The Worms Are Our Friends
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Composting is great, but it’s a lot of work. I’ve found a way to hire thousands of little employees who do the work of composting for me. They are red wiggler worms, and they live in three “Can-O-Worms” worm bins in the space under my front steps.
I have a pretty enameled pot on my kitchen counter. All vegetable and fruit scraps go in there, but no meat or animal products, no members of the onion family, no spicy-hot peppers, and no citrus rinds—the little worms don’t like those things. When the enameled pot is full, every three or four days, I go down to the bins. To remember which bin got the previous pot full of vegetable and fruit scraps, I keep a stick on top of the last bin filled. The next bin gets the next pot of scraps, which I smooth out over the surface of one of the round plastic trays with thousands of perforations in the bottom.
Each bin has three trays that stack on the base. When the bottom tray is full of scraps, I put on the second tray and start dumping the scraps there. As the worms finish digesting the scraps in the bottom tray, they move up to the fresh food in the tray above through the perforations and start munching away.
There’s never an odor from this process. And the worms reproduce, seeding the scraps with thousands of tiny, white threads that are baby worms, soon to mature into the red, segmented worms called red wigglers. They really do the job and they do it right. When the trays become finished compost, I dump them onto a tarp. The worms don’t like light, so they burrow down into the compost, and I take handfuls of wormless compost off the surface and put them into a big plastic pot to use on my roses, in the vegetable garden, on my strawberries, and on the Meyer lemon and Bearss lime trees that keep me in citrus. This compost is seven times richer in nutrients for having gone through the digestive system of my worms than soil made in a regular compost pile. The worm soil is dark, rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling earth just bursting with all the elements plants need for health and bounty.
The only downside with the worms is trying to remember all their names. Petunia is the one with the odd segment, and Uncle Wiggly is…
Top 12 Reasons to Go Organic
The Organic Center (www.organic-center.org/) offers the following reasons to go organic. You may already know many if not all of them, but it might be a good idea to save this file in case someone asks you why you choose to buy organic food.
1. Organic Is the Only Alternative Delivering Meaningful Health Results.
It is hard to miss the problems arising in the wake of the conventional food system–toxic exposures, birth defects, learning disabilities, obesity, water pollution, unacceptable suffering by farm animals, to name a few. While dozens of labels promise often undefined and unverified benefits, the certified organic label stands apart in consistently delivering what people care most deeply about–more nutritious food, grown using methods that minimize the use of toxins, while building soil quality and protecting water quality. A growing, dynamic organic food sector will stimulate valuable changes benefiting all of agriculture, as well as everyone dependent on the American farmer for three square meals a day.
2. Reduce Your Exposure to Harmful Synthetic Pesticides.
Conventional farmers apply 2-12+ synthetic pesticides to their crops. The average serving of conventionally grown leafy greens, peppers, tree fruits, berries, and grapes contains three to four pesticide residues. Residues of some widely used pesticides can trigger subtle changes in a child’s development, and may lead to a wide range of health problems including ADHD, autism, obesity, and certain forms of cancer.
3. Boost the Nutritional Quality of Your Food.
Organic crops are grown in healthier, biologically active soils. While crops on organic farms tend to yield somewhat less per acre and often take longer to grow than crops on conventional farms, plants nurtured by soil on organic farms produce crops that contain higher levels of important antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. In fact, you can increase your intake of beneficial antioxidants by 30 percent just by switching to organic food.
4. Steer Clear of Unknown Genetically Engineered Food Risks.
Most of today’s genetically engineered (GMO) foods were approved over 15 years ago during a period when the government was aggressively promoting biotechnology. The prevailing “wisdom” was that GMO foods were “substantially equivalent” to conventional foods. We have since learned that even small differences in the genetic makeup of food can lead to unexpected human health risks. Because organic farmers cannot plant GMO seeds, nor use GMO crop inputs, choosing organic is the only sure way to avoid GMO food risks.
5. Decrease your Intake of Unnecessary Hormones and Antibiotics.
Most conventional livestock farmers use a combination of growth hormones, drugs, feed supplements, and high-grain diets to push their animals to grow faster, get bigger, and produce more milk and eggs per day. In fact, animals on conventional farms are often pushed so hard that they experience serious reproductive and/or other health problems leading to heavy antibiotic use. The National Organic Program rule prohibits the use of virtually all synthetic animal drugs. At the end of the day, healthy animals produce healthier meat, milk and dairy products, and eggs.
6. Give Farm Animals a Healthy Measure of Respect.
A significant share of the livestock raised on conventional farms live in crowded, stressful conditions that erode animal health, increase drug dependency, and take away any chance of carrying out natural behaviors. However, the National Organic Program (NOP) rule states that organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including pasture, and ample space to carry out natural behaviors.
7. Preserve Local Crop Varieties for Future Generations.
Today 50 percent of all food eaten worldwide comes from four plant species and three animal species. A handful of multi-national corporations own and control over 50 percent of the world’s seed market. Small organic farms often preserve heirloom and rare seed varieties for future generations to experience and enjoy.
8. Improve Water Quality and the Safety of Drinking Water.
Rainfall landing on a field of crops will carry a certain amount of soil, nutrients, and chemicals downstream or into underground aquifers. The more chemicals applied per acre, the greater the challenge in preserving water quality. The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the most graphic example of the enormous harm caused when farm chemicals flowing off of millions of acres congregate in the mighty Mississippi.
9. Promote Biodiversity and Beauty in Rural Landscapes.
Organic farmers not only encourage biodiversity, they depend on it – both above and below the ground. Experienced organic farmers have learned over many decades that combining multiple crops with livestock and other animals is the best way to promote soil health and fully utilize the rainfall and sunlight that falls on an acre in any given year.
10. Maintain Healthy Soil.
Healthy soil is the bedrock of all successful organic farms. Hundreds of studies conducted on multiple continents over the last 50 years have compared soil quality on organic versus nearby conventional farms and virtually every one has concluded that organic management substantially enhances soil quality.
11. Organic Food Delivers More Intense Flavors.
Organic fruits and vegetables more often than not have higher levels of flavor-enhancing nutrients, coupled with lower concentrations of water and sugars. The end result is typically more intense and complex flavors. Plus, no artificial food colors or preservatives are added to any organic foods.
12. Create Healthier Working Environments for Farmworkers and Rural Neighbors.
Farming is second only to mining on the list of the most hazardous occupations. Unless great care is exercised, exposures to toxic pesticides, caustic fertilizers, and other chemicals will pose risks for many people working on or living near farms. Organic farmers simply do not use high-risk chemical materials and so workers, and rural neighbors, have one less health risk to worry about.
News Flash: the U.S. Department of Agriculture is training Monsanto to police itself!
The government is making an effort to allow giant biotech firms like Monsanto to conduct their own environmental assessments. The stated goal is to speed up the approval process for genetically engineered crops – such as a non-browning apple and drought-tolerant corn.
Truthout, the political and environmental action organization, reports that “over the past seven months, our reporter sought out documents, chased leads, and followed the trail of the biotech industry’s mounting push to influence government regulators. He sifted through the letters that lobbyists sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, discouraging ‘any suggestion by USDA that biotechnology plants … are likely to cause significant adverse effects.’ And he discovered the submissive responses from Vilsack.”
This not only lets the fox guard the henhouse, it gives the fox a truck, helps it load up the hens, and gives the fox gas money.
Although it took three years, a complaint against the huge Shamrock Dairy in Arizona by The Cornucopia Institute, which called out the dairy for factory farm practices it has been calling organic, has finally been settled. The Institute is one of the nation’s fiercest watchdogs of Big Ag’s underhanded practices. Read its press release on the subject at http://www.cornucopia.org/2011/12/enforcement-hammer-falls-on-giant-arizona-organic-factory-farm-dairy/
Let’s Get Off of Processed Foods
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The food processing industry is the single largest source of chemicals that humans ingest—and as a species, we ingest many hundreds of chemicals through food, water, and absorption through the skin. If we could do one thing to severely restrict the amount of chemicals in our bodies, it would be to replace all processed foods with whole, organic foods.
Sometimes, we don’t even recognize processed foods for what they are. I know I didn’t realize that orange juice—even the kind labeled “Not from Concentrate”—is processed. But a recent article on Huffington Post, quoting a source on www.civileats.com, had this to report:
“Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing the oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. But removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it’s all backwards. So to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these ‘flavor packs’ to make juice taste like, well, juice.
“Any taste difference in, say, Minute Maid versus Tropicana is therefore due to the specific flavor pack the company uses. Since these flavor packs are made from orange byproducts, they don’t have to be considered an ingredient, and therefore are not required to appear on food labels. This is despite the fact that they are chemically altered.”
Hmmm—it’s true—Tropicana tastes the same in New York as it does in San Francisco and so does Minute Maid, sort of like Coke and Pepsi. And these juices each have a specific flavor that never varies. And it’s due to flavor packs. Okay, that did it for me. I went to Sur le Table and bought a hand juice squeezer, then stopped at Whole Foods for a couple of dozen organic Valencia oranges and popped them into the vegetable crisper at the bottom of my refrigerator. Now here’s my morning routine:
Feed the cats and dog. Build a fire in the woodstove. Hand squeeze fresh, organic Valencia juice. Oh my—like any real product, it tastes like what it actually is and the taste varies naturally with the source of the ingredient. This is real, live juice, cold and delicious, with all its esters and enzymes intact and functioning to give it an honest aroma and flavor. It hardly takes any more time to make than it does to pour a glass of flavor-pack processed juice from a plastic coated cardboard half gallon carton.
I recycle milk and juice cartons but many folks don’t, so the cartons become waste for the landfill. No waste with fresh-squeezed juice, however. My garbage-eating red wiggler worms don’t like citrus rinds, so I turn up a shovelful of soil in one of my raised beds, dump in the rinds, and cover them up with soil. By the time spring rolls around, the rinds will have decayed and enriched my soil for whatever crop I put in there—maybe peas.
Now I’m on a kick to stop eating any processed foods. That includes stuff like ice cream and hot dogs. Oh, and Triscuits, which I love. And does cheese qualify as processed? While I may not be perfect in my quest to avoid processed foods, it’s important to think about what I’m eating. There is organic ice cream—no chemicals. There are no-nitrate, organic, all-beef hot dogs. And there are organic “woven wheats,” identical to Triscuits. Good, raw milk cheese is not processed, but cheap, colored “cheese food product,” and even many cheap brands of cheese, are. So I stick with good cheese that’s made with organic milk whenever possible,
Unfortunately, there are some processed products that are irreplaceable. Thomas’s English Muffins is one. The organic English muffins at the store just aren’t nearly as good. So to dissuade myself from buying them, I look at the ingredients on Thomas’s and discover High Fructose Corn Syrup among them. “Yuck,” I say to myself. “I don’t want to put that crap in my body.” So I walk on by. Works every time.
The Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, coordinated by Navdanya International of India, notes that genetically engineered crops have failed to deliver higher food yields, while creating dangerous superweeds. In fact, in China, where cotton that’s been engineered to contain the gene from Bacillus thuringiensis that kills insect larvae (Bt cotton), is widely planted, populations of pests have increased 12-fold since 1997, while in India, pesticide use has increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.
The reason is that with the wholesale planting of Bt cotton, cotton pests have evolved immunity to the Bt toxin. Since Bt cotton is not sprayed with pesticides (because the pesticide is now built into the plant tissue), the mutant insects have free reign to do their damage. I saw this day coming from the first time I heard that Monsanto was developing Bt crops like soy, cotton, and corn. Bacillus thuringiensis was a valuable organic insect control when used in spot applications only as needed. But by flooding cotton, soy, and cornfields with billions of plants, each of which contains the toxin, the evolution of resistant insects was speeded up a thousandfold. In fact, if used as a control by spraying the bacillus in small amounts, resistance would probably not have happened at all. There would have been no selective pressure for it to develop.
“Choice is being undermined as food systems are increasingly controlled by giant corporations and as chemical and genetic pollution spread,” according to Vandana Shiva, director of Naydanya International, adding, “GMO companies have put a noose round the necks of farmers. They are destroying alternatives in the pursuit of profit.”
Yes they are. And our Food and Drug Administration still refuses to mandate labeling of GMO foods in the United States.
Our Organic World
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To hear some people explain it, organic agriculture is some kind of weird, hippie, tree-hugging, groat-eating scheme to deny the technological marvels of conventional agriculture and plunge the world into wholesale starvation. As former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz said, “If we return to organic agriculture, who will decide which 50 percent of the world’s people will have to starve?”
I hope you realize how bogus this idea is. According to the researchers at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, organic agriculture is just as productive, if not moreso, as conventional, chemical-dependent agriculture. This is backed up by long-term studies of crop systems at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, which turned a worn-out chemical farm into a showplace of good organic practices where yields of corn and bean crops more than equal local chemical farms. Plus, given that organic foods can sell for more than conventional foods, growing organic crops yields higher economic returns for farmers. Even more importantly, the benefits of organic agriculture for the environment far exceed any benefits of conventional agriculture. And, truth be told, conventional agriculture racks up detriments, not benefits. It depletes the organic matter in the soil, leading to soil erosion, drought-prone soils, the inability of soil to hold nutrients, and many other problems from its chemical and toxic-based practices.
Here’s the real story: nature herself is organic. All organic gardeners and farmers do is copy her. In that way lies confident success, not trouble and failure. Look around you at wild nature: climax forests and fields are healthy. Trees grow. Grasses wave in the breeze. Frogs jump and birds chirp. Life goes on its merry way without toxic chemicals, factory-made fertilizers, and modifications of the genetic codes by meddlesome scientists.
Here’s the bottom line: when you follow nature, you get a confluence of unexpected benefits. When you practice conventional agriculture, you get a confluence of unexpected detriments. Just ask a conventional dairyman who shoots up his cows with bovine growth hormone to get their bodies to pump out huge amounts of watery milk until the cows can barely walk whether he’s happy with his herds’ health. Now ask an organic dairyman whose cows pasture on grass and live the life nature intends for them whether he’s happy with the health of his herds.
Nature is organic. Just as the soil in a healthy wild forest increases in organic matter as the years deposit layers of decayed leaves, weeds, and other plant detritus, so organic agriculture, that recycles organic matter back into ever-replenishing soil, improves soil and plant health as it grows crops. To those who have wondered which half of humanity will have to starve, I say it’s the half who depends on agribusiness for their unwholesome foodstuffs.
It Ain’t Only Canned Soup, Baby
A recent study published in the November 23rd Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who ate canned soup for five days straight saw their urinary levels of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) spike 1,200 percent compared to those who ate fresh soup. About a year ago, the FDA admitted that BPA is dangerous but conceded that the government agency is powerless to regulate its use. BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical pervasive in our food supply thanks to its use in lining canned goods. Over the years, studies have linked it to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, reproductive failures and behavioral problems. Although these ill effects have been widely circulated (enough so that baby bottle manufacturers are quick to point out their new BPA-free plastic), it is not until this study that we learned just how easily BPA levels rise in the body when exposed to canned foods.
Super Beetle Destroying Monsanto GMO Corn Crops!
When I found out that Monsanto had taken the gene for the production of the caterpillar toxin produced naturally by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and inserted it into corn using GMO techniques, my feeling was, “Oh no! This will only hasten nature’s response to overcome the toxin, taking away a tried and true organic pest control.”
How right I was—unfortunately. A range of insects that are caterpillars in their larval stages are developing resistance. The western rootworm beetle – one of the most serious threats to corn – has developed resistance to Monsanto’s Bt corn, and entire crops are being lost.
Farmers in several Midwest states began reporting root damage to corn that was genetically engineered with the Bt toxin to kill the rootworm. Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann recently confirmed that the beetle, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, has developed resistance to the caterpillar-killing Bt protein. Two-thirds of all U.S. corn is genetically modified and the bulk of that is Monsanto’s Bt corn.
In response, Monsanto launched a “triple-stack” sweet corn which it envisions being sold at farmers markets. This corn will be genetically modified in three different ways, hoping that it will defeat nature’s ability to overcome the genetic toxicity Monsanto is building into the corn. It won’t work. But you won’t know about it, because the FDA refuses to allow food labeling of GMO products. You are not allowed to know about it, courtesy of your eco-friendly Federal government. Oh, did I mention that President Obama named a Monsanto executive to oversee food safety in the U.S. this year?
Is It Really Immoral to Eat Meat?
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There are vegans and vegetarians who tell me that it’s immoral to eat meat. They have been telling me that for years, but it hasn’t swayed me. Quite the contrary. When someone gets judgmental about my behavior, it tends to focus my attention on their rigidity.
I listen to their arguments. They will call the killing of animals murder. They will quote the passage in Genesis that enumerates the edible plants that should be our food. They will point to scientific studies that show that a diet heavy on meat, especially well-done or charred meat, can cause cancer and other health problems. Still, I am not swayed.
For millions of years, mankind hunted wild animals and ate them. Our bodies developed in such a way that we are omnivorous—able to eat both plants and animals. We share this trait with dogs and pigs. Cats go a step further and are carnivorous, subsisting solely on meat. We, too, can subsist almost solely on meat, as proved by the diet of the Inuit people of the far north.
It’s hard to think of the slaughter of domestic animals for meat as murder, since without human beings, our domestic animals wouldn’t even exist in the forms we know them, and they depend on us for their very lives. Slaughter, however, should be done as humanely as possible. Our meat animals are innocents. They deserve a humane death. Everything lives by eating other living things. There’s no need to feel guilty about it.
Yes, the healthiest diet is one that’s primarily plant foods, especially raw fruits, some raw vegetables like salads, and cooked vegetables. Meat should be eaten in moderation, and then it should be low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fat. Fowl and fish lead the list, but there’s also a place for lesser amounts of red meat. One of the healthiest meats of all comes from wild-hunted ungulates like deer, antelope, and reindeer. If you’ve had these meats, you’ll know what I mean. Wild-hunted ungulates have been food for humans and proto-humans for millions of years. Their meat tastes so good because we evolved eating it. The pleasure we get from a food tastewise is a good indication of how good for us it is. But all things in moderation and that especially goes for red meat.
Finally, yes, there are many studies that show a link between diets rich in heavily cooked red meats and disease, and we’ve agreed that such foods should be eaten in moderation, if at all. But there are thousands of studies about the beneficial effects of the omega-3 essential fatty acids in ocean fish, in the proteins in all meats, in the crucial vitamin B-12 that is found primarily in meat and is central to the proper development of our bodies and general health. The proteins in meat are reduced to their constituent amino acids in our digestive systems, and the aminos are used by our bodies to build new muscle and replace old tissue. Plants may supply the clay and water, but the aminos are the bricks that are made from them. We can get most of the aminos we need from plants, but not all. Some nutrients are formed in meat alone.
Besides, as the saying goes, “All flesh is grass.”
Organic meat, milk, eggs, butter, and other animal products are raised humanely and slaughtered humanely. They are free from antibiotics and artificial hormones. They are not genetically modified. At least for me, they are part of the healthiest diet. If you are vegan or vegetarian, that’s fine by me. Just don’t call me a murderer just because I like bacon with my eggs.