Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crops of Truth and Food Fascism

Men have never been individually self-sufficient.
Reinhold Niebuhr

No one can whistle a symphony.
H.E. Luccock

The food and agriculture organization data tells us that we produce food for 12 billion people, but there are only 6.3 billion people living. Meanwhile, 800 million suffer from malnutrition and hunger, 1.7 billion suffer from obesity, and the rate of diabetes is growing exponentially along with cardiovascular diseases caused by malnutrition. Now, the logic in which consumption must be fast is taking us from a point of wasteful abundance to a terminal point. Every day we hear about water shortages, excessive use of chemical fertilizers and infertile soils, the loss of biodiversity, huge oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, storm flooding, global warming – the entire ecosystem threatened!

Successful forms of community based local agriculture have fed much of the world for thousands of years while conserving ecological integrity, and continue to do so today in many parts of the world. However, technological interventions sold by global corporations as panaceas for solving problems of “inefficiency in small-scale production”, and supposedly world hunger, have had exactly the opposite effect.

The small but enlightening book Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed declares that food has become the place for fascism to act. This fascism is seen where the seed is patented and turned into the monopoly property of a handful of corporations. Ninety-five percent of GM seeds are controlled by one corporation, called Monsanto. Monsanto then uses the fictitious democracy that created the World Trade Organization and the financial conditionalities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to force people everywhere to give up their seed freedom, give up biodiversity, and deny the richness of our natural resources.

See a map of the countries that have adopted the use of GM seeds:
An article by Colin Tudge of the New Statesman looks at the realities of why our current conventional agricultural models and GM seeds are not oriented towards helping to solve the most important issues of food security in our communities. Read that article online.
It amazed me to learn that of the tens of thousands of food species nature offers humankind, we are relying on a dwindling few: a mere eight crops now supply three/quarters of the world’s food! India had 100,000 varieties of rice just 40 years ago. Today, with much difficulty, one may get seeds for 50 varieties.
If you check Monsanto's website, they will boast the supposedly 118 percent increase in profit for Indian farmers planting GM seeds over traditional seeds. They report a 64 percent increase in yield and a 25 percent reduction in pesticide costs. Yet, in the midst of all this success, over 150,000 farmers in India were driven to suicide. Behind each death there is a ghastly story of GM/hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, loans, and indebtedness.

Avian Flu Awareness Poster
We need to look deeply at the issue of food safety: take the avian flu for example. it is identified with wild birds and free range birds, but that is not where it started. These birds developed a disease that emerged from factory farms. Yet instead of addressing the breeding ground of the disease, we have people around the world in moon suits going out and grabbing chickens from women's backyards to kill them. That is another element of food fascism - the fear of the local, the small, the decentralized, the free. But Nutrition does not come from the factories of trans-national corporations; it comes from Mother Nature.

In India, there are plants called "Crops of truth". These plants, given by Nature, do not need any additional inputs to grow. One simply has to broadcast the seed and in time reap a nutritious harvest. In fact, crops of truth, or local crops, abound everywhere! These are hardy genes, evolved over centuries. It is important that these crops of truth are protected from the "GM buccaneers". The women of Zaheerabad have done just that because they are mothers. Women have taken over what used to be the male role of managing the household seed stock because “Men wanted to store fewer seeds and preferred to buy from the market, where as women want all sorts of seeds for all sorts of food that the family eats". They have a very simple contraption to store seeds. A basket, about two feet in diameter by eighteen inches deep, is plastered with cow dung. When it dries, seeds are placed in it, covered with grass and then with cow dung. This simple contraption protects all their seeds and hardly costs a few rupees.

Unless local communities work to preserve local seeds, especially indigenous seeds of crops that are highly nutritious and tasty and can be grown at low or no cost, and no energy input, we shall cease to exist as a viable society. Remember that low or no cost and no energy input implies that there will be minimal or no CO2 emission from such farming activities.

The community is the most important entity that can help us ensure food and nutrition security and deal with common issues. It is important to realize that we can not separate human rights from right to seeds and food as well as right to grow food for our consumption. Most people in the west have forgotten that access to food is a basic human right; they have been misled to believe that that right can only be exercised in a supermarket run by Wal Mart or Tesco. We all can exercise this human right by refusing to purchase engineered and manufactured food and by claiming our right to grow any food that Nature gave us. It is important to inform our political representatives that the basic human right to food [and water, and air, and forests, and rivers, seeds, reproduction] is a fundamental right which no living entity, no corporation, and no state should be allowed to expropriate. And we have presumed to do just that all over the world.

The local economy is the only one that allows for the realization of what is becoming an oxymoron: sustainable development. If we want to bring about sustainable development, we must reinforce the elements of the local economy and recognize how much creativity there is in making this local economy. It is especially important for us, who live in the USA, to realize that the time is upon us when Community Rights will have to take primacy over the rights of the state, corporations and individuals. We can’t survive even for a day in post oil world without the help and support of our community. Therefore, legal instruments for giving primacy to community rights and local economies should be developed and legislated everywhere. We have all been misled that the corporate state cares for us and will use natural resources for our welfare: that has proved to be simply false. The market mechanism in its current form actually works against the interest of farmers and communities. The market responds to many irrational demands of the consumers, invariably driven by convenience, whereas an honest human being (and especially a farmer) has to balance the environmental costs that are not factored in by the market in its cost calculations.

Whilst community rights will tide over the crisis of survival and maybe extend our survival by a few centuries, it would require different constructs of morality and law, and a turnabout in consciousness with regards to responsibility. I'm not advocating we start another obnoxious revolution in opposition to someone or something or some abstract idea, and i'm not advocating we go about business as usual. I'm asking us to be discriminating, intelligent, heart-felt, co-producing participants in our local communities today, or else we lovelessly compromise what is in the best interest of all around the world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Leak You Don't Want To Fix

Now that summer heat seems to be creeping up on Tuscaloosa, bringing also the sun and its unforgiving though necessary glare, it's more important than ever to ensure that the plants in our garden receive an adequate amount of water. Natural rainfall, while our favorite method of watering with no outside inputs of water and human labor, can only carry our plants so far as days of rain can be quite sporadic, sometimes raining for days in a row and then not for weeks.

We must then bring water into the garden ourselves! Up until only a matter of days ago, we had been using a hose situated a few meters from the garden fence to water the plants, either directly or by first filling up a watering can and using that. This method of soil "flooding" can be very time consuming, as we would need to walk around through the beds watering each plant individually.

So in order to ensure maximum time and water efficiency, we have now installed a drip irrigation system in the garden! A drip irrigation system involves laying plastic tubing call "drip tape" along the length of the beds in a garden. This tubing has tiny holes in it, allowing the water that runs through to slowly "drip" out and apply water directly to plants at ground level. The tubing can be arranged to fit the layout of any garden; you should cut it to fit the length of the bed, and then connect the tapes in the beds together via drip tape "connectors." In this way, one end of the tape system can be attached to the water source, and when the water is turned on, every length of the tape will receive flow.

In selecting the drip method of irrigation, we were taking into account which watering method would result in the least amount of wasted water, or which method would be most water efficient. Andrew Kimbrell, in The Fatal Harvest Reader, reinforces what I have heard elsewhere that "Farmers have achieved the best efficiency with drip irrigation systems...(using) from 30 to 70 oercent less water than flooding and has been shown to increase crop yields by 20 to 90 percent over that typical for fields irrigated in other ways."

I first encountered drip tape irrigation at Jean and Carol's farm in Coker, Alabama. They have used it for years, as the ease of operation and efficiency of application are hard matched by another system. Some issues that have been encountered there are occasional holes in the tape, often caused by a stray garden tool. These holes can be mended fairly easily, but we will make a great effort to be mindful not to accidentally strike the tape when using garden tools.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Many Thanks

So what is going to happen to the garden since summer is practically here? Students like Matthew Bush and Camille Perrett will be in Tuscaloosa to help take care of the garden. Students are discussing having one big potluck with all the delicious food we have growing. Let it be known, the food will not go to waste, but more importantly the garden will be taken care of even though there will not be as many students in town as during the school year.

There are all ready plans for what we will plant (crop rotation!) and do in the garden when we come back in the fall and I cannot wait until then. I hope next year we figure out a way to get the community and students more involved with the garden. It has been a tremendous success since it started a few years ago and each year a few more students become involved. It is important to try and get as many students involved if we want the garden to keep going. I hope we can also figure out a better way to advertise for the garden and the importance of it. Hopefully more students will gain an interest in gardening and sustainability.

Doing this independent study has been an eye-opening experience for me. I knew very little about gardening and sustainability before doing this study. I have learned many valuable things like why I start seeds in the greenhouse or which bugs are good for your garden and why. One small thing I learned is the importance of labeling your plants! Keep organized and realize which plants are which. I think one of the most fascinating things I have learned is about crop rotation and how certain plants restore nutrients in the ground that other plants take and vice versa. I have learned about the frost season and the dangers it can cause on plants, especially with this past winter.

From the readings I have learned more about the Slow Food Movement and the importance of knowing where my food comes from and what is in it. I have also learned new sustainable concepts and methods we could use in the garden.

I was glad we were also able to lead field trips at the garden. I was able to teach younger kids what I had just learned within the past few months! I was so excited to see them get to experience what I am learning from working in the garden.

Most importantly, I have gained a deeper respect, understanding, and concern for the environment. Before the study, I would say that I was all for “going green”, but did not know much about how I could do this or why it was so important. Plants are living organisms just like we are, and they deserve to be treated well. Without them, we would not be here.

Working in the garden this semester, I feel I have responsibility to take care of the it and make sure it is constantly being attended to. I plan on coming back in the Fall and helping with the garden and Students for Sustainability. I cannot wait to see what the garden has in store for the upcoming years!

Up, Up, Up They Go

Trellises are an architectural structure designed to help support plants. At the garden we are use trellises for our tomato plants. But not just any kind of trellises, bamboo trellises!

Students lucked out and received free bamboo from a Tuscaloosa resident who was throwing away all the bamboo he had. Bamboo is a great because it is strong and sturdy. It is also tall allowing our plants to grow up. Using bamboo is a creative and sustainable way to help our tomatoes grow.

Tomato plants need some type of trellis, whether bamboo or not, because the plants grow tall and need something to support them. They wrap around the bamboo and grow high allowing many tomatoes to bloom.

One morning out at the garden, Nicole, Camille, and I built multiple bamboo trellises. We had to make sure knots were tight when were tying the bamboo together, that way it would hold and not fall. We tried to learn a specific type of knot Matthew showed us, but we decided to stick to our own methods instead.

A Vision for UA

What would the University be like if we had a hoop house? A hoop house is a greenhouse made with large hoops or bows, made of metal, plastic pipe or even wood, covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. It typically has no heaters or fans, but instead, is heated by the sun and cooled by the wind. With a hoop house seasons will be longer and warmer allowing the garden to produce more. Plants can be started a few weeks earlier than the regular start date causing the plant to bloom early.

Just like a green house, hoop houses also protect against harmful weather and predators that can eat plants.

Hoophouses are inexpensive and pretty simple to build. You can build one for a couple hundred dollars and get more from your garden. At least six more weeks of extra production in the spring and fall because of the warmth of the hoophouse

Specific plants that can grow well in a hoop house are tomatos, raspberries, strawberries, cut flowers, melons, eggplant, summer squash, and pepper.

Thinking about starting a hoop house on campus could be a great idea. Many students have wanted to get an on-campus garden started at UA and a hoop house could be a cheap and great way to start. Students could build the hoop house together once a location was found for it. I think it should be strongly considered because it could allow more students to be involved with gardening and the Arboretum. The University is a big school and not having an on campus garden, lessens the possibility of students finding out about groups like Students for Sustainability and Homegrown Alabama.

Good Bugs for Your Garden

I've always heard you should try and keep bugs out of the garden. It is true that slugs and flea beetles are bad because they eat the leaves; however, there are numerous good bugs which help the garden and do not get enough recognition like they deserve. Here is a list of what bugs you want to keep in your garden.

Ladybugs are best known to feed on aphids(a small, plant eating insect). They can also eat chinch bugs, whiteflies, and mites, as well as many other soft-bodied insects and their eggs. Adult ladybugs may consume up to 5,000 aphids which can help save your plants from being eaten.

Parasitic wasps can kill intruding garden insects and help keep the garden organized.

Just like in The Bee Movie it is very important to have bees in the garden! They do not necessarily get rid of other bugs, but they do pollinate the flowers which we know from the movie, is needed for the plants to live.

Green lacewing larvae feed on aphids, whitefly, leafhoppers, mites, mealybugs, scale insects and some moths and caterpillars. They work very fast feeding on these bad bugs and their eggs

Centipedes are mean hunters and will feed on caterpillars, slugs and fly larvae, grubs, and pupae.

Spined Soldier Bug(stink bugs as I like to call them) prey on many types of beetles, webworms, armyworms and other garden pests.

Dragonflies are also beneficial to a garden because they feed on a large variety of insects. They feed on mosquitoes and other biting insects.

It is important to know which bug is good to have in a garden and why. If you have a certain insect problem like beetles, you might want to try and get the stink bug in your garden by going to the store and purchasing them. These good bugs listed above, are also attracted to certain plants, so considering growing these plants they like could be a good idea. Our bugs serve a purpose to our garden, and it is important to know which purpose they are serving!

Make Your Own Compost!

Since compost is very important and beneficial to the land I decided it is important to know how to make a compost pile. There are different ways and can be very low cost, if not free. It can also be quite simple to do!

How to start:

Find an area that is convenient for you and sunny because compost builds up its own heat and likes it too. Make sure the area is well drained because too much moisture can be a problem for your pile.

Some people use a bin to contain the compost, but it is not necessary. We do not do this at the garden.

Ingredients for the compost will be materials that break down. Green materials are a good source of nitrogen and brown materials are a good source of carbon.

Brown materials can include: bark, leaves, ashes, peanut shells, shredded newspaper, sawdust, vegetable stalks, twigs, fruit waste, pine needles, and peat moss.

Green Materials can be: manures, seaweeds, food waste, clover, hay, alfalfa, coffee grounds, garden waste, hedge clippings, seaweed, and algae

Building a pile of these materials is how to start the compost! Some say one part green and two parts brown is the fastest way to make compost.

Compost heats well between 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It needs sunlight and heat because it helps “cook” the materials and break down faster.

Turning your compost is important for the process and should be done once a week. If you want to make the process faster, you can take your big piles of organic waste and put it in the pile as opposed to small amounts. Also cutting up large materials into smaller ones can also help speed up the process.

It is important to give your compost the correct amount of moisture. The moisture level should feel like a damp sponge. Check moisture level once a week because too little moisture will slow down the process.

Keeping the pile together, giving it food, making sure it has the proper amount of sunlight and moisture, and turning it are the correct ways to make organic compost that you can use for your garden.