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Downtown Permaculture

Downtown Permaculture

Whether in a natural setting or a community; permaculture is a symbiotic relationship between everything that exists as it is. Where changes, new ideas, or even the decision to leave some things the same are based on the beneficial attributes of each component as a part of the whole.  Permaculture is all about finding ways to maximize the health and well being of the entire ecosystem in a way that creates an environment for life to thrive for years to come. In nature this concept works within the natural functionality of your soil to increase both the health of the soil and the health of your garden, rather than altering your soil and the landscape in a way that depletes the health of the soil long term. permaculture drawing

Ever since I personally decided to adhere to the rules of permaculture in my own gardening adventures, I find this philosophical science in everything I see. As a part of the think-tank of the future our historic downtowns, the principles of permaculture have ignited a new perspective of thought for innovating thriving communities. In a traditional sense, permaculture gardens lead to a thriving backyard ecosystem. So exactly what would a “downtown ecosystem” look like?

Window Covered with Brick

I suddenly began to see beyond brick and mortar. Beyond simply recognizing an Italianate. Beyond only the story of the town’s history in 1890. Beyond even seeing a coffee shop as I sipped a very real cup of coffee within the very real 1890 brick walls. Instead, I saw a vibrant plant whose species has remained within our landscape for over a hundred years.

A historic downtown could be a single street, a square or several blocks- whatever it is, big or small, it is its own “microorganism” within the bigger economy and society. Making it a garden that thrives for as many more years as it has already existed is actually quite simple. The core of downtown should be filled with dining and retail that supports local residents’ businesses and locally made goods.  Second floors should be used as residential housing. Downtown residents feed the economy and create a sense of culture.  Just as the garden with its many annual vegetables relies upon perennial neighbors to provide stability and nutrients to the soil for next years plantings. While summer tourism or yearly festivals may bring an economic harvest to be realized in the fall, having that symbiotic relationship between all the components of a downtown will make it grow, well…organically. downtown permaculture

My strawberries are a perennial staple in the vegetable garden, the boxes along the sidesstrawberries of the house and the flower gardens alongside the goldfish pond. They provide nectar for the bees in early spring, food for me shortly after and as their leaves die off and fall they provide mulch for next years plants. Our downtown core when thoroughly thought out acts much the same, except instead of nectar, food and mulch, it creates a place people want to be, going from one business to the next pollinating the local economy. The fruit is shared in the form of taxes and reinvestment. When a few leaves fall off in slow times the roots are still there to be consistently enjoyed by permanent residents who live just above and work just around the corner or a few blocks down the street.

What is within the core of a healthy ecosystem will need the most attention, though being mindful of what will work best within the soil of your downtown will make it less so. Either way, this is the area that people will most likely notice something needs tended to. We have created a bad habit in the last 20 some-odd years of putting all our focus on easy access highways and byways, dreaming of big box stores and chain restaurants that as we fly by at 60 miles per hour, we notice they come and go the same way my creek’s deep pools do every time we get a heavy rain. Having my gardens close to the house where I see them everyday forces me to trim the roses and pinch the basil. It’s a bit further back that the staples of permaculture make their home, or in terms of downtown permaculture, your service based businesses.

Every resident and business has service needs such as insurance, tax preparation, lawyers, auto repair and so on. My own company, though I admit not nearly as necessary a service as previously mentioned, sits just south of our downtown square. I give directions by explaining what well known core business I am located behind of. I belong there. I don’t belong in the core, I exist to provide something to the core and my reach goes from there.

Service based businesses don’t attract tourist, downtown shopping events or even a destination with friends on a nothing planned weekend. They do however provide something needed twelve months a year, and the people who work for them eat lunch, buy birthday presents and meet up for a happy hour every so often.

The final region of downtown permaculture is the forest, or in this case the neighborhoods. The homes stand like deep rooted trees, their streets like paths, places of worship and schools like the rocks that keep everything in place. With a strong downtown core and a healthy service region the neighborhoods will thrive just like the forest denizens that stay for generations unknown.

Often beyond the neighborhood is the edge. The edge is a place that in permaculture is the where working with nature instead of against her becomes a Zen-like surrender to accepting what is. Edges are a disruption of nature, they leave us with a void in the soil. Nature as we all know is perfect, and quick to repair disruptions and fill voids. So we get what we refer to as… weeds.

“A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

thistle

Canadian Thistle

This is one of my husband’s favorite quotes, although he jokingly refers to our Native Missouri pollinator garden as a bunch of really expensive weeds. Our property has Asian honeysuckle, Canadian thistles, Johnsongrass and a myriad of other weeds.  Some are referred to as noxious and many invasive. Invasive, as are we. 

flowers

Wildflower Pollinator Garden

I myself am no less invasive to North America let alone the State of Missouri as any single non-indigenous plant. So when we are honest about it, a weed is something that doesn’t fit in with own agenda of what should be. A weed is simply unwanted.

Out we go in a battle against nature with chemicals, poisons, shovels and yanks to remove the reality we don’t want to see. In true fashion of reality, it just keeps coming back. Too often the edges of our cities are filled with a reality of people we turn a blind eye to, they aren’t a part of our grand vision of community perfection. Instead of hating the edges, what if we learned to love them instead? What if we learned to realize the edges and voids of supposed perfection are actually potential to the whole of the ecosystem?

When we first purchased our property, we decided to let a few acres of pasture go back to its natural state. The first few years it quickly filled with brush and grasses. A large wild blackberry patch took hold and thickets popped up making homes for rabbits and turkey. Soon after small trees began rising up out the knee-high foliage. Today, almost eleven years later much of this little spot is indistinguishable from the woods it borders. A healthy community is also an ever-changing ecosystem that doesn’t thrive without acceptance and patience. There’s a story behind the edges, a reason the edges are there. Know that story, dig below the surface and find out what your soil is made of.

“Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos”   ~Bill Mollison

From the core of the garden to the depth of the forest, everything can work in tandem creating beautiful blooms for decades to come.

Audrey L Elder                                                                                                                                          Past to Present Research LLC

 

 

 

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The Zook House

Zook HouseIn its day the towering Queen Anne Victorian on Washington Street stood as one of the grandest homes in the little town of Oregon, Missouri.  The home was built around 1880 for the early Oregon settler Zook family.  Levi Zook opened the first bank of Holt County with James Scott in 1867.  Zook and Roeker Bank began construction August 14th, 1913.  To this very day, one of the few remaining commercial structures in Oregon, Zook and Roeker bank still stands as a reminder of the family’s influence on the town.  From the road you’re immediately captivated by the homes bold large corner turret and decorative Gothic Revival Style gables and spire.  Even the smallest details such as the horse hitch near the road give little reminders of days gone by.

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What you can’t see from the road is the very first in-ground swimming pool and bath house in Oregon. Inside, you are greeted by a large staircase while a second servant’s stair case runs along the back. The home still has three sets of pocket doors on the main level. The second floor has five true bedrooms with 3 more bedrooms on the third floor which in its heyday served as a ballroom.  From one of the third floor bedroom windows (the three state window), you can see rolling hills for miles which are actually located in Kansas and Nebraska.

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For many years following the residence of the Zook family, the home was repurposed for the use as a senior home around the 1970’s.  During this time some rooms were added, most of which have been removed.

The home has been owned for 24 years by its current owner Debbie who due to unexpected circumstances was unable to see her dream of restoring the property come to fruition.  She explained, “When we first bought the house I used to walk through the rooms and try to imagine what life was like for the Zook family and how they would have lived.  I could just feel (positive) life in the house as we were working on it.  The rooms were so BIG it was hard not to stop and daydream about them.  The possibilities are endless.  I realize at this time in my life those dreams are meant for someone else, but I will always love this house”.

Recently Debbie has been contacted several times by the Chief of Police of Oregon and the city’s attorney with surmounting pressure to have the home demolished.  The idea of losing one of the few physical remnants of the area’s history combined with her own passion for the home has lead her to not only decide to sell the property, but to price the property at $10,000.   With Bob Brown, Payne Landing , Riverbreaks and Squaw Creek Wildlife refuge all in a stone’s throw of the home, Debbie believes that once the home is restored it will become a financial asset for its owners if used for either a hunting lodge or bed and breakfast. “It’s a beautiful quiet town with so much to offer with hunting, fishing, relaxation, bird watching, and mushroom hunting.  The leaves change into red and orange in the fall, the town turns into camouflage”.   There are eight additional conservation areas just in the county itself.

To contact Debbie for information on purchasing the property, she can be reached at:

816-456-2669 or 816-836-4054

 

Past to Present Research LLC

The Future of the Past is in the Stewardship of the Present

 

 

 
 

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Historic Preservation Heroes

heroes

Let’s roll out the era appropriate red carpet for a few heroes of one of our favorite subjects – historic preservation.  We’re talking about the scholars of economics, restoration, long-term planning and community education all specific to historic places.  These are the people who have truly dedicated their careers to the stewardship of our visual representations of the past.  Whereas we will never run out of wheels to repair, because of these great pioneers there are hundreds we won’t have to reinvent.

Economics-

Donovan Rypkema- Place Economics

I can count myself as one of the few lucky people in the world to have personally attended one of Rypkema’s presentations.  He was so inspiring I have a bound notebook of his lectures, nearly half highlighted in yellow.  This is THE go-to source for the economics of historic places.  Want to know the economic impact of restoring a building vs new construction?  Wonder what the ROI on tax incentives are for preservation?  The impact on job creation and keeping money in your own community?  Place Economics is the best place to start.  Our own Extreme Green Campaign video was based on Rypkema’s data and statistics.

Emilie Evans is another P2P preservation hero.  After creating the game-changing Detroit Historic Resource Survey program, Emilie joined Place Economics as their Director of Rightsizing Cities Initiative.  Recently she also received the National Trust for Historic Preservation 2015 American Express Aspire Award.

Michael H. Shuman

The economics of local, which happens to thrive in historic downtowns and communities.  Shuman proves without a doubt that large corporate TIFFs don’t do anyone any long term favors.  Incentives to small businesses not only create long term jobs and keep more money in the community in which they exist; he has found and created several strategies for incentive funding.  I am currently finishing his book “The Small-Mart Revolution”, just one of his nine publications to date.

Restoration and Preservation-

Scott Sidler- The Craftsman Blog

The only preservation hero in this blog I haven’t personally met yet.  Sidler is an historic restoration expert in the Orlando Florida area.  His blog is not only a gift to preservationist, it is a must read for anyone considering a restoration project.

Bob Yapp- The Belvedere School

Not only is Bob an expert in historic restoration and preservation politics, he took his mastery one step further to create a new model in historic preservation.  The Belvedere School, located in Hannibal, MO, provides skilled trade education in the art of historic restoration.  What makes this school extra special is that the students are kids who would otherwise have little or no opportunity for this kind of training. Yapp also holds workshops and gives presentations across the county.

So hats off to these and many more preservation heroes!  May they inspire you and inspire an emerging generation of preservationists to come.

Audrey L Elder

Past to Present Research LLC

www.past2presentresearch.com

The Future of the Past is in the Stewardship of the Present

 

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The Irony of McMansions and Urban Renewal

The same era that brought us Urban Renewal has ironically become the latest victim of our most recent phase of suburban renewal.  That post WWII construction explosion introduced the suburban life to America’s landscape and culture.  VA loans created the answer to the largest scale housing crisis America had ever seen.  With the massively increasing ownership of automobiles, developers had a new option for where to build, and it wasn’t a hard sale.  The concept of living outside of the city in a country-like setting only a short driving distance from employment was not only acceptable to Americans at the time, it became a craze and a symbol of status.

Welcome to the world of track homes and cul-de-sacs, Saturday morning lawn mowing, Sunday afternoon BBQs.  Herds of bike-riding boys tearing along perfectly landscaped rose-adorned streets and avenues.  These were the homes of the middle class, and even that was a new concept in and of itself.

Welcome to the ‘50s.

A new crisis emerged: a growing economy demanded more cars, more roads and more stores to spend that bit of extra money on whatever the new little black-and-white television in the living room highlighted.

We go back to the city for the next scene.  Almost no city was immune; the largest to the smallest became swift demolition sites, razing the country’s oldest homes to replace them with large blocky institutional buildings, shopping centers and parking lots.  Mostly, parking lots.

Courtesy of The Jackson County Historical Society

Courtesy of The Jackson County Historical Society

Slack Mansion, Once stood on Deleware Rd. in Independence MO-  

Dictionary.com defines irony as; an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

As this story continues, I have to wonder, maybe this isn’t irony.   As the famous George Santayana quote states, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

America 2008.  The Great Recession, the biggest blue light special on homes since the 1930s.  For the most part those homes were purchased by investors that either rented them after a quick rehab, or flipped  them in hopes of a fast profit.  There was another interesting use for these homes however, though very situational, a little trend began and today it is growing exponentially.  Imagine a highly populated area, great schools, excellent commute to the city, and practically no land to build on.  I saw this myself several years ago during a visit to my old stomping ground outside of Chicago.  My best friend from high school lives in one of those post-war track subdivisions.  Rows and rows of cute moderate ranches, splits and tri-levels.  We were getting in the van to take her son to a football game and she says, “We need to take a little detour through the neighborhood, you won’t believe what I’m about to show you.”

The van glided along wrapping left, then right, then left again, before it stopped.  I couldn’t believe it!!!  There it was, a two story brick McMansion proclaiming its immense displacement amid the short happy little homes on each side.  It towered, it seemingly yelled at me.  All I could say was, “What the crap?”

Courtesy of Charmaine Cunningham, Schaumburg, Illinois

Courtesy of Charmaine Cunningham, Schaumburg, Illinois

2015. Calling this a seller’s market is an understatement. Demand for homes is intensly high, it’s a buyer’s apocalypse, with inventory so low the bulldozers are back in full force to build in response.

The custom-built McMansion is increasing in demand with the wealthier middle-aged and older homebuyer.

Whereas buying a home right now is a fantastic investment, I’m going to throw a thumbs down on this one.  Who will be the buyers of these homes in five to ten years?  The millennials?  Think again.  This age group is taking a complete idealistic 180° turn compared to the last several generations.  They experienced the downturn much differently than their parents.  While mom and dad were worrying about how to pay the mortgage on their impressive new California Split, they were worrying about how to pay back the tuition on a master’s degree while working a kiosk in the mall.  They’re conscious consumers, environmentally aware, and life, to them, is more about experiences than status.  If and when they start a family, they will still care about schools and commute; however 4,000 square feet of wasted natural resources won’t even make the list of housing wants for most of this next group of home-buyers.

This practice of replacing mid-century homes in established neighborhoods with McMansions has begun here in the Kansas City metro, and the residents aren’t happy about it.  Prairie Village, Kansas was recently highlighted after creating a petition to have design guidelines changed to protect the conformity of their neighborhoods, though unfortunately the petition does nothing to protect even more from being demolished.  Already they have lost 42 homes in the last five years to this fad.

2065. Another era of renewal? What resources will they have left to build with? Or, even more terrifying, will the earth even be capable of growing trees to build with?  Surely the carbon footprint of all that construction over the last 100+ years had no effect on Earth’s future, right?

Our buildings are physical examples of our history.  Our buildings also represent something taken from the earth that can’t be put back.

“It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation

with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”

-William Murtagh, first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

Audrey L Elder

Past to Present Research LLC

Liana Twente

Director of Archives and Editing – Past to Present Research LLC

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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When You Can’t Save Everything

Where is the highest current shadow inventory? The largest concentration of vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or soon to be foreclosed properties? Not likely in a suburban cul-de-sac. We’re talking about the economically heaviest hit parts of America…in and around the urban core. No one city knows how bad it can get than Detroit, Michigan, because no one city experienced the wrath of the Great Recession with as much devastation. Now, today…no one city has pulled itself out of the ashes with as much progress, creativity, and potential. The rest of the country should be learning. It’s like a gift of prevention. It is also one that comes with making some tough and often difficult and unpopular decisions.

It’s big picture time. And unfortunately we can’t save everything. Which starts getting really hard to decide what to save and what not to save when pretty much every building in your core is of historic age. Options?

  1. Restore (within recommendations from the National Trust for Historic Preservation). This method ensures the visual representation of the building will continue to tell its historically significant story for generations to come.
  2. Rehab- Make it livable by creating investor opportunities, which often comes with the loss of some of a property’s historic attributes.
  3. Reuse- Imagine an old gas station transformed into an ice cream shop. An old Queen Anne Victorian painted in pink and purple stripes on the outside and gutted on the inside to become a dance studio for kids.
  4. Demolition

Number four is what everyone should want to avoid.  When you look at the big picture…versus demolition, the pink and purple house doesn’t sound so bad.

Demolition

So how can anyone determine which gems in the giant jewelry box need to be fully protected? Here’s where we can really learn something from our friends in Detroit. I was fortunate to have the opportunity last month to go to a presentation by Emilie Evans, Detroit’s Preservation Specialist at Michigan Historic Preservation Network. Evans taught us through her own experiences, that creating an informative inventory is everything. Using trained volunteers and smart phone data collection, their network was able to determine the homes most in need of historic preservation, the rest marked for rehabilitation or reuse. Here is her article entitled “Rightsizing Conversation.”

By using proven programs such as the one Evans created, adding a dash of community support and a pinch of creativity, our country can continue on its progression towards recovery without hastily (or greedily) destroying some of the most significant examples of history and historic architecture that stands within and around our urban cores.

The Federal “Hardest Hit Fund” was created in 2010 for the purpose of using $7.6 billion in federal funds to help people in the 18 hardest hit states in the nation stay in their homes. Since that didn’t work out so well the funds are now being used to pay for demolishing homes in blighted areas.

So why are so many organizations and city leaders heralding the use of Hardest Hit Fund monies for demolition? The answer is in the potential for more money. Many areas are literally out of room to develop. In some cities these fund are being used to go beyond the removal of vacant or dangerous blight to all out eminent domain. Here’s just one story out of Charlestown, Indiana.

An emptied lot is grounds for new construction and profit. Back in the 1950s demolition, new construction, and large scale development was believed to indicate progress. This is also the same era that touted that DDT was so safe you could eat it. We’re smarter now, right?

The last and final argument in avoiding demolition – natural resources. If a building is feasibly salvageable, why destroy the natural resources already put in place then turn around and consume more natural resources to build something new? We take the time to recycle a wad of tinfoil but still don’t get it when it comes to recycling buildings.

When all options have been exhausted, sometimes a dangerous building is going to have to come down. That lot can be used for recreation, a community garden, or something else of benefit to the community. At that point – when we are taking care of the infrastructure already put in place – then, we can build more.

Past to Present Research LLC

Audrey L Elder

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Historic Preservation

 

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Rural Urbanism?

In the last several years, my travels have taken me to Denver Colorado, Washington D.C., Dallas Texas, Chicago Illinois, Detroit Michigan, and Phoenix Arizona. Not to mention the dozens and dozens of towns I have visited with my husband in a quest to have seen every town in the state of Missouri.

There is an excitement that used to exist in the thrill of experiencing something new. To visually see the culture of someplace I had never seen before. From the airport to the city destination, a ride through the suburbs typically introduces the landscape of the region. City after city, town after town, highway after by-way….they all look the same.

CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Home Depot, McDonalds, Bed Bath and Beyond. You get the point. The same buildings, the same businesses, the same colors. The only differences are Oak trees vs. Palm Trees. Mountains vs. Plains. There is nothing unique about anywhere in America until you find its old downtown core, if it is still standing. Adventure St. Charles

It might only be one block long, or four blocks squared, however it is artwork in a world where every canvas has the same painting. This, my fellow Americans, is where the future wants to be, and if your suburb or your rural historic downtown has even a thread of salvage-ability to it, it is time to start investing.

This is about generations, and the cultures that go with them. These are the places that get visited, lived in, and most of all where wallets open up. Almost every town has an historic downtown. Provide the benefits people are looking for (especially the Millenials) and like a perfect garden…watch it grow. Not only do unique retail and dining establishments thrive in these areas, they are wanted! These are the type of establishments that can naturally survive the big box chains. Even more with the growing trend of conscious consumerism, these are the places those purchases are likely to be found. If you need any more convincing, designated commercial buildings can use Federal Historic Tax Credits for restoration (which is the greenest –Extreme Green Campaign– choice available). http://www.preservationnation.org/main-street/
Here in Missouri, we still have State Historic Tax Credits, and quite honestly these tax credits are often the only way some downtown’s can be revived, increasing commerce, homeownership, and decreasing crime.

In regards to this topic, 2013 Target Market Visitors to the State of Missouri participated in the following:
48% Shopping
39% Dining at Unique Local Restaurants
18% Visiting a Historic Site
17% Visiting Quaint Attractions/Small Towns
8% Wineries
6% Breweries
Data provided by SMARI Ad/PR Effectiveness Study-CY13

If you already have a growing downtown keep it going! And by the way…keep it open. 70% of all purchases in downtown areas happen after 6pm Roger Brooks International.

Here’s to Happy Historic Sustainability!

Audrey L. Elder
Past to Present Research LLC
Research, Consulting and Education

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Land of Plenty

Organic Rice Field With Dew DropsBeginning with the Old World shipment of daring Europeans into this virgin land of plenty, the abundance of America’s unending potential has kept us in business for nearly 400 years. To contemplate a single country capable of providing every fruit, vegetable, tree, and plant…not to mention filled with the largest variety of fur-bearing creatures in the world…how unsurprising our first creditor put such effort in keeping claim to this stake.

Vastly varying climates and soil quickly gave way to a mass transfer of native land to the big business of farming. Whether it be cash crops of tobacco and hemp, or sprawling fields filled with cattle or sheep, or even the Rust Belt filled with rich deposits of iron and copper, the United States staked its claim as one of the world’s leaders in providing rich natural resources.

Even President Jefferson commissioned a massive Roman-inspired garden upon the grounds of Monticello, continuing to work the soil and daily journal each and every plant and seed beyond his presidency.

American agriculture was big business. Any family capable of owning even just a few acres could sustain themselves, and any family capable of owning many more could achieve the American Dream of becoming a successful business. Neither came without consequence, neither came without sacrifice, and neither came without those moments in history we all wish we could forget. Regardless, this land became quickly dubbed, “The Land of Plenty,” for plenty was and continues to this day to be its yield.

Here are a few Historic Timeline Highlights:

  • 1600s- Tobacco becomes first important export
  • 1793- Eli Whitney invents the Cotton Gin
  • 1862- Department of Agriculture and Homestead Act introduced/enacted under President Lincoln
  • 1873- Barbed Wire invented
  • 1890- Agriculture becomes increasingly mechanized and commercialized
  • 1893- Depression causes tens of thousands of farms to fail
  • 1931- Grasshopper Plague devastates crops across the nation
  • 1933- President Roosevelt creates the Emergency Farm Act
  • 1940- One farmer supplies enough food for nearly 11 people
  • 1960- One farmer supplies enough food for nearly 26 people

 http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/ag_trade.htm

 So as we continue to still be one of the most geographically diverse countries on the planet, let us remember as we move forward and make choices concerning this great place…

 “Respect the land and take care of it and, in turn, it will take care of you.” – American Native wisdom 

 

Audrey L. Elder

Past to Present Research LLC

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Uncategorized