Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Absence Explained

On March 19, I was offered a job.

Not just any job. A kick-butt job. A job that combines my academic studies, my favourite hobby, and my teaching and volunteer experience.

I am planning, coordinating, publicizing, recruiting volunteers for, and implementing, a 5400 square foot vegetable garden at a public institution in town.

It's been a bit crazy! We launch the project in three days. Other than the launch, my tasks this week include planning what and where to plant, creating specs for compost bins to be built, liaising with local artists to possibly procure trellises, sculpture, and planters, ordering seeds and seedlings, creating a production timeline and duty rosters, preparing posters and handbills, deciding on tools to buy, and exploring possibilities for various classes to make use of the garden.

It's gonna be a ride!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You can lead them to water...

As requested, a horse cake, made from the best devil's food cake recipe ever.

The now three-year-old who refused to try even a bite of the cake.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

And you thought you were so health-conscious.

Whole wheat kernels, replete with germ and bran, have proven health benefits over refined, white flour. (True, benefits questioned by the Wheat Belly author and cardiologist.) One meta-analysis found that "There is a consistent, inverse association between dietary whole grains and incident cardiovascular disease in epidemiological cohort studies." Another concluded, "The case-control evidence is supportive of the hypothesis that whole-grain intake protects against various cancers." This study of older women claims that "Substitution of whole for refined grain may reduce chronic disease risk." 

So you're all buying brown bread, secure in the knowledge that it's the healthiest choice, right? This might not be news to you, but it surprised me: in Canada, whole wheat bread may have up to 70% of the nutritious wheat germ missing. If you want the whole grain, you have to buy "whole grain whole wheat" bread. And Health Canada doesn't care about the confusion.

Here's the bigger question: Where does the consumer's responsibility to educate her/himself end and the regulatory body's responsibility to provide clarity in labelling begin?

(And, perhaps, who is that regulatory body responsible to, when they cannot agree - industry or consumers?)

This is where one could make an argument that it's best to "know your farmer." Here's mine:

I know how it was milled. Despite the "whole wheat" label, it's whole grain.

But what about the people who can't?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women Feed the World

Happy International Women's Day! This post honours some women leaders in the global movement for sustainable, healthy, just food systems.

Let's start with Frances Moore Lappé's trenchant remarks on the food movement: 
"Some Americans see the food movement as “nice” but peripheral—a middle-class preoccupation with farmers’ markets, community gardens and healthy school lunches. But no... It is at heart revolutionary, with some of the world’s poorest people in the lead, from Florida farmworkers to Indian villagers. It has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves. And that vast power is just beginning to erupt."

Alice Waters, with her Edible Schoolyard movement,

Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, eco-feminist, and founder of Navdanya,

Marion Nestle, nutritionist and food policy watchdog,

Fatou Batta, of Groundswell International,

The dalit women of the Deccan Development Society,

Nettie Wiebe, Saskatchewan organic farmer, ethicist, and former president of the National Farmers Union,

Cathleen Kneen, Canadian food security activist,

And those who went before:

Rachel Carson, environmentalist, who alerted the world to the dangers of synthetic chemical pesticides in agriculture,

Violet McNaughton, prairie farm leader,

Lady Eve Balfour, organic farming pioneer, who could have been describing herself in this honouring of her predecessors: "They looked at the living world from a new perspective--they also asked new questions. Instead of the contemporary obsession with disease and its causes, they set out to discover the causes of Health. This led inevitably to an awareness of wholeness (the two words after all, have the same origin) and to a gradual understanding that all life is one",

and all of our women ancestors who nurtured us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Read the Comments?

I don't know how many times I read comments on a news item and wish I hadn't - and then I tell people about the horrible things people have said, and am told "Never read the comments!"

This time, though, I am glad I read the comments because I found this gem. I've been thinking a lot about waste lately, and about how to create as closed a system as possible with my gardening (and eventually, my daily living) so that I am not, for example, taking phosporous from Morroco and then peeing my own phosphorous into the local lake where our sewage ends up. This could be a closed loop within community - I have no problem using a friend's horse manure and returning vegetables to her. Basically, I don't want to enrich my own situation by impoverishing another. Nature provides a beautiful model to follow, and this commenter explains how it works in a food system:

One of the hardest things for me to wrap my mind around is the almost singleminded focus that so many people have on looking for a way to 'manufacture and sell' a remediation for a problem. In other words, techno-fixes are the way forward (particularly if one can market them or the tools to apply them).

Nature designed grazing animals to harvest, process and redeposit all the nutrients and organisms necessary to maintain soil fertility indefinitely with humans filling the supervisory role since we no longer allow the graziers to range at will on the landscape and we have removed the predators that kept the graziers moving and thinned the population periodically.

A lovely side benefit is a truly clean, healthy food (so long as we humans resist the urge to medicate the critters like we medicate ourselves or lock them up in small areas where they have to live in their own excrement) that provides most of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. I know, there are many things that also come from various 'vegetables' but the graziers eat the original vegetables and the nutrients are deposited in their tissues for their use as well as ours.

Another side benefit of planned grazing is the rebuilding of the soils' ability to catch and hold water using the root webs that happen when grass is thick and healthy. I think most of us on this forum are aware of the water issues we face and of the need to find ways to restore the water cycle to its correct state. You can fix the erosion and compaction problems faster with grass than with any other plants.

The constraint, as I see it, is that no one except the grower makes much money from these techniques. One can't be the next Bill Gates or Kubota tractor designer or Monsanto or ADM with these procedures. No one with an interest in promoting grass management is funding research projects at our land grant colleges so the researchers continue to pursue projects with a commercial bias...then give the results to whoever paid for the projects.

To the contrary, many times the land grant experts actively work to discredit grass management practices for the very reason that they reduce or eliminate the need for purchased amendments and equipment.
You find Rodale, Vandana Shiva, Allan Savory, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry Gene Logsden, John Todd and many other proponents of Natural Systems doing the necessary validation but the information does not make the front pages (or even the back pages) very often.

I wonder why we humans, particularly Americans, simply must complicate things instead of looking at what has worked for centuries and seeing if we can replicate the System.
Well, I think the commenter has given the answer to her own question - the engine of capitalist growth that we are all feeding drives our food system. The many fundraisers to cure cancer, and the lack of fundraisers to prevent it come to mind - it is far more profitable to create a pharmaceutical to cure a disease than to ban cosmetic pesticides. After all, crime, sickness, war, and pollution all can increase economic activity and therefore increase the GDP, our marker of success.

That is, the marker that we are told indicates success. How would you like to see success defined?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Buying Green

Did you get the impression, on Feel-Good Friday, that I was lightening up on the "vote with your dollar" movement? Well, it's Monday morning now.

From the Climate and Capitalism blog's review of Kendra Pierre-Louis' Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet:

Her new book Green Washed is a powerful critique of “the comforting message that we can shop ourselves out of our current environmental mess.”
“Too many businesses and environmental groups have led us to believe that if we buy the correct collection of products, we can save the planet. While these assurances have done much to assuage our collective guilt, and even more to create a generation of smug eco-shoppers, it has done next to nothing to fundamentally change the environmental landscape, while in many cases actively contributing to environmental degradation and misinformation.”
So far so good? Pour yourself a warm beverage into your reusable mug and lean back. 

In refreshing contrast to most books on consumerism, Green Washed pins the blame for excess consumption on our economic system, not on individual psychology.
“If we were to make reducing our consumption to a level that was both materially satisfying and ecologically sustainable our central focus, our entire global economic system would collapse. This isn’t a hyperbole. Our economic system is based on the need for perpetual growth; we either grow our economy or it dies, taking us along with it.”
Hm. Food for thought. Take a bite of that muffin.

Unfortunately, Pierre-Louis’s analysis of causes stops with criticism of growth. She doesn’t ask why the global economic system is so irrational. Why is the only alternative to one polluting product so often another that pollutes as badly or worse? Many brilliant writers have criticized growth, and offered detailed proposals for steady-state economies – why have they been ignored by those in power? What about our existing social and economic order makes growth so essential and environmental destruction so universal?

Because it doesn’t pursue those questions, Green Washed proposes band aid solutions when major surgery is needed. Having firmly rejected individual green shopping, the alternative Pierre-Louis offers amounts to green shopping in groups.

And the bracing shock of cold water. 

Projects that improve the sustainability and resilience of local communities are important, but they are no substitute for political and social action against the global forces that are destroying our world. Unless we stop and reverse those forces, Pierre-Louis’s shadow economies will be small green islands in an ocean of environmental destruction – and water levels will continue rising.

Back to work.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Feel-Good Friday II

This just in! A study that suggests voting with your dollar has a positive result that I didn't note in my indictment of the tactic. Supporting small businesses can improve your (the collective 'your') health!

From the linked article:
Counties with more small businesses tend to have lower rates of mortality, obesity, and diabetes, while those with more large retailers tend to post higher rates of these poor-health indicators. The authors explain that communities with thriving small businesses may be more likely to support bond issues for health infrastructures, recruit physicians, push for local anti-smoking legislation, promote community health programs, and support local farmers' markets.
And, in a fabulous coincidence, the Regina Farmers Market opens tomorrow!