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20 December 2012


A Monarch butterfly larva feeds on a plant with adult lady bugs
in the background.
I can't believe I've been tapped to speak about insect control at the Mar Vista Farmers' Market on December 30th

 I often get calls about which insecticide should be used on which insect and I always wonder about the folks who ask me these questions because they obviously don't know me that well; if they did they would also know I haven't used an insecticide in over eight years! 

 I am convinced we have to spray insecticides, because we have sprayed insecticides to begin with. Mind you, when I became the Gardenmaster at the Learning Garden, I did not embrace the restriction of no insecticides, and tried to skirt the rules, but as the garden thrived without insecticidal use, I began to have courage no insecticide use was possible. It's now my personal rule:  no pesticides.

When we spray, even with the most benign insecticides, we probably kill more 'good insects' than bad. With aphids on your plants, all other things being equal, a lady bug or another beneficial species has probably already laid eggs near-by so the larvae, when they hatch out, can feed on those 'bad bugs.' Spraying probably kills the good guys faster than the bad. 

 If you are using 'organic' insecticides, you are using the WORST insecticides because they are non-specific insecticides – meaning they kill whatever they touch. They are 'better insecticides' only in that they don't persist in the garden, but make no mistake, they are lethal to insects of all kinds as long as they are wet. (Point of fact, California law regulates when you can spray insecticides to early morning and early evening. If you ignore my pleas and spray anyway, please ONLY spray in the evening when honey bees have returned to their hives so you at least will not kill them! We already have a crises in honey bee populations, please do not make it worse.)

Something I didn't realize until recently became the coup de grâce in my anti-insecticide stance: all these poisons go into the ground – when you spray, you spray to cover the plant and the stuff you spray goes 'drip-drip-drip' into the soil. What does it do to the critters in the soil? I don’t know but I'll bet you a cup of coffee it isn't pretty. I'm striving to have a LOT of critters in my soil because that is the way to real fertility (we do not use any fertilizers in our garden either). It is my bet that if pesticides don't actually kill of the beneficial soil organisms, they at the very least impact them in a negative manner and diminish their productivity.

 Lately I've come to see that mostly insects only attack weak plants – the exception to this is that insects will also attack seedlings even if they are grown optimally. To deal with that, I use a barrier between the harmful insects and the plants until the plants are big enough to fend for themselves

There are those plants the insects 'get' and there seems to be no way to save them. I have come to feel that this is natures way of removing a given plant's genetic make up from the pool – for some reason this plant was not thriving and nature has decided, in her inscrutable manner, to remove this plant before it can replicate. So be it! I can yank it and afford more room for a plant that doesn't need to be sprayed.

Remember, pristine produce, like what you see on the shelf of the supermarket, is an artificial creature placed before you in the interest of divorcing you from reality. Real food often has evidence that it is good to eat; it's approved by other species. This stuff we have come to think of as 'normal' comes to our table with a tremendous price tag on the environment and the other critters on this planet.

So when you use pesticides – especially organic pesticides – you are left with dead soil critters that make your soil more fertile and you've killed off the beneficial insects.  At the Learning Garden, our plants may have hole or two, or show other evidence of being nibbled. It's good. It shows we are organic and it proves we are committed to a world without gratuitous violence to other species. In ten years, I have lost two crops to insects. One was my own fault for trying to get muskmelons to grow in an area with too much shade. They succumbed in short order. The next time I lost a crop, it was a lot harder to take: flat after flat of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, something like 8 or 9 flats in all, were mowed down just after coming out of the ground by the cabbage looper. This is the white moth you see aimlessly flying thither and yon on a lazy, uninspired flight. Often considered a white 'butterfly,' this creature lays eggs near a cabbage family seedling and the hatchling 'worm' proceeds to defoliate the little seedlings  to the point they cannot survive (mind you once the plants are larger, these larvae can munch all they want and it will not kill the plant so I have no concern by then).

If there is only a small infestation, comb the plans for this larval, little green worm which you have my permission to squash in your fingers or fling to the ground to be stepped on. In this, you're are only killing the target insect. Mind you, I'm not in favor of letting all bugs live! It's just we kill far too many of the wrong species.

While at the same time, a few feet away, an adult Monarch rests on
a California Matiliha Poppy
To bear me out, the one acre garden at Venice High School, The Learning Garden, doesn't lose a lot of plants to pests – yet we do not spray ANY pesticides, organic or otherwise. On the other hand, bees, wasps, butterflies and a hosts of other critters live in our garden and make their home here. This is as it should be, no? Spraying for aphids would impact our butterfly populations and frankly, I am so buoyed by the multitude of Monarchs gracefully fluttering through our garden that I would give up considerably more than a few poisons to keep them here.

So don't ask me what I would spray on your insects. I wouldn't spray a thing.  


24 November 2012

A Chance to Derail GMO Corn In Mexico!

(Reuters) - A top Mexican government official said Thursday that the long-awaited but highly controversial approval of genetically modified (GM) corn fields on a commercial scale will drag into next year.
Only one ear of corn showing considerable diversity!

El Presidente Felipe Calderon was scheduled to approve a commercial scale planting of Genetically Engineered corn in Mexico, but now it appears he will leave office without giving the project his blessing. Incoming President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, will be inaugurated on December 1st and his aides have indicated the approval is not expected for up to five months after that date.

This presents us, the anti-GMO forces, with a small slice of time to derail this approval. Mind you, I don't know if anything of the kind is in the realm of possibility, but I do know this has got to be our goal. This task, whether or not it is possible, has got to be the focus of everyone who harbors doubts about the veracity of human meddling in the DNA of our food. Mexico is home to the birth of corn, which means it is also home to a diversity of corn that is not possible to fathom; we do not know what there is to loose.

The government of Mexico is undoubtedly being offered economic bonuses to make this happen. But they should be wary: It is the Devil's bargain. For a few pesos, the amount of money is not relevant, Nieto can sell the pride of his county into a new, and more deadly, colonialism that will bankrupt the economy and throw the pride and dignity of Mexico onto a dung heap from which it may take another hundreds of years from which to recover.

Look at the business plan of genetically modified food production. You buy the seeds (or, as a drug dealer might suggest, “the first one is free...”) and plant them. You have to also buy the inputs necessary to make that crop produce. Look who sells the inputs! Whether the farmer gets a crop or not, he (or she) must invest in new seed next year and all the attending inputs. Mexico is betting these seeds, with all the fertilizers and pesticides, will produce enough food to make the bargain profitable. It doesn't.

A fifteen year study done by the US Department of Agriculture, itself practically a branch office for Monsanto, showed that genetically engineered corn did NOT out-produce the GM corn to any real degree. So, all of those inputs and their expense, were for naught. And this is the scenario President-elect Nieto considers throwing his county's farmers into. We also know the number of Indian farmers that have committed suicide after making this Devil's deal with GM cotton. The first bad harvest, the wife takes off her jewelry to sell for fertilizers and pesticides. The second year, with no jewelry left, the families go into debt and it's a debt many cannot recover from. Is this not just a chemical process of subjugation that imitates the slavery of colonialism?

But the stakes are so much higher than that. If countries were assigned wealth according to their genetic resources, Mexico would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Corn, one of the most important food crops of our world, has it's origin in Mexico. Nikolai Vavilov identified Mexico as one of the most important centers of origin of food because of the tremendous diversity of corn. This diversity is threatened by the introduction of genetically engineered corn.

When Monsanto was asking for FDA approval for their unproven product, the genetically altered corn, they stated in their application that corn pollen was viable for five miles. This figure is important because it lets one know how far away from the genetically engineered product a farmer must be if that farmer wishes to have none of the altered genes in his corn.

The figure, like so much of what Monsanto claims, was a lie. Research since then has demonstrated that corn pollen can be viable up to twenty miles from the source, or, four times as far as Monsanto had reported. Mind you, this figure represents ideal conditions, but until we can predict conditions in the future with pinpoint accuracy, this is the figure we have to have and use.

With the diversity of corn throughout Mexico, we cannot allow genetically modified pollen to spread through those fields! The DNA of every cell of the Monsanto (and allied corporations) corn plant, is modified, or engineered and therefore the pollen's DNA is also altered and whatever qualities has been engineered into the altered corn, will become manifest in the corn of Mexico. Imagine the so-called terminator gene being let loose in Mexico! Thousands of years of corn breeding could be terminated if that pollen was let loose.

It would be far worse than all the Spanish conquistadoras combined.

It would be a scar on Mexico's soul that nothing could ever heal.

It would be the Rape Of Mexico.

We cannot sit idly by and allow this to happen.


20 November 2012

Honest Food

Ms. Honeybee pollinating a broccoli plant.
We need MORE nature, not less, in
our gardens and our farms!

Over the past decade, I've taken to calling organic and non-GMO food, 'clean food.' I've used 'clean' as my adjective of choice for seeds, plants, varieties and food, using it to mean this food that is not the product of industrial agriculture and the multi-national corporations that support chemicals and laboratory experiments on the DNA of plants destined to become food.

Having lost a fight to industrial agriculture with Proposition 37 going down to a narrow defeat, and having seen BIG AG at work, I am now calling organic and non-GMO food, 'honest' in addition to clean.

I've not been a part of a proposition campaign before, but I do keep up on politics. I can say without reservation, I was totally blown away by the amount of lying and the dirty tricks played by the 'No' campaign! It was disgusting and the lack of enforcement against them was appalling. The final straw for me was the other day hearing a 'No' operative explain on NPR that 'people just used their good sense to defeat a poorly written law...' I could have driven off the road in disgust, because, of course, that is the truth stood firmly on its head.

There was not one whit of truth in anything they said in their $43 million campaign – and the remarkable thing, in the end, was that they lied so much and it was still so close! I do not have to reiterate each one of their lies, that has been done amply elsewhere, but there was nothing in their entire arsenal that was honest: from the Stanford professor (he wasn't) to the study that said it would increase our food bill (they paid for the study to be done to show that and the history of other countries requiring labeling disproved that by historical fact vs the so-called study's 'findings'); nothing they said was true. Which brings us to wonder why they didn't lie to us about how wonderful GMO crops are? You will note, they did not say a single word about why we even needed GMOs.... like that was a foregone conclusion.

Now, after absorbing the sting of defeat (I do not like to loose!), I have been reflecting on the history of GMOs in the US food supply and, guess what? I can't find an honest representation in anything Big Ag says and wants us to believe as far as GMO's are concerned. Nothing they are doing can be backed up by science or common sense.

  • Feed the world.... Not by lowering the number of species we depend on for food! That is the way of starvation!
  • Help farmers.... Not by lowering the number of varieties available to plant. This is another starvation trap waiting to be sprung on us... This is run up to the Irish Potato Famine game being played out in America today.
  • Feed the world, Part II... Not by ridding the world of its seed heritage and attempting to replace it with patented seeds owned by multi-national corporations that don't have allegiance to even one country; only to profit.
  • Help farmers Part II.... Not by making farmers totally dependent on seeds from a company that has no skin in the game, see above.
  • Save the ecosphere... Not by polluting the ecosphere with all kinds of poisons! What does all this herbicide do to the critters in the soil (which are the real source of fertility, not chemicals)? No one knows because no one's bothered to study it.
  • Save the ecosphere Part II... Not by killing off so many insects that pollination is imperiled by a lack of insects.
  • Feed the world Part III... The world already produces enough food for 12 billion humans, with only 7 billion on the planet. Most of the starvation in the world comes from a lack of political will to change it.
  • Our products are harmless.... Are they? We don't know that. Only now are tests being performed that will determine the veracity of this statement. And when the tests are performed, they will face scrutiny from professional scientists that are getting Big Ag grant money. Like the NPR program I heard recently about the French researcher whose work showed 80% death rate of rats fed GMOs after two years. They cut over to an American researcher who stated the study was 'flawed science' because the Frenchman used a rat that was susceptible to tumors and cancer. If the story had ended there, all listening would have come away thinking 'silly Frenchman...' but NPR went back to the French scientist and asked him, “Why those rats?” He said, “I was replicating the Monsanto study used to get FDA approval. I used the same rats they used, but I ran my study two years while Monsanto's study ran 60 days.” (Emphasis mine)  Remember, Monsanto called Agent Orange safe too.
  • They increase yields.... Ah. Except, even the US Department of Agriculture, which is practically just a different address for Monsanto, did a 15 year study that stated, “there is no appreciable increase in yield” over the length of the study. In other words, all this hype about GMO plants is all for naught.
  • No till agriculture is good for the environment.... Not if you count a loss of top soil as bad for the environment! Current agriculture practices of spraying the sweet bejesus out of the soil has not produced a viable method of controlling weeds and retaining top soil.
  • We will control the weeds without labor costs.... Not for very long you won't. And this is one of the things that really toasts my bagel: No one in agriculture, big or little, chemical or organic should have believed this one at all. If you spray One Thing for a bug, in a few years, the bug becomes resistant to your One Thing, I don't care what it is. It was a matter of time before the weeds would be impervious to Round Up. I am shocked that Round Up Version 8 wasn't waiting in the wings. Apparently, it wasn't, which makes me think that Monsanto really didn't have a clue about what they were doing. Nature evolves. Maybe they were believing the anti-Darwin factions in the mid-west. But even if you believe in Creationism for the past, you have to admit that evolution is alive and well in the garden and the farm. Nature abhors monoculture and repetitiveness. Do the same thing long enough and nature finds a way to disrupt it. American agriculture is on the verge of a horrendous collapse because of it's disregard for the laws of Nature. You can lie to us, but you can't lie to Nature.

Companies pushing GMO agriculture have nothing to show for an almost 20 year run at this. They have no outside documentation to prove ANY of their claims. None. To the contrary, multiple sources are beginning to take issue with almost everything said about GMOs.

Here's the problem: if GMOs are allowed to proliferate, their pollen spreads to non-GMO plants, inserting itself into the environment in ways that are not understood (because no one bothered to research them) and may wreck considerable havoc with our world in the future. They may not, but from the track record of Monsanto and Big Ag, I am not reassured.

Honest food, our real food, can be corrupted. We, as consumers, as eaters, as bearers of children and as custodians of the earth and the future (comes with the territory, you don't get to opt in or opt out), have got to stand up for good, clean and honest food. Our next fight with Big Ag looms and we know now that they will lie to anyone and everyone from the start to the end.

Our next round is to get Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County declared GMO free zones: no GMO organisms can be grown in the county or the city. This will help us ensure that the plants grown here are not contaminated with the genetically altered genes and will allow us to save seeds from the past that are the key to survival in the future. They are not GMO, they are not controlled by some malevolent corporation, nor can they be.  And it will send a message to those companies that they have just begun to dig into their profits to defend against an informed populace that is mad as hell and getting madder.

More on that ahead.

I wish you and yours a joyous and resplendent Thanksgiving and hope you will enjoy the whole day with loved ones and not be seduced into the madness of Black Friday or even Gray Thursday. The tradition of Thanksgiving is to look at what we have with gratitude and humility that we should be so blessed. I wish you the peace of that gratitude and humility.


02 October 2012

Ah, October: What To Do In YOUR Garden!

NEXT CLASS: OCTOBER 6, 10:00 AM at the Learning Garden! 

David King, Gardenmaster of The Learning Garden, teaches Growing Food in Southern California the first Saturday of every month, except on those days that fall on a holiday.  Having over 40 years of growing food organically under his belt, metaphorically speaking you understand, his lectures are full of information you would have to read book after book to learn and tidbits and hints that aren't in ANY book!  

The classes used to be called "What To Do And When To Do It,"  but are now titled the same as the soon-to-be-released book:  "Growing Food In Southern California."  Every month the basics are covered and the month ahead is considered for the actions you need to take to keep your gardens producing the food your mouth is watering for.  If you have any questions about the class, you can post a reply here and you'll get a prompt response.

Growing Food in Southern California 
  with David King

Ollas from El Traspatio
Sample curriculum from July, 2012:

The newest technology is drip irrigation; the oldest is called an 'olla' – pronounces OYE-ya.  
Variations of ollas are found in many ancient cultures and there is a move to put them back into gardens today.
It is most important to have water at the roots of plants – spraying water into the air to fall on the soil, is not very efficient. A lot of that water can be blown away from your plants (on to the neighbors!) and a lot evaporates off into the air. But there are other ways to to water that are better. All these other ways involve putting the water close to the root zone. The two ways to do this include some of the newest technology and some of the oldest technology. 

1st Saturday of Every Month, 10AM - 12PM
The Learning Garden at Venice High
Venice Blvd and Walgrove Ave, Venice, CA 90291

Grow Food classes are hands-on mini-workshops where you experience first-hand what the plants and soil are doing, and what you can do to maximize their production in the coming month.  

Emphasis on sustainable, organic practices, including: water conservation, beneficial pest management, soil maintenance, seed saving, and more.

Individual classes are $20, or buy a package of 6 for $100; save $20!
Classes are held at The Learning Garden, a bustling, year-round educational center located on the campus of historic Venice High School, less than 2 miles from the beach. 

David King, Gardenmaster at The Learning Garden, has been growing food and teaching others how to do so in the Southern California climate for more than 20 years. He is a vocal advocate for food sustainable, organic practices in food production.

One Class or a Series

03 September 2012

Onus Of Proof

Back in 1977, I set out to plant my first garden as an adult. It had been a few years since I worked a garden alongside my grandfather.  I had left the small towns of Kansas and moved through Los Angeles the first time and had settled in a subdivision of Topeka.

Lots around these houses would stun most Angelinos with their size.  I had a large front yard and a back yard that, by my life today, seemed to stretch on out towards Oklahoma.  I went to work tearing grass out of the 'south forty' of the back yard with my city-born and bred wife laughing at my hard work at putting a garden in.

Grandpa was not organic.  He used chemical fertilizer and he sprayed insecticide when he deemed it necessary, but he didn't go nuts with the stuff and most of what we had was a mix of industrial agriculture with several decades of non-industrial agriculture mixed in.  When I set myself in motion to tear out the lawn in the back part of my backyard, I had grandpa's old walk behind garden tractor and several years' worth of the old Rodale magazine, Organic Gardening and Farming, before it split into the Organic Gardening and The New Farm, the latter lasted for something like a year before it succumbed to poor sales.

This was the old magazine that old man Rodale, J. I. put together in the 1950's.  It and it's sister magazine, Prevention, were an odd size because JI, visionary that he was, had found that a printer had this size of paper left over from his own work and JI could get if for a song.  We call that 'being sustainable.' JI was just being practical.

I poured through those magazines.  I learned the mantra of 'feed the soil and not the plant' and I bought the whole program.  Boy, my neighbors laughed at me too!  I was the only one (for miles, it seemed) who eschewed the cheap petroleum based chemical fertilizers in favor of manure and all kinds of stuff hauled in from God only remembers where I found what I found. I did it because it made ultimate sense to me that what you fed the soil, fed the plant and what the plant fed you was the result of what happened to the plant in your garden.  It never made sense to me that a chemical X equaled an organic X, and it still doesn't today.

For several years, I gardened in Kansas until the weather and the anonymity of Los Angeles begged me back.  I had nothing but fabulous harvests from those gardens.  I never had an insect infestation of note and I took the laughing and poked fun with more or less good grace when the harvest came in because I kicked, ahem, ass.  Scoffers can be damned when you have proof bushels of  tomatoes that tasted better than the next guy's by a long shot.

It was not only for being an organic gardener, who was only too happy to proselytizer his belief, that my time in Kansas was never happy.  Still, the fact in those days was  being an 'organic gardener' equated one with being on the fringe, if not an outright nut case.  And some of the poking in 'fun' was not in fun. Gardeners can be horribly competitive and a good portion of us are not real socialites.  I'm probably guilty of both myself.

Those publications by JI Rodale and his son Robert after JI's death, were right!  Time and time again, 'organic' vegetables are better for you (and the environment) in study after study.  There is practically no public health official who will promote non-organic produce if he or she is paid to do it.  Organic is the standard to which all food strives to pretend with obfuscating labels of 'healthy' and other contrivances that are there only to confuse.  The USDA's 'organic' label is still a contentious issue with non-organic producers trying to water the requirements down - like a recent balloon that was floated to include 'genetically modified' plants as part of 'organic' labeling.  It was shot down, but that someone even had the gall to propose it....

Which brings us to 'Genetic Modified' plants and food.  Once again, intuitively I knew this to be a bad deal.  I stumbled across something I wrote in the late 1990's against GMOs which surprised me because I only think of myself as coming late to this thinking.  90% of Americans, in recent polls, think that GMOs should be labeled when they show up in our food. And so on Proposition 37, this November, you must vote yes.  

The onus of proof is on the Vote No folks.  The vote yes only have to have reason for suspicion and you must vote yes.  Vote no folks have to prove that their technology is flat out NOT harmful and they can't.  They can't because there has been NO STUDY of the effects of their technology 20 years out.  Period.  Just because Vice President Dan "Potatoe Head" Quayle signed a memorandum back in the 1990's that says 'genetically modified organisms are essential equivalents' of the non-genetically modified organisms does not make it so.  Vice-President Quayle could sign a memorandum stating that the sun rises in the West, but that would not change the facts.  

On one hand, Monsanto and kind say, "Oh they are the same...." but on the other hand, they insist these products are original enough to warrant a patent.  Which is it?  If they are not different, ditch the patent.  If they are that different, they MUST be labeled. 

Do not allow their campaign of obfuscation and lies to obscure the fact that THEY have the burden of proof.  The FDA waived any tests citing the Quayle memorandum.  That does NOT make the same.  They are patent worthy, they need to be studied - and at MINIMUM a 20 year study on animals, NOT the buying public.  Do you want to be a lab rat?  Do you think it's OK that your children are?  Remember, Monsanto is the same company that certified to a foolish public that 
                                      DDT was completely safe
                                      Agent Orange was safe for the soldiers that applied it
and to just PROVE you can't trust them, in their application for GMO corn they stated that corn pollen is only viable for five miles - when in fact, subsequent research has shown it's more like twenty miles!  

So if they have the burden of proof, it would be lovely to see any facts or figures they call truth actually verified by a truly independent body. I, for one, do not trust them - this is but a short list of the lies Monsanto has perpetuated upon the public.  This is not a company that can be trusted and they are the ones selling this stuff. Do not take your eye off the prize:  labeling is the only way you will have the chance to know what you are eating.


23 August 2012

Prop 37: Hell To Pay for 'Healthy'

A recent visit to a nearby health food store opened my eyes to why some so-called 'healthy' food companies are spending money to defeat Prop 37: the truth would kill their business!

I needed mayonnaise for a sandwich and the health store was on my way, so I dashed in and was shown to the mayo aisle. 

 Needing about one tablespoon of mayonnaise for this sandwich, I was naturally somewhat reluctant to pay over $6.00 for a small jar of 'healthy' mayonnaise. But it set me wondering: what the hell was in healthy mayo to make it 'healthy' vs. ordinary mayo?

Turning the mayo jar over to the list of ingredients, it would be an under-statement to say I was a little shocked to find that the 'healthy' mayonnaise was made, depending on the brand, with either soy or canola oil – two commodities that are much more likely than not, genetically modified! And the scales fell from my eyes.

Currently somewhere south of 15% of all soybeans planted in the US are non-GMO (although this figure is currently trending up as of this writing; farmers are willingly switching acreage back from GMO soy to non-GMO - good news, though I cannot, as yet, tell why).  That 'less than 15% figure' is far too small to supply all the products using soy that sport 'healthy' and other monikers of health labels on their products.  Surely an organic behemoth like Whole Foods could absorb all that non-GMO soy crop and still need more for their vast in-house brands.  Where does the rest of this 'non-GMO' soy come from?  

Canola presents a slightly less smiley face.  According to an Oregon State Extension bulletin clear back in 2008, "Non-GMO winter and spring canola varieties are available, but they are rapidly becoming difficult to find."  If they were difficult to find in 2008, I wonder what it's like in 2012?  Canola was one of the first successful genetically modified introductions and currently about 90% of the United States' production of canola is GMO.  I couldn't find a figure for the percentage of Canadian production, but it is surely similar to the US figure.  Canola is a made-up name for 'rapeseed.'  "Rapeseed oil" was thought to be a tough sell to women shoppers, and since most of it was grown in Canada, someone came up with Canola as the name to sell.  Rapeseed is a brassica and rapeseed pollen can cross with cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and mustard.

Companies that label themselves as 'healthy' have no standard to prove the label. Imagine the shock of health food store shoppers finding products labeled “healthy” and sporting a GMO sticker to boot! Obviously, an informed shopping public would be a non-buying shopping public and if these companies have to charge over $6.00 for a small jar of 'healthy' mayo with GMOs, what's it going to cost if it is 'healthy' AND non-GMO? You can see these little producers squeezed out of the market completely – already they are marketing to a very small portion of the food buying public, any more shaving of their demographic and they are sunk.

Still. Profit before the public's health? The bottom line on this whole discussion, and it is an unassailable position, is that the public deserves to know what is their food.

I didn't buy the mayo. I got a packet of Best Foods (soy oil) mayonnaise. It didn't cost me $6.00 and it didn't claim to be healthy. Yes, it was most likely GMO, but they didn't take my money and try to pull the wool over my eyes. After Prop 37 is law, there's going to be hell to pay for a large portion of the food producing industry.

We all might have to go to mustard on sandwiches. As long as it hasn't crossed with GM rapeseed.


22 August 2012

Starting To Take Back Our Food Supply: California's Proposition 37

The battle to just label genetically modified material in our food is heating up. Coca Cola, Pepsico along with a host of industrial ag folks are heaping money to fight California's Proposition 37 which would require proper labeling of genetically altered products in our food stuffs. There are a lot of reasons why genetically modified crops have no business in our food, and it would be easy to write an article about why the whole idea needs to be abandoned as one of the least-wise projects ever taken to enrich people at the expense of the earth, current populations and future populations.

The point of Prop 37 is not to ban these products but simply to label them. We label the components in our mattresses, but manufacturers are off the hook for telling mothers what is in the food they give their children?

To fight the initiative, seed giant Monsanto Co, soda and snack seller PepsiCo Inc and other opponents of the labeling measure have put up $25 million already and could raise up to $50 million. Reuters article 8/6/2012

This is very wrong. Monsanto and PepsiCo have decided their profits are more important than the health of children – their products are already labeled in most of the world, the sad news is that Monsanto has infested the United States government so thoroughly it is impotent to fight the multi-national corporations with no interest in the health of Americans (or any one else for that matter). Not only is our food unlabeled, these corporations have managed to avoid any possible regulation from any American government – in the countries not so easily bought and sold, Monsanto has had a much harder time gaining any kind of foothold in the food marketplace.

Monsanto has a record of lies and half-truths that parallel their long history of reckless behavior towards our planet and all the residents thereof. There should be no mistake in considering this a company that has a single thread of altruism in it's veins.

Reuters again:
While Mother Nature does her share of genetic engineering, human interventions have specific goals, such as increasing crop yields or helping plants survive droughts or attacks from pests.

This is sheer Monsanto hype. The company, and it's competitors have absolutely no interest in things 'such as increasing crop yields or helping plants survive droughts.' Their business model is heavily invested in telling us things like that, but even the USDA's own research (and the USDA is pretty much a shill for all of biotech) concluded after a 15 year study that genetically modified crops do not hold any significant edge in crop yield. And reports from the field over this last summer show that there was no benefit in having so-called 'drought resistant' GM crops because they were engineered to survive a mild drought but their engineering was drastically short of the resistance needed to withstand this year's drought (older, open pollinated corn did survive to produce a crop for some farmers and we could have had a substantially larger harvest if more open-pollinated seeds had been plated). The truth is that there is only one goal for any multi-national corporation and that is to make money.

Some companies do that by looking for long-term solutions that will benefit the world, but that is not the case for Monsanto. ALL of their genetic engineering has been to create a larger market for their herbicide, Roundup, or creating crops with pesticides in every cell.  At that they have been very successful. None of this technology though has been tested in the real world until just recently. And that means there is certainly no long term study on these crops. Anecdotal evidence though shows some frightening complications with farm animals fed GM corn, including an inability to bear offspring. As far as I am concerned, the simple lack of a long-term study of GM foods' effect on human beings is enough for a just government, not bought and sold on the black market, to forbid these products from being sold pending proof that they are not harmful to humans and the planet. These studies are now underway: unfortunately WE, you and I and our children, are the lab rats. We will prove, in our living and dying, whether or not this technology can make food that is safe to eat day in and day out. Note, you are already eating this stuff! 

Even if you are a vegetarian eating only from a health food store, chance are you are only limiting, not eliminating, these foods from your diet. Genetically engineered food is pervasive through out our country because the first Bush administration (in a memorandum authored by Vice President Dan 'Potatoe' Quayle) certified that GM crops were the same as non-GM of the same variety. Of course, our government then went ahead allowing these 'same' crops to be patented as something totally new and different. What are we to believe?

We should believe that all this is simply a plan to make profit and externalize the costs to others. Medical costs, environmental clean up costs are just a few that come to mind – these corporations are already externalizing their research costs!

So this is why Monsanto has invested over $4 million bucks to oppose a campaign that only seeks to label the presence of their same as/extraodinarily different technology. They speak out of both sides of their mouths and ignore the honest truth incessantly – enough for me to get several more blog posts about it.

Let's be clear: vote yes for Prop 37. Prop 37 only requires a more honest accounting of what is in our food. That's all.  These corporations are aware that as goes California so goes the rest of the nation, sooner or later, that scares the hell out of them.  It should. 

Opposing Prop 37 is standing up for dishonesty and deceit. We have enough of that. We need multinational corporations to be more accountable to us. Our government has refused to do it. It is incumbent upon us to do it. We all need this law, but Mothers, you must protect your children if not yourself.

Honesty in the labeling of our food should not be optional.

26 April 2012

International Seed Day

As I sat down to write this, I learned that the Farm Bill has been approved by the Senate Committee and will be brought to a vote in the Senate Floor. I have yet to see what was a part of the finalized bill, but I am hoping that the Gillibrand Amendment was a part of the bill. That amendment, proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, would have required that five percent of annual funding for the AFRI program (Agriculture Food & Research Initiative) be used for making sure that farmers have access to locally adapted seeds and breeds, by focusing on public cultivar and bred development, and removing the hurdles that have hindered USDA's progress toward this goal.
This initiative was in the 2008 Farm Bill, but the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) has succeeded in putting up roadblocks to avoid dealing with anything like open pollinated, farmer bred seeds, even though all of America's successful agriculture is based on just such seeds.
Remember that the seeds most gardeners cherish are not seeds bred by trained scientists and research facilities. Most of the seeds gardeners love and trust were bred by folks without degrees and often times even without education. They grew food in their own gardens for their families and prided their crops on much the same criteria we still do today: does it taste good? Is it suited to my climate? Does it succumb to disease or insects? And does it produce under adverse conditions?
Sadly, our modern seed production has little effort put to taste and nothing about adverse conditions. Food is bred to be shipped, ripen on the way to the market, last until the grocer has sold all of it and ease of picking for a picking machine. Not exactly qualities we admire in our gardens. But that's what we got when we began to allow professionals to do the breeding. Thank God we stepped out of our slumber in time, while there are still lots of varieties still left (although if you've seen the National Geographic July 2011 chart on our lost diversity, you have been staggered by what has been lost).
All was not lost. After all, Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, AZ has been saving the genetic diversity of the Southwestern Native tribes for a number of years and Bill McDorman and his wife, Belle Starr, have been offering classes in seed stewardship (and seed library stewardship); Seed Savers Exchange is probably the largest and most vibrant of our American seed saving organizations and now seed libraries are suddenly the rage across an awakening nation. And the work of the Organic Seed Alliance helps position our current culture to seed a more local and diverse agriculture. More people are aware of the value and importance of seeds – especially seeds that are not controlled and cannot be controlled by corporations.
It would be fitting for the Farm Bill to leave committee today with Gillibrand Amendment in place because, today, I learned, is International Seed Day. April 26th was chosen as the day because it was April 26th, 2004 that Paul Bremer, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in IRAQ, issued and signed Order 81, which prohibits Iraqi farmers from reusing seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. Thank the powers that be, Order 81 could not be successfully implemented due to the instability inside IRAQ. It may go down in history as one of the quirks of fate that denied Monsanto and other industrial ag firms their biggest victory of the new century.
Next year, I would love to see International Seed Day take on a lot more meaning and become a holiday that is recognized by gardeners and farmers everywhere. Time to celebrate the Percy Schmeiser's, the pioneer seed savers and people like Bill and Belle. Time to chose to eat a meal and consciously chew each bite thinking about the history of the seeds that nourish us still to this day – the same way our ancestors before us survived without the plenty we have today and it was those seeds that persisted through the drought or the flood or the war or the dust. They were sustained by these seeds; gifts from a grandmother to a son, from an old hand to a young one – over centuries, each generation in turn perfecting them a little more, whether consciously or not. WE were given this largess. WE must pass it on no matter what our government or society says.
In a large sense, we are like prophets of old that know where the richness of society really lies and know what must be done to save it – to pass it on to our children. So today, April 26, chew each bite one extra time with memory of the history you eat and resolve that we will not be the generation that fails our children.

29 March 2012

Safe Pesticides – Safe for Whom?

There is a column making its way through my friends on Facebook declaring vinegar to be a 'safe pesticide.' I dislike the term 'safe pesticide' as it is often nothing more than an oxymoron.

The suffix of '-cide' is taken from Latin meaning 'to cut down, kill.' The more genericterms pesticide or biocide include more specific killers, like herbicide (weed killers), insecticides (specifically insect killers), fungicides and a bunch of others.

A compound doesn't get to be called a '-cide' unless it kills something, so the idea of a 'safe' pesticide is relative – 'safe' for whom? Obviously, it's not 'safe' for the thing it kills. And, in our chemical soup world, many folks seem to have become accepting that it's quite alright to eat food that is deadly for some species to eat.  But the concept of a 'safe' pesticides tugs at a conscious mind as something beyond reason.

At a recent panel discussion for gardeners in Santa Monica, I was horrified to hear an organic farmer promoting the use of nicotine as a general insecticide. His first offering was to a woman who wanted to rid her milkweed of aphids. She was growing the milkweed to promote monarch butterfly populations. As one who is called 'post-modern organic,' I was flabbergasted that she was even thinking of an insecticide at all! After all, if she's hoping to give the plant up to an insect, why would she be disturbed if a few aphids got in on the act? Her indignation towards me was very hostile as she vehemently declaring  he aphids were killing her plants. (In her defense, I was tired and hungry and when I'm tired and hungry, my diplomacy can be, um, 'challenged.')

Even rested and well-fed, call me naïve, but I think she's crazy. A plant that gets attacked by aphids is a weak plant to begin with - we can think of aphids as being Mother Nature's way of taking a plant out of the gene pool because it's not a good contender for passing on genetic material. So, if aphids kill her plants, I would postulate the plant was too weak to begin with. Still, why she has aphids does not beg the question as to why she wants to use a pesticide to kill them, but of course, I'm the one who thinks spraying a plant with poison so it will live long enough for human consumption is nuts.  And what kind of blinders does a person wear who can't figure why anything that kills aphids wouldn't also kill the Monarchs?  It continues to flabbergast me. 

All that aside, the final straw is that nicotine will kill EVERYTHING it touches as long as it's wet. It will kill the aphids. It will kill the Monarchs in all stages of their growth. It will kill honey bees and it will kill things in the soil if it is applied properly (pesticides are to be applied to the 'drip point' – this is standard practice and it means you spray until the solution begins to drip off the plant) and all those drippings fall into the soil and continue to kill until they are sufficiently diluted. This part of pesticide application is never talked about and we act as though it doesn't happen. But it does happen whether or not we study it.

So now to this 'safe' pesticide of vinegar. Safe? First of all, do not buy the hype. If it kills, it has a drawback, somewhere, somehow. And before I can say it's safe, I want to know what that drawback is because I don't want to have a surprise later on. Vinegar's main method of killing is by changing the pH to deadly levels for organisms - plants and or fauna depending on how it's used.  

Vinegar, just like nicotine, will kill or damage whatever it touches as long as it is still moist, still very acidic. 

I was very excited about vinegar about four years ago, using it as an herbicide on a noxious weed, False Garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve. False Garlic is a particular evil weed. The little white flowers dispense copious amounts of bubils, baby bulbs. They sprout on the surface of the soil. As the little leaves begin to reach skyward, the root springs out and begins to pull the plant under the soil. The more leaves on the surface, the deeper that bulb has been pulled under ground and, worse yet, the more baby bulbs have formed around it. When a gardener removes this plant at this stage, it might well be essential to remove close to a square foot of soil as well in order to insure none of the baby bulbs are left behind to torment you.

Nothoscordum bivalve, False Garlic
As an aside, False Garlic is obviously  a member of the Lily family by the way it looks, like onions and true garlic.  Apart from no edible bulb, the giveaway on a mature plant is that it smells like a spoiled garlic - it doesn't smell yummy.  It stinks.  

Seizing upon the lie of a 'safe' herbicide,  I elected to use vinegar on this difficult plant. I was pouring one to two cups of vinegar per plant because this species has a waxy covering which prevents the uptake of vinegar by most cells. It was necessary to get enough vinegar to percolate deep enough into the soil with enough strength to find the roots where there would be a better chance of being absorbed by the plant. I was having some success. But one day, as soon as I poured the vinegar onto a plant, two earthworms came up out of the ground writhing to their deaths in front of me. That's when I realized that the term 'safe' pesticide meant safe for me, but not for other creatures. It's also when I formulated my idea that pesticides always have unintended consequences.

It is my intention that humans begin to look at all the different '-cides' with more scrutiny. While we still do battle with perennial weeds that frustrate most of my attempts to get them gone,we have been able to achieve zero insecticide usage at The Learning Garden by having something in bloom throughout the growing season – and we often leave some of each crop to flower to help with that. Those flowers are often allowed to go to seed because we save seeds here as well. But in addition, no vegetable garden should be grown without some flowers blooming nearby. We also have several spots where we grow California Native plants to encourage more insects. 

The truth of the matter, the way to really defeat insects, is to invite more insects into the garden rather than try to kill off the ones you don’t like.

Our program to create an environment that encourages beneficial insects to make our garden their home, includes:
      1. No insecticides what so ever.
      2. Something in bloom all through the growing season.
      3. Provide water for insects.
      4. Willingness to allow plants to suffer some cosmetic damage.
      5. Willingness to let some plants die if they get overwhelmed by insects.
I urge you to consider these options and allow other creatures to co-exist peacefully in your garden - if beneficial insects make your garden their home, you will have a balance in your garden that makes it healthier for you as you avoid all forms of  '-cides' that may have harmful effects we failed to realize.

And I continue to work on getting rid of False Garlic in a more efficient manner that doesn't kill off any of  my earthworms.


The Calendar of Events At The Learning Garden