The Missing Piece of the Conservation Puzzle

October 4, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Local

In a recent interview, U.S. Ecologist Gary Nabhan offered that “In other environmental issues we tell people to stop something, reduce their impact, reduce their damage”. Nabhan is a ethnobotanist/gardener whose promotion of biodiversity has caught the attention of many over the years.  He is known for his work in biodiversity as an ethnobotanist.  Since Coming Home to Eat was published in 2001, the local food movement has ignited, causing a worldwide green epidemic.

There has been an increase in the number of organizations and businesses, in recent years, that have contributed to the promotion of sustainability through conservation. The Earth Day Network has been playing a large part in bringing conservationist and green enthusiasts together, sharing ideas and discussing new ways to support the planet. Other large organizations and non-profits like Doug Band and the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) have been working on successful emission reduction projects in the San Francisco Bay area. While climate control has continued to worsen, collaborative and individual acts are vital for any successful green campaign. As human beings, we’re constantly told to reduce our carbon footprint, consume less unhealthy foods, and spend less time in the shower! But let’s take a minute to step back and look at this from a different perspective; one that Gary Nabhan strongly suggests.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization confirms that only about a quarter of crop diversity is left and that a dozen species now gives 90% of the animal protein eaten globally. In accordance, just 4 crop species supply half of plant based calories in the human diet.

Nabhan states that eating foods that are home-grown will have a larger impact on sustainability for our planet as a whole. What can also be known as, “eat what you conserve,” is a well-established theory in that by eating the fruits and vegetables, we are attempting to conserve/save as well as promote the granular dissemination of various plant species.

Marco Contiero, agriculturist, suggests that “biodiversity is an essential characteristic of any sustainable agricultural system, especially in the context of climate change.”[1]  According to Conterio’s theory, this would suggest that as individuals we tend our own crops/plants, and should make sure to purchase localized farm products at supermarkets and groceries. In the end, this condenses export/import reliance, thus reducing our carbon footprint.

Nabhan and Contiero’s theories both relay greatly on an action oriented approach at conservation and sustainability. With an abundance of green movements following Earth Day 2010, organizations and individuals have taken a stronger following to expert opinions like the ones demonstrated by both of these highly influential agriculturalists. Be sure to visit your local farmers markets and apple orchards as fall approaches.  Also, as eco-conscious individuals, don’t hesitate to stop the next time you drive by a yard stand with fresh crops. Promoting biodiversity and localized farming is a crucial piece of the conservation puzzle.

If the BP Oil Spill Happened Where I Live …

July 18, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Local, News

One of the scariest things about the BP oil spill in the Gulf is that, with deep-water drilling happening virtually all over the world, it is no longer inconceivable that a disaster of this magnitude could happen just about anywhere.

And if you have a difficult time imagining what the BP oil spill would look like in your neck of the woods, the creators of the website If It Was My Home have created a clever means of illustration.  Simply enter your zip code into the search box and click “Move the Spill,” and you will immediately see what the BP oil spill would look like if it happened in your hometown.

I am not sure that I remotely understand the impact of the disaster in the Gulf – even after seeing that the spill appears to be over 100 times the size of New York City – but If It Was My Home also provides a list of things that we can do to help.

Pick Your Own (food) Guide

July 17, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Guest Posts, Health, Local, Nutrition

With the sweet abundance of fruit and veggies this summer, who wouldn’t want to pick some fruit? Now here to assist you in your fruit-picking ventures is an online guide to help you find some fun places to pick and play. Now picking your own food isn’t just for farmers, it can also make for a fun family outing, a great date, and just some nice outdoors time. So get out there, enjoy the summer, and put a little muscle into getting your fresh produce for the week!

The listings are first by State and then by County, so you can plan for trips or find somewhere right in your own City. They provide a brief write-up, contact information, and hours if applicable to help you plan your “U-Pick” adventure. If you know of any great You Pick farms that aren’t listed, you can submit new listings right on their website. And make sure you check out those descriptions, you might find some added bonuses like hay rides, corn mazes, and other fun farm surprises.

Find a Pick Your Own farm near you!

(Photo Credit)

MOM’s Organic Market Bans Bottle Water

July 13, 2010 · Filed Under Green, Local, News

MOM’s, local organic grocery store in the Washington DC, is banning water bottles in all of its 6 locations in an initiative called ‘Plastic Surgery’.  This move is a major step to help eliminate plastic waste in both landfills and our oceans.  Though only having a few locations, this is the first major grocery store to completely eliminate plastic water bottles in their stores.

Don’t fret though if this may cause you an inconvenience, MOM’s got you covered.  They will be carrying Filtered Water Dispensers along with a wide selection BPA free glass and stainless steel water bottles.  You could also invest in a home water filtration system to replace any need for plastic bottles .

I shop regularly at MOM’s and have a wonderful experience every time I shop at their stores.  Between the great items they sell, organic and local produce and friendly atmosphere, I can’t ask for much more from an organic market.  This move makes me love the store even more.

Hopefully this move will spread the message to other grocery stores, especially organic markets, that bottled water is not needed and their are better alternatives.  Though major grocery store chains will not change their minds about this for some time, we can start on a smaller scale.  Next time you visit your local organic market and you still see bottled water on the shelves, make a point to mention that bottled water is not necessary and they should consider banning it, just as MOM”s has done.

If you live in the Washington DC area, check out MOM’s and you will not be disappointed.

Don’t Forget to Join Local CSA

April 6, 2010 · Filed Under Green, Local

It’s not too late to join a local CSA.  Many are starting to completely fill, but there are still many farms that have available spots.  The normal deadline for any farm is to join and pay and in full before the deliveries start, which is normally around late May or early June.

Photo by vidiot.

What I love about a CSA is that it lets you get a regular supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season, while gaining a great relationship with a local farm.  It also makes it easier on your family since you simply pick up a box of your fruits and vegetables at a close location.

Hopefully there are still some available spots in your area.  If not, don’t fret, you can still go to a local farmers markets.

USDA: Friend or Genetically Modified Foe?

March 2, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Government, Green, Health, Local, News

Bear with me, this is long but informative…read on if you dare.

It is do or let GMOs die time at the United States Department of Agriculture, and they are letting you weigh in on their decision. The USDA’s mission is to utilize public policy, science, and management to provide leadership on food agriculture, and natural resources. Yet organizations like the Center for Food Safety have not been satisfied with their leadership, as is the European Union among other large entities. The current debate revolves around Genetically Engineered (GE) crops that were previously approved by the USDA as safe. But after being sued in 2006 by the Center for Food Safety and with pressure from a multitude of organizations and farmers, they are reviewing their approval of Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa. Now is your time to send them your thoughts on GE crops and their process for approval, but your time to act ends tomorrow, March 3rd!

Genetically Engineered Crops aka “Frankenfood”

Genetically modified organisms have been growing exponentially in the United States since the early 2000s in the field of agriculture. Some argue that Mendel, who originally discovered hybridization and gene characteristics in plants, was in fact creating GE crops. Yet the majority of scientists in the field disagree, they suggest it is when laboratories started manipulating the specific genes within a plant and injecting foreign genetic material. For example, scientists input salmon DNA into tomato plants to increase their cold weather resistance. This type of gene manipulation is what the European Union has banned from their food system and US food exports, calling it “Frankenfood.” While in the US very little of this seething debate was heard and companies such as Monsanto were privately patenting a large variety of seeds they claim as their own.

What are the risks of GE Crops?

For the average consumer, first and foremost your health is at risk. Next is the integrity of our food system as a whole. And of course the larger underlying threat is our ecological system and the long-term irreversible impact GE crops have already had in North America. If you are a farmer, the risks are a hundredfold.

Human health issues always get a great deal of attention, and are often the primary reason action is taken when ecological disaster arises. For GE crops, this is a sensitive issue in the United States. Scientific research originally studying the long-term health impacts of GE crops was put under intense scrutiny by GE crop companies, and ultimately their funding has been revoked or minimized. Their decisive response has been to align themselves with highly respected Universities across North America (since GE crops are not allowed in the majority of developed nations) and fund only GE crop research that would shed a positive light on its nutritional and ecological ‘value’ as the company deems appropriate and favorable. This type of controlled science is unlikely to produce a result that will benefit the general public’s knowledge base and health. The original studies and those conducted in Europe prior to banning GE crops demonstrated an increase in allergies, carcinogens and cancer rates, and an overall increase in chemical build-up in the body’s fatty tissue leading to a variety of health issues.

Food System
Our food system is and has been in great peril since the 1970s food crisis. The major issues such as intensive chemical dependency, unsustainable land use, and unjust farmer-company relationships have sprouted up in literature by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Francis Moore Lappe and movies like Food Inc. Movements revolting against this system, that cry for something more just, such as Slow Food and Slow Money, are only seedlings relative to the extensive power the major corporations hold over our food system in the United States.

History of our Food System
Let’s take a quick look at history to help put the unraveling of our food system into context. In the 1970s the price of oil flew sky high, demolishing the savings of farmers across the Midwest, America’s breadbasket. Their reliance on petroleum to run their machinery and utilize pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers left many families broken and in debt. Major corporations took advantage of their downfall by purchasing their land and designing a deal that would lure debt-ridden farmers under the company’s control. The main strategy was to purchase the land, and then allow the farmer to stay on the land and ‘lease’ it from the company. In return, the farmer would grow the crops the company demanded in the method the company deemed appropriate. The seeds, machinery, and upkeep of the land were all on the farmer and still are today. The United States transformed from a land of opportunity filled with small and medium-sized farms to a privately-owned land that could be yours (partially via lease) for a price.

Manipulation of our Food System
The food system that these companies have manipulated to their best profit margin is dependent upon their crops, their specialized fertilizers, their herbicides, and their desired management practices. GE crops made the monopolization of agriculture all the easier for these companies. Now a company, for example Monsanto, designs a seed that has a special mutation to fight disease and pests. They also design a special herbicide that will kill everything except that special seed. The farmer is now locked into part of the company’s system. They must purchase Monsanto seed, as Monsanto has dictated or aligned with land owners to dictate, and then purchase the Monsanto herbicide since it is the only product on the market that will work with their seed. Did I mention that Monsanto has designed the majority of these seeds to be “terminator” seeds, meaning they only last one season and cannot be saved to be replanted the next summer? This fact alone led to a revolt across all of India. They were outraged that they could not practice seed saving. A practice in the US that gets you on Monsanto’s notorious “Blacklist”, where they block you from customers, other farmers, and buyers of your crop, not a pleasant place to be for farmers who work with large risks of debt in their business.

Profiteers of our Food System Hint: its not you.
These companies also failed to mention two other major factors that will determine a farmer’s profit margin, other than the requirement to be locked into purchasing their products. First, the farmer’s relationship with the land is permanently altered. The companies will dictate the seeds based on desired stocks, their own Research and Development (which they test on farmers, not at their own testing facilities), among other ‘confidential’ factors. Meaning a farmer may be required to grow soy for 10 years straight with no regard to the land’s natural nutrient cycle or capacity. Soy, the one of the largest monocultures in the United States, requires a 5 year replenishment cycle for soil. If you have ever driven through Iowa, you will see miles and miles of soy, year after year. This requires the farmer to pay for large quantities of fertilizer to simulate the land’s nutrient cycle every year. So farmers have not escaped from their main source of vulnerability in the 1970s; the price of oil.

The second major factor is the power companies hold over the grain silos and the price of a crop on particular days. The unethical nature of this initially sounds like a conspiracy theory, but after speaking with farmers in company-infested farm towns, it turns out that it is more than true, it is deeply disturbing. They will purposefully manipulate the price of a crop based on the farmer and their relationship or lack their of with the company, a collaboration among industry giants that keeps farmers out of the marketplace who do not concede to their ‘rules of the game’.

GE crops impact on the environment is not understudied, despite companies such as Monsanto’s best efforts. GE crops have been proven to mate with other plants, are not contained by 15 foot high wind barriers (previously deemed suitable by Monsanto, Dupont, and after closed door discussions the USDA), and leave an array of chemicals, unusual residue and genes in the soil beyond conventional agriculture’s significant impact on the land. The most important fact to keep aware of is that GE crops are capable of contaminating organic agriculture, meaning unless every plant is tested there is no way to determine if certified organic food in the US is free from GE crops. Farmer’s have sued Monsanto for contamination and Monsanto has sued farmers claiming patent infringement, every case to date Monsanto has won. Most often because the legal fees and barrage that they throw at the farmers literally put them out of business. The US has not determined sufficient containment procedures, resulting in the contamination of an entire portion of an island in Hawaii. This also means that GE crop seeds are spreading to plants in the wild. Since not all of their seed are terminator seeds, it is an unseen and unknown issue that is slowly creeping through our road ditches and grain spills.

This article’s intent is not to scare you, it is to make you aware of a major issue within our food system. Unfortunately, the budgets of large companies has consistently overridden the concern for the well-being of the general public. GE crops were originally touted as the cure for world hunger and a source for alternative fuel sources to eliminate the need for oil. To date, they have accomplished neither, and in the majority of cases made each issue worse. Mexico’s farmers did not appreciate the US’s ‘aid’ of goodwill terminator seeds when their rural communities tried to harvest their corn crop the following year. Farmer’s to date are more reliant on oil as is their supply chain, than in the 1970s.

The wonder and awe of our scientific games is long gone in the world of GE crops.

Current Debate – Act by March 3rd

If this has you concerned, than I encourage you to review and decide if you would like to take action. You may do so by telling the USDA that you support the Center for Food Safety’s position that GE crops, specifically Monsanto’s GE Roundup Ready alfalfa should not be grown in the United States. Please review the True Food Network’s write-up and sign by tomorrow, March 3rd if you would like to support their efforts. Their website has an overview of the debate and a pre-written letter that you can email through their website.

Shopping Tips
For those of you who would still like to eat your food in good conscience here are some important shopping tips for selecting food.

1) Numbers matter! Check for these hints on your produce at the grocery store:
If it begins with a…
9 = Organically Grown
4 = Conventionally Grown
8=Genetically Engineered

2) The EU has banned GE crops, so although I encourage you to shop locally, seasonally, and to get to know your farmers and food system, EU products outright state that they are not made with GE crops. So feel free to use this as a good guideline. Many companies based in the US have different EU and US brands, selling the GE crops to US markets, so finding EU approved companies isn’t enough. Check the product for information.

3) The Shop non-GMO App for IPhones and consumer guides can be found at The Institute for Responsible Technology

Of course local, organic, seasonal food choices will always help, but you may be surprised (possibly horrified) to learn how GE crops have infiltrated your diet. So I encourage you to read about it, speak out about it, and continue to take an educated stand on this issue. Please note that the US had a national discussion about labeling GE food, but after significant publicity efforts and closed door discussions, the government decided there were no additional dangers. The opposite conclusion the EU reached after their extensive scientific research into the issue.

The United States Department of Agriculture is in the midst of a discussion that will ultimately determine its stance on food safety. What will be your role?

Taking the ‘Ugly’ Out of Flowers

February 12, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Local, Products

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
va~Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill”

Flowers can symbolize love, thank you, sorry, and goodbye yet behind this sentimental gesture is an extensive global supply chain that is often anything but beautiful.

Cut Flowers

The cut flower industry is worth over $40 billion dollars, the majority of which are imported from Latin America if you are living in the United States. According to Amy Stewart’s book Flower Confidential, an Ecuadorian flower farmer earns $150/month, totaling less than 4 cents per rose sold. This is on top of the extensive chemicals used to manipulate the plants including pesticides, herbicides, and “growth” sprays. The cut flower industry is anything but personal, and has a significant impact for a one-time use product.

Here are five things to consider when giving flowers to the green at heart:

Bouquets can be beautiful, yet during the winter months local, organic, or fair trade flowers can be hard to come by. By giving the gift of a plant, you can provide them with something to nurture, that can have positive effects on their health, and hopefully something to add to their spring garden! These will last longer than cut flowers, even with the miracle grow they come with these days, and can beautify their living space. Keep in mind though that not everyone with a green heart has a green thumb, so for those of us with black thumbs perhaps there are other options.

Plant -able Cards
Perhaps one of my favorite ideas that has sprouted up (pun intended) over the years, are cards that can be shredded and then watered, turning into indoor wildflower gardens. This gives it an element of surprise since you never know what will pop-up and makes the card not only compostable, but an instant nutrient. Flower card artisans each have their own approach, so make sure that the flowers are native to your region, then plant away.

The Symbol of the Flower: Not only roses
Cultures have developed special relationships with their native plants. Roses, tulips and carnations make up the majority of cut flower sales in the US, but what do these flowers symbolize? In some regions of China, the carnation symbolizes marriage, while in Western cultures the rose is connected to love, psychic powers, and protection. You can make your gift more personal by not only selecting based on local, seasonal, organic, and native flowers but also what the plant itself signifies. Here are a few ideas taken from China and the Western World, these resources are based more on suggestion than extensive research.

Plant Symbolism Culture
Apricot Beauty, Beautiful woman, Spring, Good Fortune China
Bloodroot Love, Protection, Purification Western World
Gardenia Love, Peace, Healing, Spirituality Western World
Passion Flower Peace, Sleep, Friendship Western World
Peach Petals State of an intense trance of love China
Tangerine Abundant happiness China
Willow Branch Able to bend/adapt but not break China
Violet Luck, Wishes, Lust, and Faith Western World

To learn more, please follow these links:
China’s Plant Symbology
Western World’s Plant Symbology

Eco-Friendly Plants
As mentioned earlier, selecting flowers or plants from an eco-friendly perspective can include the following combination of factors:

  • In season
  • Local
  • Organic
  • Fair-Trade
  • Transferable to your own garden

Of course come spring time, any flowers cut from your own garden meet much of this criteria, so snip and then compost away.

Flowers are Dead to Me
Now for some of us, the thought of spending money to show someone that we care isn’t our chosen route. There are plenty of remedies beyond flowers, but hopefully this will help when flowers feel appropriate.

And now to leave you with a little sarcastic humor:

Why do people give each other flowers?  To celebrate various important occasions, they’re killing living creatures?  Why restrict it to plants?  “Sweetheart, let’s make up.  Have this deceased squirrel.”
~The Washington Post

For more information on the cut flower industry, I highly recommend Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential. Here is a link to her fact sheet with information, statistics, and tips for maintaining cut flowers . She has also printed other books about floriculture and other garden-related pieces that can be found on her website.

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