since 2003.
His science background is evident in his first two nonfiction books, “The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and A Call to Action,” and “Saving the Places We Love: Paths to Environmental Stewardship.” In the books, he describes human-influenced threats to the Bay and its tributaries, as well as the steps humans can take to combat these threats.
In 2018 Tillman ventured into fiction with “The Big Melt,” a climate crisis novel aimed at young adult readers.
“It’s funny in parts, but also serious and designed to shake readers up and get them thinking,” he said. “It hyperbolizes some things that are happening, but Mother Nature keeps catching up on my predictions.”
Earlier this year Tillman published his fourth book, “Good Endeavor,” a historical novel centered on the Harford County farm he grew up on.
“This one brings in the historical aspect of love for the land and taking care of it, supporting it, and trying to live in balance with it,” he said.
Informing the future
Good Endeavor Farm dates to 1800 and used to encompass 100 acres, before I-95 construction whittled it down to 65 acres. Tillman’s parents operated a Christmas tree farm there, and also grew apples and raised sheep.
Basing a fictional story on the homestead allowed him to create composite characters and get down to “a visceral level of fear, hunger, vigilante justice, racial things, and equality,” he said. “The story should be of interest to a lot more people than just an environmental group.”
Although Tillman finds fiction more difficult to write than nonfiction, “I wanted to reach a large audience,” he explained. “(Switching genres) was a way to expose ideas to people who are more likely to read fiction for entertainment.”
Online reader reviews of his book suggest it is inspiring readers to think more deeply about their own past and family history.
“I think that’s a success, because then readers start appreciating how that helps them see the future,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a good horse to ride in my goal to engage more people on environmental issues.”
Gary Pilarchik, of Glenelg, retired four years ago from a 15-year career as a clinical mental health therapist for Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
“I found that people who were severely depressed needed structure and routine, and gardening provides that,” he said, which led him to start The Rusted Garden, a YouTube video series that now boasts 2,000 videos and 700,000 subscribers. “In an odd way my passion for mental health and gardening came together.”
Along the way, he founded TheRustedGardener.com, an online store that sells seeds and environmentally friendly gardening supplies, and wrote a book that advocates for living lightly on the land and increasing self-sufficiency.
“‘The Modern Homestead Garden’ acknowledges you may be busy, but can create a garden you can manage with your time limits,” Pilarchik said.
The book explores different strategies that include container gardens for small apartments with balconies, shared efforts between family or friends who can offer space to others, and larger scale community operations.
“My audience is everybody, and I want to meet them where they’re at,” he said.
Pilarchik serves on the board of directors for the Community Ecology Institute and Freetown Farm in Columbia, where he shares his expertise.
After kicking around some ideas with Chiara D’Amore, CEI’s executive director, he agreed to co-author a new book with her. “Growing an Edible Landscape” is scheduled for release in November.
“This book makes you look at your landscaping differently,” Pilarchik said, and guides readers to choose landscaping plants that pull double duty as food producers for humans, wildlife, or pollinators.
“It’s focused on the principle of our Nourishing Gardens program that connects the community through growing food,” D’Amore said. “It promotes the creation of beautiful, edible spaces as a better alternative than barren, non-producing landscapes.”
An example is using blueberry bushes as an option that retains foliage through the winter, or planting strawberries for ground cover instead of ivy, Pilarchik said.
“We’re not talking about wiping out your lawn,” he added. “The idea is to mix edible plants into your landscape bed and let them feed you.”
Pilarchik’s books offer straightforward instructions and advice to help non-gardeners become gardeners, contribute to sustainability, and increase their own self-sufficiency.
“We’ve been guided away from using skills we’ve had for hundreds of years which were replaced by the grocery store and restaurant,” he said. “Before you know it, generations are afraid of wild food and can’t identify what’s edible.”
There is a pleasure and satisfaction in growing your own food, learning how to cook it, and enjoying what you create, Pilarchik argues.
“In my experience, gardening promotes a sense of value and self-esteem,” he said. “It’s an activity anybody can do that creates a healthier lifestyle, mental health, and wellness.”