Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Greening - Monsanto - What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Dear Folks,

A report recently released on more of the potential dangers of Monsant's Roundup, brings up more questions about what Monsanto knew, who else knew and when did they know it.

Here is a Huffington Post link to read.

I want to draw your attention to a couple of, what I consider, important points.

Let's take for example a new drug out that has had years of R&D and the FDA approves the drug.  The companies are required to (and hopefully be really honest about) detail any potential contraindications, allergic reactions and anything that could cause a potentially life-threatening event.

In other words they are required to give doctors and patients all the information they need to make an informed decision on whether this drug is safe enough to use, or in the alternative has limited enough risks to out weigh the potential health issues over using it to treat "the" health problem.

So why is a chemical substance, applied to soil and food not treated the same way.

Do you remember all the 'exposes' on what the cigarette companies knew when they were telling people the butts were perfectly safe?  People were outraged and lawsuits followed - the companies are still in business, albeit with stronger and stronger health warnings required.  At least most smokers can't now say they don't know the risks.

I moved to the Valley in 1976 and experienced the massive floods of 1978 when the salt river destroyed the main bridge connecting the two sides of the east valley (for safety's sake I got stuck on the opposite side of the river from my home).  The planners had to make a decision about rebuilding the bridge based, in part, on costs and whether the bridge could survive a 50, 100 or 500 years flood.  Experts reported that given the nature of the flooding in '78 we had all three events!  So I remember reading with opened mouth alarm when the powers-that-be released reports on why they were rebuilding for a 50 year flood, because of the considerable cost to build one for a 100 or 500 year flood.  By the way the much Older Mill Avenue bridge withstood all of them!

Anyway, here is what I remember one of the reports indicated:  Because of the cost of the 100/500 year options, part of the factor was the number of acceptable deaths going with the 50 year version.  Did you get that?  It may be that they never intended that little piece of information to be released to the public, but it was - wish I could find the reference - it may be out there on the internet in archives.

The point of that little story is:  What health issues, deaths and environmental impact did Monsanto's own chemical engineers and others know and what did they decide to keep from the public?

Evey choice we make as consumers is or should be an informed decision.

You may not choose to decide if the jacket you are buying will last 1 year or 10 years - it would not be a bad idea.  But the point is when it comes to foods, chemicals and environmental impact on our lives and families we have a right to access all information on which we would reliably make an informed decision.  By withholding any part of "material" facts which alters what decision we would make if we knew them, a company or regulator is making the decision for you - without your knowledge.

Whether you believe an acceptable risk is 'acceptable' to you, each of us should support the right to know by the public at large.

It offers no comfort to me that people can sue a company which misleads the public, after the fact, after someone is dying or dead, because of that 'material' information which was not allowed to be accessible.

And, no, I do not support peoples right to sue when they are behaving so foolishly they bring the danger on themselves.  You can only give people information or make it available - you can't make them pay attention.

I want to know if my food contains GMO products.  I want to know what Monsanto knew and knows.  I want the USDA and FDA to require as much 'material' information as they require on drugs.  And I want all of it.

Monsanto defends its roundup and related products on the basis of preventing mass-starvation.  That is a really good motive.  However, if you knew that farming and eating those products would shorten your life, cause birth defects in your children, deplete the world's pollinators, and eventually 'cut' production of food crops - what decisions might be made instead?

Food for thought!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homegrown Sustainability - Some Ideas That Make Cents!

Dear Folks,

I am always on the lookout for ways to get more out of my efforts, garden, cooking, and life in general.  I like to recycle, not just in the current meaning, like turning in cans to metal recyclers (I do that), but in real - use-as-much-of-it-as-you-can ways, or maybe a better way to say it would be to waste as little as possible. I compost kitchen scrapes, feed stale bread to the birds (along with the birdseed we dole out), share extra food with neighbors, calculate my driving route to make as many stops with as few miles as possible, recycle using community bins, give things I can't use anymore to Goodwill, and share my ideas, experience, and knowledge with you.

And I worry, about everything - drives Deane nuts - but it is also what gets me looking into "how" to do things better or easier.

What if, I say to myself, everyone who could garden, did so, and then shared some with the folks next door?  What if you made a decision to waste as little as possible?  What if you got as involved in concepts like sustainability, local-focused purchasing, or really making every cent you spent worth more than the value you purchased - you know the old expression - "got my money's worth" - I look for "more than my money's worth" in many of my purchases.  But I'm not cheap - I don't try to get a good value for a poor price and put a neighbor out of business.  The built-in obsolence so prevalent today really makes me sad.  What if you got creative to achieve those goals?

Don't have a 'yard' to garden in?  A florescent light fixture, windows, plastic 2 liter soda or water bottles, some organic fertilizer and you have a "window garden" producing edibles -- some people have even made them with wine bottles.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics and really neat ways to grow food with as little waste as possible. 

Check our "WindowFarms" for a really creative way to garden in your home.  A couple of points about these ideas - the 'elaborate' farms are truly inspirational, but also require more investment in pumps and tubing, etc.  I am going to try to get around to setting up a simple version by just positioning bottles in a vertical pattern, where one drains into the next lower one and the bottom bottle catches the nutrient dense liquid and then I can take and pour it back through the top once a day.

SIDE TIP:  If you have an aquarium, you quick start your seed sprouting for sowing in the garden, by tying up the seeds (best with larger seeds) in a bit of cheese cloth and placing them in the tank or filter compartment.  The constantly circulating water speeds up germination time and rate (the amount of seeds which actually sprout).

Some very impressive systems have been set up to circulate water through fish tanks raising fish like tilapia for food and growing edible plants hydroponically.

Check out this Mesa family's big project to turn their pool into producing most of their food.  Besides their website they have also written a book about it called "Year of Plenty."

On a smaller but highly motivated scale - one cook who shares tips and recipes on started a blog on their decision to home-grow at least some of their food weekly.  Begged, Borrowed and Homegrown    "When I became unemployed last winter, I had to rethink how I cook, and what I eat, so that I could fit it in my budget. "

Ideas, these kinds of experiences give me lots of ideas.

One I looked into several years ago, but have not yet implemented is growing rice and crayfish in a kiddie pool.  Before you send me a note that it is illegal in Az to raise crayfish (they are an invasive species), I checked in with some officials at the UofA about it and "contained' and not accessible to rivers and streams etc. is permissible.  The idea is based on the Louisiana practice of farming rice and crayfish together, which began in the 18th century. "The concurrent culture of rice and crayfish makes use of land, resources, equipment, and infrastructure already being used for rice production."  I have not tried the concept yet because I am still trying to get my mind around actually eating the crayfish, that I raised (had a "pet" crayfish when I was a child).  But I like the idea of raising them on vegetation as opposed to the wild alternative.

Chickens - there is just something about raising a few hens for eggs and having them help you - in a supervised way - with the garden:  they fertilize it, eat the bugs, turn the soil and generally rotate any plants you want them working.  And if you need something spread around in the garden (like mulch), put it in a pile in the garden and let the chickens have at it - they can spread it faster and wider than you can!

And of course, there is the just plain simple idea of gardening in the soil or large containers here in the desert which is easy, economical, rewarding, peaceful, and you get to eat the results!

Hope these impressive ideas give you ideas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady