Tag Archives: GMO

CCD killed my bees; GMO corn suspected

Today I had to destroy my hives.

New beekeepers might find this surprising, that bees can die mysteriously. But it’s becoming a common problem for beeks.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that no bees were coming and going from my two hives. I watched them, and knew they were dead. It wasn’t a total surprise. Last summer, I had die-offs in both hives, so I didn’t rob the honey, hoping the colonies would bounce back. It was my hope that by leaving the honey, then they could survive the winter. They didn’t.

So, today, I opened up the hives — a chore I had been putting off.

Each of my hives held about 65 pounds of honey -- a classic symptom of colony collapse disorder (CCD): lots of honey, no bees. (Photo: shooflyfarm, Jim Ewing)

Each of my hives held about 65 pounds of honey — a classic symptom of colony collapse disorder (CCD): lots of honey, no bees. (Photo: shooflyfarmblog, Jim Ewing)

What I found was at first surprising. Each of the hives held about 65 pounds of honey. So, they didn’t starve (as I figured they wouldn’t if I didn’t harvest the honey this year). But there were no dead bees in the first hive. Just honey.

That’s a classic symptom of colony collapse disorder (CCD): lots of honey, no bees.

In the second hive, there was the same but with a difference. There was honey, but at the bottom of the hive were hundreds of dead bees. But, in addition, there were dozens of cockroaches, but also dead.

Whatever killed the bees killed the cockroaches that ate them.

I moved to town one year ago. While I had had ups and downs with the bees over the years when I lived out in the country, good years and not-so-good years, the bees adjusted to the various conditions. I requeened when I had to, captured swarms, and so forth, to keep them going. They survived drought and heavy rains, vicious cold spells and warm seasons. Adjusting.

But the moment I moved to town I had problems. The bees just couldn’t adjust.

I don’t think it’s just living in town, as urban beekeeping has become a national phenomenon. Hundreds of beekeepers live in New York City, for example; even swanky hotels have bee hives on their top floors. They are thriving.

But behind my house, a few subdivisions away and within the two-mile range of my bees, are literally miles of GMO corn. You can drive for 30 minutes and see nothing but corn fields interspersed with cotton fields.

Today, the harsh chemicals that once characterized cotton farming have become highly regulated with EPA rules that require quick breakdown of toxic chemicals. But the controversy rages over GMO corn and a host of pesticides for corn called neonicotinoids.

As Xerces has reported, neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticides that share a common mode of action that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death.

According to Xerces:

— Several of these insecticides are highly toxic to honey bees and bumblebees. Neonicotinoid residues are found in pollen and nectar consumed by pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The residues can reach lethal concentrations in some situations.
— Neonicotinoids can persist in soil for months or years after a single application. Measurable amounts of residues were found in woody plants up to six years after application.
— Untreated plants may absorb chemical residues left over in the soil from the previous year.
For more, see: http://www.xerces.org/neonicotinoids-and-bees/

Neonicotinoids are found in many garden products, and it’s possible that my bees died from that exposure here in town. But I suspect the corn, mainly because whenever herbicides and pesticides are sprayed on the miles and miles of fields outside of town, the odor permeates the area. It’s difficult to drive through or near those fields in the spring, fall and certain times in the summer.

According to various research reports, though the Big Ag seed producers and chemical companies vehemently reject the claim, it is believed that millions of bees die because of neonicotinoid pesticides. And the majority of GMO corn and soy are treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), 94 percent of U.S. corn seeds are treated with either imidacloprid or clothianidin (specific neonicotinoid poisons believed to kill bees) and as a result, honey bees are subjected to increasingly toxic load of neonicotinoids in corn fields.

Moreover, according to a Purdue University study released last year, the most damaging use of neonicotinoids is a type of coating applied to many genetically engineered (GMO) corn seeds to kill pests that the GMO Bt toxin (inserted genetically into the seed) cannot destroy.

While European countries have banned their use, neonicotinoids remain widely used in the United States, despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists have warned of the danger to the nation’s pollinators.

These nicotine-based neurotoxins impair the bees’ navigational ability and compromise their immune and nervous systems, causing paralysis and eventually death. It has been likened to a honeybee getting Alzheimer’s and forgetting how to return to the hive.

That would explain the first hive with its abundance of honey and missing bees.

But neonicotinoids use has an equally disastrous effect that research is showing (even research that the chemical scientists employed by industrial agriculture cannot explain away). And that is that even if a hive’s bees do not mysteriously disappear by the Alzheimer’s effect (CCD), the toxic load of neonicotinoids stresses hives to the extent that they die from other causes. Specifically, that can be either a disastrous increase in susceptibility to common diseases and parasites, or from other pesticides that might otherwise have sickened the bees but not killed them.

Nor do bees have to go to the corn to be poisoned. Pesticide-laden dust particles are carried for miles. And because the pesticides are systemic, they are absorbed by other plants, such as dandelions, that bees can be exposed to while gathering pollen and bringing it back to the hive.

The poison also is absorbed by soil and, hence, is found in plants that grow in that soil — as well as in our streams and rivers.

One might say, ah, but there’s no proof here that GMO killed the bees. To a certain extent, yes, there is no proven direct link, as there is no proven direct link between neonicotinoids and bee deaths (though the evidence seems overwhelming).

The fact is that rather than reducing pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity because the most common forms of insect pests (not bees!) are developing immunity to those used in conjunction with GMOs. That means ever more amounts and ever more varieties of toxic chemicals being applied (including herbicides).

That also might be illustrated by the simultaneous effect in my second hive: CCD evidence with honey but no bees found, as well as hundreds of bees killed by an unknown cause that also resulted in the deaths of the cockroaches that ate some of the dead bees.

I am not a scientist. I’m just a backyard gardener, former organic farmer, and (now, regrettably, former) beekeeper. I can only present conclusions as to what might have happened to my bees based on observation, reading and my own firsthand experience.

I am also very sad.

OK, I Told You So: GMOs A ‘Black Swan’


Glad to see that Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of “Black Swan,” agrees with my assessment published Dec. 31, 2012, that the expanded use of GMOs could produce a Black Swan event that could crash the world’s ecosystem!

The author of the 'Black Swan' who predicted the 2008 global economic collapse argues in a statisticsl monograph that continued use of GMO seeds courts an eco-disaster of global proportions. (Photo: Courtesy Flickr/Muffet)

The author of the ‘Black Swan’ who predicted the 2008 global economic collapse argues in a statisticsl monograph that continued use of GMO seeds courts an eco-disaster of global proportions. (Photo: Courtesy Flickr/Muffet)

As published by Global Research March 26, the risk analyst who predicted the 2008 financial crash (and made millions from it), has used statistical tools to show the probability of catastrophe arising from the current unstudied use of genetically modified organisms in our food supply.

The biotech companies that promote GMOs say that it’s “science based.” But as Taleb demonstrates, it’s only a method using science, not a statistically proven “safe” method of seed production.

In fact, he argues, it’s the opposite, in that natural biological processes take several generations so that the products of those unions are in effect field tested by nature and changing conditions. By contrast, the methods employed to insert various genes into plants remove those layers of refinement which can result in sudden and cascading catastrophe.

The focus of science, policy makers and government, instead, he says, should be on the fact that with the use of GMOs, the “total ecocide barrier” is bound to be hit, over a long enough time, with even incredibly small odds.

I concluded the same result, referring to Taleb’s book and methods, in an article Dec. 31, 2012, that was nominated for a James Beard Award for food journalism. (It didn’t get as much notice, however, and didn’t win the Beard Award either.  Maybe I was ahead of my time.)

Here is that article:

See, “What’s in Your Food”
MuckRack Portfolio: http://muckrack.com/OrganicWriter/portfolio/list
Also: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2012/oct/31/whats-your-food/
And: http://blog.findhornpress.com/?cat=252
And: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=19604582873&story_fbid=127495550735179

You can read the Global Research article here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/gmos-could-destroy-the-global-ecosystem-risk-expert/5375349?print=1

Here’s Taleb’s paper: The Precautionary Principle – http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/pp2.pdf

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Can Monsanto Change Its Brand to Organics?

Probably no one was more shocked than I when it was reported this week that Monsanto is now focusing on becoming a leader in …. drumroll, please …. organics!

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing -- and filled with 'what ifs….'  Photo: Inhabitat.com

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing — and filled with ‘what ifs….’ Photo: Inhabitat.com 

The multinational chemical company that is notorious for turning open pollinated seeds into genetically engineered varieties is not known for its …. um… sensitivity for natural growing methods.

Nonetheless there it was in Wired magazine, with the headline: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

The article (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/new-monsanto-vegetables/) points out that in addition to its global dominance in buying up seed companies and genetically engineering their seeds to withstand its pesticides and herbicides, etc., Monsanto also has a huge reservoir of traditionally developed seed varieties through its Borg-like acquisition of those rival seed companies.

In addition, it has been ongoing in its clinical genetic research of these seeds and developing new strains.

As the article states, these varieties “may be born in a lab, but technically they’re every bit as natural as what you’d get at a farmers’ market. Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too.”

Credit Monsanto to also come up with a way to speed up the process of cross breeding, using a “seed chipper” to identify genetic traits that make a lettuce crisper or more flavorful, for example, then only cross breed plants with those traits in a traditional manner.

The result is “super veggies” that can be sold as nonGMO, or even certified organic, if one takes the time to isolate and develop them (which Monsanto, of course, has the resources to do).

With this news, I’m perplexed, to say the least, and I’m sure others who have long labored in the sustainable and organics field are, too.

I wish Monsanto had gone this way earlier and developed a strong organic presence that would support sustainability; if it had, it would not be facing such opposition – and would see that it’s a more profitable avenue in the long run, developing partners instead of creating division.

I’m one of the few people, I guess, who remembers Delta and Pine Land Co. at Stoneville, MS, when it developed new seed varieties the old fashioned way — back when investors in Memphis owned it, and before Monsanto bought the company.

Back in the 1970s, when I was covering the Mississippi Delta for the old Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I was a supporter of this research; after all, who could fault “science” and developing agriculture as a modern, international business where farmers were CEOs directly tied to their fortunes on international markets?

It was an exciting concept and heady times! As a journalist, I eagerly wrote about this emerging role for farmers as “agri-businessmen” and women, who were riding the wave of this promising scientific progress.

Sadly, like The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin now, I “bought” the line that “science” would “save” agriculture. And, like Revkin now, even if he doesn’t see it yet, I was wrong. It took me about a decade to see that something was seriously wrong with modern agriculture as it was going that no amount of new chemicals, genetic engineering or expanding markets could fix. It was inherently unsustainable — and toxic — multidirectionally.

Of course, as with GMOs, now we know that big corporate interests can fund enough science labs and control the publication of their results so that even bad science can be passed off as positive. The Big Ag corporate PR machine has “spin” for every criticism. And opponents are simply dismissed as Luddites who don’t want to “feed the world” (e.g. capture world markets through monopolies, patents and forced government treaties).

Of course, back then, few could see how this would turn out — except visionaries like Wendell Berry with books like The Unsettling of America (1977).

Sure enough, farmers started going bust, as the “get big or get out” mentality took hold, and now we have 40 years worth of cheerleaders for Big Ag and Frankenfood telling us bad is good and up is down. The naked Emperor’s clothes look good! Food-related illness – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and food allergies – be damned!

So now, too, the Monsanto leopard wants to change its spots?

I’m not sure how this will go. Certainly, Monsanto can produce lots and lots of seeds at a cheaper cost than the somewhat boutique brands that are slowly developing certified organic seeds from heirloom and other varieties. The company can almost be assured, also, of cornering the market on industrial organic agriculture, particularly in the international market.

Be prepared for the onslaught of new Monsanto veggies at grocery stores, some,  eventually, with the certified organic label.

It’s a smart move on Monsanto’s part: If you can’t beat ’em, join em… sort of… and outproduce them and underprice ’em. We’ll see if its corporate philosophy changes, as well. (I doubt it.)

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

What’s The Monsanto March About?

What’s the Big Deal With Monsanto?

Monsanto is one Big Ag company breeding corn with genetically modified organisms.

Monsanto is one Big Ag company breeding corn with genetically modified organisms. Photo by Courtesy Flickr/Bitman

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

If you’re concerned about the future of organic food and farming, the May 25th March Against Monsanto is a tangible way of expressing your concern.

For those not up on organic issues, the protest might seem perplexing: Why target an agricultural company for protests?

The reason that organic farmers and consumers are upset over the giant transnational corporation is that, for them, this one company epitomizes all that’s wrong with modern industrial agriculture.

While Monsanto is by no means the only corporation (along with Bayer, Syngenta and Dupont) involved in producing potentially hazardous chemicals and biologicals for Big Ag, it’s the most successful in crowding out or taking over companies that practice natural and sustainable growing methods. You might call the company The Borg or the Darth Vader of Big Ag. Monsanto has been buying up seed companies for a generation, very nearly cornering the world market on seeds (see JFP article, What’s in Your Food, Oct. 21, 2012; chart: jfp.ms/seedmonopoly). But Monsanto has also been discontinuing those seed lines in favor of its own patented genetically engineered seeds.

One might ask, “What’s wrong with using advanced scientific methods to produce seeds? Haven’t humans been breeding plants for millennia?” Yes, but unlike traditional breeding methods, these genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are Frankenseeds that could not possibly be found in nature. They not only cross the lines of plant species but may contain genes from bacteria, viruses, insects, even animals inserted into their DNA.

Under a special exemption in U.S. law, unlike careful regulation in other countries, GMOs are allowed, even though there is no third-party testing or scientific establishment of their safety (see Los Angeles Times: jfp.ms/latimesGMOs).

Although GMO seeds and plants are banned under the certified organic program, organic farmers are being victimized by them. Part of the artificial genetics of GMO plants is their aggressive pollinating behavior. They are so aggressive that a natural field can easily be contaminated by GMO plants even when planted several miles away.

If a farmer decides to plant GMO corn, he may unintentionally contaminate all the organic corn crops of his neighbors. But, adding insult to injury, Monsanto routinely sues farmers whose crops may be contaminated by the GMOs for “patent infringement.”

In this way, by an insidious Catch-22, if these victimized organic farmers complain, Monsanto is immune from legal challenges for their losses from GMO contamination and can actually sue the victimized organic farmers for “theft of intellectual property” simply by growing those 
contaminated crops!

For consumers, it’s even more devilish because the most popular GMO seeds are bred to withstand herbicide poisons, which actually serves to ensure that more poisons are sprayed on crops than would otherwise be the case.

The GMO straw, so to speak, that broke the camel’s back came March 26, when President Barack Obama signed legislation backed by Monsanto that stripped federal courts of the ability to prevent the spread of GMOs.

Called the Monsanto Protection Act by opponents, the provision slipped in to the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue temporary permits allowing the continued planting of GMOs by farmers, even when a court rules otherwise, pending review. It essentially makes Monsanto above the law, allowing GMOs to be planted even when the environmental impact of that decision has yet to be determined.

To organic farmers and consumers, the Act is the epitome of corruption in Congress. It shows that the 1 percent of big money in America can run roughshod over everyone, including those who produce food in their own fields, people who care about the environment and consumers who care about the safety of their food.

That’s why farmers and consumers are marching on May 25.

Fight Monsanto in Jackson:

The March Against Monsanto is expected to start at the Farmer’s Market on High Street at noon, May 25, then march up High Street to the Capitol between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The organizers are Lindsey Lemmons and Julie Dennis Stewart. For more information, find the event on Facebook: Mississippi March Against Monsanto.

Also, visit the official March Against Monsanto website at march-against-monsanto.com/.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

For Organic Garden Use Organic Seeds and Here’s Why …

Dec. 19, 2012

The Skinny on Seeds

If  you are already thinking about what you want to grow in your garden  next year, start out right with organic seeds. They can make a much  better garden.
Conventional  seeds — the kind normally found at seed stores and in catalogs — are from  plants that are grown in what is considered a “conventional” setting:
with the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Organic  growing, of course, rejects the use of such chemicals. Seeds labeled “certified organic” are produced from plants grown in organic settings,  without
those conditions.
Moreover,  many of the seeds that gardeners plant are used in broader agricultural  settings: the vast acreages of monocultures that today constitute what  we consider to be farming. They may have coatings on the seeds for  faster germination or fungicides that are not allowed in organic  farming, or they may be genetically engineered for certain  traits — including toxins produced within the plant to kill certain pests.  These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic  farming.
In  addition, certain conventional seeds are bred for produce that looks  good or has a long shelf life to survive transportation over long  distances and
sitting in grocery bins, or are uniform in size so that a  consistent price can  be charged by the food distributor. But the primary  concern for organic gardeners is that the plants will grow better. One  big difference is early growth, where plants pop up out of the ground to  get a head start on pests.
They are bred for vigorous growth (that may  not be uniform with other plants in size) and for taste (as opposed to  shelf life or appearance in color or shape).
If  you start with organic seeds — or heirloom seeds that have consistent  desirable qualities — you could develop hardier strains uniquely suited  for your growing conditions and preferences quicker than using varieties  developed for other “conventional” settings.
What  about keeping seeds for growing the next year? Is seed saving better or  worse than organic seeds? Seed saving can have the same effect,  tailoring plants for your unique growing conditions. Organic seed gives  you a leg up; you already have some of the qualities you want to  develop. So, while seed saving is preferred over buying every year, buy   organic seed and then save seeds to more efficiently develop the traits  you want to keep.
Mind  you, certified organic seeds are not readily available for some  varieties of crops. Organic growing allows for some use of seeds that  are unavailable in certified organic varieties; just make sure they are  not GMO or coated.

Online Certified Organic:
Seeds  of Change has a good certified organic variety, some 1,200 varieties selected for the home gardener or small market gardener:  seedsofchange.com
For  more, read “A New Age for Organic Seed,” an interview with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, at http://ow.ly/ghRoh

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

GMO Labeling Movement Continues

Nov. 21

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The Big Ag and Big Food cartel may be chortling now that it “won” Nov. 6 by defeating California’s Proposition 37 that would have mandated labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), but that victory may be short-lived.

Already, Connecticut, Vermont and Washington state are preparing 2013 initiatives, 23 states are working on legislation to require labeling, and Canada is considering legislation for a national ban on GMOs. Sixty-one countries already have mandatory labeling.

A massive disinformation campaign that snowed even otherwise reputable voices killed Prop 37. A consortium of food giants funneled more than $46 million into defeating it; Monsanto alone spent $8.1 million. By comparison, the anti-GMO side only had $9.2 million to spend, despite more than 3,000 food safety, environmental, and consumer organizations endorsing them.

The endorsers included most of the major health, faith, labor, environmental and consumer groups in California, including the California Nurses Association, California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, United Farm Workers, American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Sierra Club, Whole Foods Market, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund, Mercola Health Resources, Public Citizen, MoveOn and Food Democracy Now! (For a full list, visit carighttoknow.org/endorsements.)

So, how did it lose? The massive funding by Big Ag and Big Food raised so many questions about the proposed labeling law that those who were undecided or feared the scary, untrue claims that it would increase grocery prices voted “no.” Even so, 47 percent of California voters voted yes — some 3.5 million families!

That sends a powerful message: Despite fears about the specific legislation of Prop 37, a majority of Californians probably would vote for a mandatory GMO labeling law if the questions raised were honestly addressed. (National polls show up to 90 percent of Americans want GMO labeling, see: rodale.com/gmo-labeling)

Moreover, because the publicity raised consciousness about the issue, now, millions of Californians and those who followed the Prop 37 debate around the nation are looking at the food products they buy to determine if they contain GMOs simply because Prop 37 was on the ballot.

Bottom line? If food manufacturers want to stay in business, they will start labeling and switching over due to self-preservation. Regardless of specific labeling requirements, or how long state or national governments drag their feet, consumers will win this food labeling battle by voting with their wallets!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

Aug. 24, 2012

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

If you care about food safety, human health and the environment, and if you haven’t heard of California’s Proposition 37, yet, please read on.

Prop. 37 seems innocuous enough. It simply requires that all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered ingredients should say so on the label.

Why do the giant food and agriculture companies fear this so?

They allege it would be too costly to label products differently for only one state. Some companies would simply not sell in California—and limit those citizen’s consumer choices, they protest—and “it will cost jobs!”

That’s a straw-man argument. California is home to 37 million Americans—the largest state in the country by population (and the second largest “state” in the western hemisphere). If big companies don’t sell in California, they won’t stay big for long. As California goes, so goes the country.

If Prop. 37 passes, it’s more likely that companies will simply label foods containing GMOs instead of increasing costs and creating non-GMO product lines in an attempt to capture both markets. This is already happening with soy milk and cereal products in groceries that stock organic foods.

The real reason ag and food giants don’t want labeling is because they don’t want to give up market share, spend money to develop new products or spend more for non-GMO ingredients. In other words: It’s all about short-term profits.

Labeling GMO foods will likely accelerate the already phenomenal growth of organic food purchases away from “conventional” foods, brought to you by pesticide-laden, synthetic chemical farming, which makes food far cheaper to produce.

Polls repeatedly show that 90 percent or more of Americans want labeling of GMO foods. Why? No one has shown that GMOs are safe. Under a quirk of U.S. food-safety laws, the U.S. considers GMO seeds, crops and foods safe without any independent testing. No one knows what the long-term effects will be on human health or the environment.

Because of this, European countries, Japan and other countries require labeling on food products containing GMOs—which come mostly from the United States—and have outright bans on GMO seeds and crops.

Why does Prop. 37 matter to the rest of the United States? If the proposition passes:

• Big companies will change their crop purchasing to non-GMO. This, in turn, also could boost organic farming, which bans GMOs.

• More “conventional” farmers will turn to organic farming where prices are higher, especially if big companies are willing to sign contracts for organic products.

• Seed companies, which are being bought up by giant GMO producers to limit competition, will promote more heritage, heirloom and non-GMO seeds for farmers due to increased demand and loss of GMO market share.

• Because there will be fewer GMOs—which producers genetically engineer to withstand spraying with chemical pesticides and fertilizers—less chemical spraying is likely, which is good for the environment.

• It may be possible to halt or reduce honeybee colony collapse disorder. Experts suspect the causes of bee population decline to be certain GMO corn varieties and some pesticides used with GMO crops.

• Fewer potential human-health and environmental risks could arise from the unknowns of growing GMO crops, as the market for GMO dries up.

Overall, labeling GMO is an attempt to wrest control of food choices from the big ag, seed and Food conglomerates and put it back into the hands of consumers—where it belongs.

Read about GMO myths and truths at http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 Find out more about California’s Proposition 37: California Right to Know Campaign (http://www.carighttoknow.org).

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Saving Our Planet One Seed At A Time

Aug. 24, 2012
Saving Our Planet One Seed At A Time
As summer continues to blaze, some of our early-planted varieties will start to bolt, or produce seeds. This offers an opportunity for organic gardeners not only to save the seeds but share them with others—and help save our planet.

Giant transnational seed companies are buying up small seed companies globally and discontinuing their lines of stock in favor of bioengineered seeds they can patent. As the 2008 documentary film “Food, Inc.” noted, with the development of such genetically modified organisms (GMO), for the first time in history, these biotechnology giants are becoming the architects and “owners” of life.

With seed “ownership” and fewer natural, openly pollinated seeds being sold, food-plant biodiversity suffers. Couple this with conversion of open land to farming monocultures (where farmers grow only selected plants such as GMO corn or soybeans and use herbicides to kill all other plants), and loss of habitat thanks to urban and suburban growth, and extinction of whole plant species is under way.

Seedhead News reports that of all types of commercial veggies grown at the turn of the century, only about 4 percent still exist today. Just three grain crops—rice, wheat and corn—make up more than half of all the food consumed globally. By contrast, when Europeans touched foot on North America, Native Americans used up to 5,000 different species of food plants.

Food’s future is not bright unless we reverse these trends. Practicing seed saving, sharing seeds with friends and neighbors, and supporting seed-saving libraries that conserve local and native species are a few of the ways we can do that. Not only will you help the planet by collecting your organic, heirloom and nonhybrid, open-pollinated seeds, but you’ll improve your own garden over time.

Drought? Blight? Insect damage? Keep the seeds of the plants that survive, and they’ll likely pass that resistance to their offspring.

Who Owns Food?

• America’s seeds are owned by a handful of corporations that have bought up the seed stocks for food. Here’s a chart complied by Mother Earth News: http://bit.ly/KQZ22o.

• An iPhone app called ShopNoGMO helps consumers avoid buying genetically engineered food. Find it in the Apple iTunes store.

• Seed Savers Exchange offers an online database on how to collect seeds from various wild and domestic plants, including fruits, vegetables and flowers. Visit bit.ly/JWTfJp.

Here are a few seed resources:

• Seed Savers Exchange: seedsavers.org

• Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Ariz., publishes Seedhead News: nativeseeds.org

• Learn how to start a seed lending library: richmondgrows.org, search for “seed lending” if necessary.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

We Are As Gods …

We Are As Gods…

June 2, 2012

I was surfing the Internet and came across a headline in the archives of the The Los Angeles Times that caught my eye: “Turning DNA into hard drive.” So, I called up the story and was surprised to see that not only had not a single person “shared” it on Twitter or Facebook over the week that it had been posted, but the subject matter had profound implications for genetics, the ecology, and humankind.

Perhaps a better headline would have been “We Are As Gods: Living Beings Can be Programmed.”

The article (May 26, 2012: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/26/science/la-sci-synthetic-biology-q-a-20120526) was an interview with Stanford University bioengineer Drew Endy, who described his team’s successful experiment in “synthetic biology.” After seven years of trying, the team was able to create a way for DNA to store data or, in Endy’s words, achieve one of the “grand challenges in bioengineering” of “storing information inside living organisms.”

The process the team discovered turns an enzyme into a code that can be “flipped,” like “0” and “1” that computers use.  The next step, he said, is shifting the process to go from bits to bytes. Then, within living beings, processes can be coded.

Perhaps Times readers didn’t understand the vast significance of this story. I did “share” this story on Twitter, with the hashtags (subject matter) of: Sciencefact, Biocomputers and Genetics. The heading: Here’s the Future.

Those who adhere to organics, or non-synthetic foods, are in a struggle to have genetically modified (GMO) food labeled. GMO is banned in organic growing, and European countries have resisted its use and required labeling in foods containing GMO. Only in the United States are genetically engineered seeds, plants and foods deemed safe for humans and the environment, without any independent testing, under a quirk of the food regulatory system. The companies that manufacture the patented seeds and foods say they are safe, so they are deemed safe. (Forget the federal government’s responsibility to protect the country or the environment; big corporations with deep pockets to fund election campaigns have sway over the public good.)

Not to be a Luddite, the Stanford team’s research could, no doubt, do tremendous good for humankind; imagine a gene sequence that allows carefully targeted anti-cancer agents to “turn on” and “turn off” when tumors appear, perhaps negating the devastating effects of chemotherapy. But, as with the multinational corporations’ enthusiastic funding and exportation of questionable “food products” that use “transgenic” processes, or genes from animals into plants and vice versa and even pesticides into DNA, the potential for far-reaching and perhaps irreversible ecological harm is great, as well.

For example, suppose an unintended outgrowth of a genetically encoded corn plant was to make it vulnerable to an unforeseen virus. Such an aggressive strain could spread to wipe out corn varieties worldwide, bringing global famine in its wake.

This scenario is not far-fetched; the Irish potato famine that resulted in mass starvation in the 19th century was just such a warning, but without the effects of cloning and the inbred aggressive pollination that already is part of the GMO effort to magnify it worldwide.

Or, imagine the paranoiac uses of encoding plants, animals, people or places, or responding to intrusions, that military or Homeland Security scientists could devise. Frightening scenarios as popularized in the film Hunger Games, where environments were “programmed” to kill, could become not science fiction but science reality.

There may be no way to get this genie of biocomputing back in the bottle and, indeed, like the invention of dynamite, it can have beneficial uses. But perhaps it should also be recalled that Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite, also inaugurated the Nobel Peace Prize so his legacy would not be for its military uses “as a merchant of death.”

Some ethics and morality must be bound to genetic advances. If we are to be as God, we cannot be immoral about it without the potential for unimaginably horrendous and cataclysmic consequences.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

What’s in a label?

What’s in a Label?
May 2, 2012

When food shopping, how do you know what you’re buying? You may be surprised at the misleading information on labels.
For example, The New York Times recently reported a dispute  between Fresh Del Monte and Del Monte Foods—two companies created out of  what was a single Del Monte in 1989. Fresh Del Monte is supposed to  sell “fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh produce” while Del Monte  Foods markets canned and preserved fruits, vegetables and produce. That  seems clear, right? But Fresh DM is suing DM Food because it is selling  processed fruit and fruit products in plastic tubs on refrigerated  shelves of grocery and convenience store produce sections.
Maybe that’s not fresh produce, huh?
Consumers must be savvy to what’s presented to them and not rely on  product positioning in the supermarket or even the labels, which, in  this case, carry
such appealing names as Fruit Naturals and SunFresh.
Labels on processed foods, or food “products,” tell very little. For  example, there is a nationwide movement to label foods containing GMO  ingredients, which are banned in U.S. organic foods and most of the  world.
If you want fresh produce, don’t buy it packaged. Then, look at the  label affixed to it. All produce (including fruit, veggies, nuts and  herbs) will have
either a four or five digit number, part of the PLU, or  Price Look Up Codes, established in 1949. Four digits means it’s  conventionally grown with
chemicals. If that number has a 9 in front  (making it five digits long), it’s certified organic; similarly if it  starts with an 8, it’s GMO. Every produce
variety has a code (see  plucodes.com for info).
Some labels, such as Fair Trade, are reliable because  independent  organizations stand behind them to ensure the label is accurate. Some  are not.
For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture only regulates  Free Range labeling for poultry (not other meat) and only requires that  the birds have
“access” to the outdoors, which could mean almost  anything.
The Earthwatch Institute, an international nonprofit organization  dedicated to scientific research for the good of the planet, has a list  of labels it has
rated for reliability at http://www.bit.ly/uKE4pP.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Foraging for ‘Farm-aceuticals’ a healthy pastime

Foraging for ‘farm-aceuticals’ provides a healthy pastime

With warm weather playing “hide and seek” with winter, lots of  “weeds” are popping up, but don’t be quick to pull them up from the  organic garden, as they can provide “farm-aceuticals.”
According  to renowned herbalist Susun Weed (Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing,  2003, $17.95), here are a few “weeds” with medicinal properties:
•Chickweed (Stellaria media) dissolves cysts, tonifies the thyroid and aids in weight loss.
•Daisy (Bellis perennis) relieves headaches, muscle pain and allergy symptoms.
•Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) relieves gas, heartburn and indigestion.
•Dock, also called yellow dock, curly dock and broad dock helps “all women’s problems.”
•Plantain, also called ribwort or pig’s ear, speeds healing, relieves pain, stops itching.
•St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) relieves muscle aches, is useful with shingles, sciatica, back pain and headaches.
For details, see: www.matrifocus.com/BEL07/wisewoman.htm.

Reader response: Are genetically modified foods really a problem?
I’ll answer with a couple of quotes from Food Inc. by Eric Schlosser:
•”Animal  genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into the chromosomes  of plants, fish and animals, creating heretofore unimaginable transgenic  lifeforms. For the first time in history, transnational biotechnology  corporations are becoming the architects and ‘owners’ of life.”
•”With  little or no regulatory restraints, labeling requirements or scientific  protocol, bioengineers have begun creating hundreds of new GE  ‘frankenfoods’ and crops. The research is done with little concern for  the human and environmental hazards.”
•”An increasing number of  scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude,  inexact and unpredictable – and therefore inherently dangerous.”
I  think that sums it up: It’s unregulated, possibly unsafe for humans,  certainly a danger to the environment, morally questionable, and likely  to make developing countries even more dependent on hand-outs or subject  to starvation.

California may vote on GMO: Polling shows  80 percent of California voters support labels on GMO  foods. And they  are starting a petition drive to put it on their Nov. 6 ballot.
Organic and food safety interests will be watching; it’s likely, as goes California, so goes the nation. For more, see: http://organicconsumersfund.org.

Come see me: I’ll be speaking Feb. 25 at the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute  of Mississippi conference at Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond  on Organic Backyard Market Gardening. For more information, visit www.ggsim.org

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Postmodern Organics’ can begin in your own backyard

‘Postmodern organics’ can begin in your own backyard

“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
– William Gibson

Be prepared for postmodern organics.
As  the Gibson quote intimates, we often don’t realize we’re living “in”  the future because it’s not  understood, or seen for what it is. We’re  like frogs in slowly heated water; we don’t realize the “future” is here  until we’re
We have grown so used to the factory farm  model of thousands of acres being planted by a handful of human beings  that we’ve forgotten that even a small plot (say 10 feet by 20 feet) can  amply supplement the diet of a family for three seasons of the year.
Even  a 4-by-8-foot “Jim’s plot” can stretch a food dollar and add greatly to  the health of a family by providing, safe, fresh, nutritious, wholesome  veggies.
As I told attendees to the Mississippi Urban Forest  Council conference this week, if neighbors, families, churches or civic  organizations joined to grow food, they could “feed the world” (or those  who matter to them), too.
Two issues will decide the “future” now:
•Whether  genetically modified organisms, seeds, crops (GMO) must be labeled, so
consumers have their own health in their own hands through their own  choices;
• Whether the budding small organic (boutique, backyard or  urban) farm movement continues to accelerate with ever more markets  opening for them.
How will this effect the future?
The labeling debate could well decide the future of GMO – if people don’t buy it, farmers won’t plant it, ergo : NO MO’ GMO.
The  small farm movement is what will save rural communities by eradicating  “food deserts,” employing local people in the production and  distribution of “real” food. That will also better people’s health by  fighting obesity,
hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and the like  caused by high-fat, high-sugar, processed “food products.”
That  insistence on local, organic food will reduce the giant factory farm  dependence (if the government reduced its subsidies propping it up,  putting small organic on an even playing field or gave equal amounts to  small startups).
That’s postmodern organics:
•Adoption of proven methods for crop production over the unsustainable so-called “conventional” chemical methods;
•Locally  produced jobs and an emphasis on health, sounding the death knell for  the agri/biz conglomerates that produce the nonfood that is killing us.
We  each can do our part in this by growing our own organic food – which we  can do in our backyards – or by buying organic, rejecting GMO,  supporting locally grown food and only voting for those who look out for  the consumer first.

Sign GMO petition: GMO foods in the  U.S. should be labeled. Sign the Environmental Working Group’s petition  telling the FDA to Just Label It! bit.ly/yar75l

Local plants & shrubs.  Clinton is having a big sale of native plants – perennials, trees and  shrubs – in honor of Arbor Day (which is today in Mississippi).
The  Clinton Community Nature Center Arbor Day Native Plant and Antique Rose  sale is Saturday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.,  617 Dunton Road, Clinton. For  more, see: www.clintonnaturecenter.org.

Great book: I finally got around to reading Robin Mather’s book: The Feast Nearby:  How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping  chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on  $40 a week), which came out last year (Ten Speed Press, $24). And I  couldn’t put it down.
You may remember, Robin at one time was The Clarion-Ledger food editor. Now,
she’s at Mother Earth News.
I  bought the book on my Kindle. But it has really great-looking recipes  in it, so I turned around and ordered a hardback to give to my beautiful  wife Annette.
If you buy a book twice and tell everybody to read it, is that an endorsement squared!?

Come see me: I’ll be speaking Feb. 25 at the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute  of Mississippi conference at Eagle Ridge Conference Center in Raymond  on Organic Backyard Market Gardening. For more, see: www.ggsim.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Little sprouts’ might like kit for first organic garden

Jan. 27, 2012
‘Little Sprouts’ might like a kit for first organic garden

A lot of us older folks often forget that kids like to see things grow, too. Why not start an organic garden for little sprouts.
I saw a really cute seed starter kit for kids, for example, in the Seeds of Change catalog.
It includes:
•Two biodegradable planting pots
•Certified organic seeds
•Organic planting mix
•100 percent recyclable windowsill protector tray
•1 – 2 – 3 easy grow guide
It sells for $5.99.
For more, see: http://bit.ly/wwcanD – or write P.O. Box 4908 Rancho Dominguez CA 90224, or call 1-888-762-7333.
Of course, you can assemble these items yourself and probably get more for your money, but it makes it easy if you want to order some of these little kits and give or send them as gifts.
Better yet, create a 4×8-foot Jim’s plot, and dedicate that space for kids and grandkids. Make it their own food plot (maybe with a little help from Dad, Mom and grandparents).
That’s a gift that gives for a lifetime.

These high temperatures – 77 degrees last Friday! – are unusual and causing my greens to bolt and go to seed, but trust me, there’s more cold weather on the way.
The temptation may be there to start thinking about planting with highs now for two weeks in the 60s and 70s, but February is usually a bone-chilling month.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t start preparing now by planning what you plan to plant, ordering seeds, and in a couple of weeks, getting seeds started.
To figure out when you will want to plant, count back from the last frost date.
Here in central Mississippi, the old folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is April 6.
To be cautious, in the past, I’ve planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost that week. Easter this year is April 8; so, that would be April 15. That’s a bit early.
We’ll probably set out some plants the first week in March, relying on Agribon to protect them from frost. According to the U.S. temperature tables, last frost date for central Mississippi is March 20-31; there’s a 50 percent chance of 28 degree weather where we are (Lena) on March 9, and warms thereafter. So that’s a pretty safe bet.
Of course, seeds won’t germinate until the soil reaches a certain sustained temperature. So, we usually start plants indoors in containers and set them out when the weather starts to warm.
You can start your plants from seed two to three weeks before you intend to plant them, by putting them in little cups filled with organic potting soil in the windowsill. (You can actually use a type of Miracle Gro that’s OMRI approved for organic growing: Miracle-Gro¨ Organic Choice¨ Potting Mix.)
Before planting, make sure and put them outside where they are protected but still get some sun for a couple of days to “harden” them for outdoors growing.
For optimum growing (to continue to grow crops throughout the year, or to finish up before August, which we prefer, so as to avoid the hottest part of summer), you want to calculate the earliest you can plant after the threat of frost is past.
•Here’s a frost chart for Miss.: http://msucares. com/lawn/garden/vegetables/planting/map.html
•Here’s a listing by state: http://www.victoryseeds.com/frost

Climate change reflected in USDA plant hardiness map?: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new plant hardiness map that reflects a general 5-degree higher reading than the 1990 map. No posters of the new map have been printed, but it can be viewed and downloaded online: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb

Farmers Market: The Jackson Farmers Market off High Street resumes Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. For additional information, see:

Food Safety: Acres USA reports that in response to Monsanto releasing the first genetically modified (GMO) sweet corn for human consumption, a coalition of food safety groups has started a petition drive to keep it off the dinner plates of an unsuspecting public. It has collected more than 264,000 signatures from consumers who refuse to buy or eat the corn asking retailers and food processors to reject it, since the United States – unlike Europe – does not reject GMO foods, nor does it require food containing it to be labeled.
For more information, see: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org Or, to sign a petition: http://bit.ly/ulPlGe

Mark your calendar:
•I’ll be speaking on Community Supported Agriculture at the 21st Annual Urban Forest Council Conference Feb. 7 at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. Details: http://www.msurbanforest.com
•I’ll be speaking on Organic Backyard Market Gardening Feb. 25 at the third annual Sustainable Living Conference by Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute of Mississippi at Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Raymond. For additional information, visit www. ggsim.org

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Join seed-saving ‘revolution’ for planet’s biodiversity

Jan. 13, 2012
Join seed-saving ‘revolution’ to foster planet’s biodiversity

Are you keeping your seeds from your garden? If not, you might want to make a New Year’s resolution in that regard.
Each year, with organic, heirloom and nonhybrid, open pollinated seeds, your garden is adapting to your unique growing.
The plants that thrive, if you keep the seeds, will provide proven winners in our climate.
Hard drought? Keep the seeds of those plants that survived, and they’ll likely pass that drought resistance to their offspring.
Blights hitting some plants? Keep the seeds of those that are unaffected, and they also are likely to produce blight-resistant offspring.
Some people swear by hybrids because they are uniquely tailored to certain traits. But the reason heirlooms are heirlooms is because they have enough genetic diversity within them to survive a range of adverse conditions. Keeping those seeds merely emphasizes certain characteristics.
Besides, if you keep seeds, native seeds or unique varieties, you are doing your part for the biodiversity of the planet.
According to Stephen Thomas, seed collection assistant with Native Seeds SEARCH, growing indigenous foodstuffs and keeping the seeds is an invaluable activity.
In the fall issue of Seedhead News, he writes that heirloom crops have all but disappeared.
“Genetic diversity in our food plants has been winnowed down over the last 100 years to a handful of commodity crops, often represented by a few scant varieties. Of all the types of commercial veggies grown at the turn of the century, only about 4 percent still exist today. Just three grain crops – rice, wheat and corn – make up more than half of all the food consumed globally. Contrast this figure with the 3,000 to 5,000 different species of food plants once used by North American Indians, and the biodiversity crisis comes into jarring focus.”
Why not start your own seed library? Share your seeds with friends, family? Doing so ensures a future for rare, homegrown and cherished plants in the future.

Seed library: The January issue of Acres USA magazine (www.acresusa.com) has a wonderful article on creating your own seed library, “Sowing Revolution: Seed Libraries Offer Hope for Freedom of Food.” For details, visit http://www.richmondgrows.org/create-a-library.html. Some libraries:
•Hudson Valley Seed Library – Accord, N.Y. – http://www.seedlibrary.org
•Native Seeds SEARCH – Tucson, Ariz. – http://www.nativeseeds.org
•SLoLA – Seed Library of Los Angeles – Los Angeles, Calif. – http://www.slola.org
Also, for a look at a small, Southern organic and heirloom seed company that started from scratch only four years ago, see Sow True Seed at Asheville, N.C., http://sowtrueseed.com.

Food deserts: Mississippi counties that are “food deserts,” that is, where fresh vegetables are not available, may receive some help from the U.S. government under a mega funding bill passed last month. See: The Healthy Foods Financing Initiative by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: http://bit.ly/uemAx1.

GMO: The Jan. 9 issue of The Atlantic has an astounding article titled “The Very Real Danger of Genetically Modified Foods.” It claims Chinese research could lead to the conclusion that eating GMO foods may actually alter human DNA. True? Don’t know. Scary? Yes. See: http://bit.ly/yS2SRW.

Slow Food: There’s a great article in Grist on the Slow Food movement in America seemingly having lost its focus and gone adrift, see: http://bit.ly/wSNUk3.
For a list of 10 issues that some believe it should adhere to for it to remain “a broad ‘big tent’ organization dedicated to ‘taste education’ through preserving and promoting food that’s ‘good, clean and fair’ and the farmers, fishers and others who produce it,” see: http://bit.ly/zipXyS.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Beware of GMOs, arsenic in food

Oct. 7, 2011
Be wary of genetically modified organisms, arsenic in foodWeird food additives worrying you? Readers offer their views:
Reader response: “Why do we need a warning against genetically modified food? (as urged in a previous column)… I know Europe has been concerned about ‘Frankenfood,’ but I have read nothing to indicate that these fears are empirically based.”
That’s because the United States has it backwards! We’re being driven by profit, not science, or public safety.
Genetically modified organisms with food is under the FDA in the United States and the law is written so that such transgenic (across species) food is considered similar to what’s offered on the market, so it’s considered safe even if there’s no empirical evidence to prove it.
The studies done are industry-sponsored; the companies contend it is proprietary information. So, it’s not “proven” safe. It’s “assumed” safe, and vigorously asserted as safe by those selling it. The U.S. government has bought this line of reasoning and is pushing it internationally as a matter of global commerce, even as other nations resist.
Additionally, GMO seeds are bred to be aggressive breeders. When planted next to open pollinated crops, they soon take over; that prevents those farmers from selling their crops as “organic” while also exposing them to lawsuits by the seed manufacturers for using their seed stocks without paying for it. Such companies have been very aggressive about protecting their patents, to the extent of entering farmers’ fields, testing their crops and suing them!
Beyond that, there’s also the issue of genetically engineered plants affecting the ecosystem (taking over niches filled by other plants; this is occurring now with GMOs growing wild on U.S. roadsides).
Plus, in my view, just from a gut level, I object to and question the validity of using animal genes in plant species; it’s just wrong.
If not banning GMO, food containing GMOs ought to be clearly labeled so consumers can choose what they eat.
Note: GMO is prohibited under certified organic rules.
For more:
•See books and articles by Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
•See Michael Pollan’s Sunday article in The New York Times Magazine: How Can You Tell if Food is Genetically Engineered?,http://nyti.ms/nOltMK
•Sign the Environmental Working Group’s online petition asking the FDA to label GMO food: http://bit.ly/o0JTHi
•See the Reuters story: Some 200 groups support labeling drive:http://reut.rs/qUsuvy
Reader response: “You said (in an earlier column) that poultry litter is not recommended as manure for organic gardens because, and I quote, ‘it contains arsenic from feed.’ Is this true?
Chicken feed in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) commonly includes roxarsone, a food additive containing arsenic that is a growth enhancer that gives the meat a pink color.
According to Food and Water Watch, chronic exposure to arsenic is associated with increased risk for several kinds of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as neurological problems in children.
Some CAFOs have stopped using roxarsone; the leading manufacturer of it has “voluntarily” pulled it from the market, and it’s banned in Europe. But it’s still allowed by the FDA, though it has been found to be fouling water tables and detected in chickens sold in groceries.
Note: It’s a banned substance for organic growers.
An excellent article on the subject by Tom Philpott is in Mother Jones magazine: http://bit.ly/nDSWI9.
More on organic mosquito repellents: You can also try: Bt israelensis (Bt-i)-Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis. It is reported to be safe as an organic application for irrigation and roadside ditches, pastures, marshes and ponds, water gardens, flower pots, bird baths and rain gutters. It’s OMRI approved for certified organic operations and is safe for humans and animals; however, sellers point out “BTI is not meant to be used in water used for human consumption.”
Another natural method that may be employed is use of the mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis. They appear in ditches, but work anywhere that mosquito larvae might be found; including rain barrels.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Heirlooms are heirlooms for a reason

May 13, 2011

Heirlooms prove their worth in organic gardens

There’s been something of a backlash in national gardening circles about heirloom varieties, which I suspect is being egged on by seed suppliers.

You may recall that an heirloom variety of a plant is one that has become traditional, such as in our neck of the woods the Arkansas Traveler tomato (bred in Arkansas for its ability to withstand heat and humidity) or the Marion tomato (which was the staple of south Mississippi’s truck farming tradition).

In late March, there was a rather heated debate about heirlooms in The New York Times, of all places (“Heirloom Seeds or Flinty Hybrids?,” March 23), the gist of which was that if heirlooms were any good there would be no hybrid varieties.

Modern seeds, which are generally hybrid crosses, produce a “more vigorous plant, better resistance to diseases,” said the owner of Johnny’s Seeds, for example, noting in a car analogy: Why not buckle up in a 1936 Oldsmobile coupe?

Expecting a sound retort, I was surprised that the article went downhill from there, the consensus being that heirlooms are outdated, susceptible to disease, don’t produce well and generally ought to be discarded in favor of the more “modern” hybrids. By the same token, some commented that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) take that a step farther. After all, they are products of Science and can even include animal genes in them to take on Nature!

Well, needless to say, as an organic grower, I was stunned by the whole tenor of the piece, and its commentary, but have since seen its premises knocking around the Internet like an echo chamber, with the article serving to legitimize those points of view.

I could almost buy it, if I didn’t know better. It’s astounding to me that anyone with any knowledge of actually growing plants could swallow such inorganic manure.

By its very nature as an open pollinated plant (as opposed to a forced hybrid – or GMO – that can only produce once, then die, along with its unique mix of selected genes), an heirloom adapts to changing conditions in its environment.

If there’s a drought and only a few Arkansas Travelers make it, for example, then save those survivors’ seeds and the next Arkansas Travelers you plant are likely to be drought resistant.

Diseases? Insects? Fungus? Odd growing season? Save those seeds, and the next editions will be tailored to survive those conditions.

As opposed to hybrids – or heaven forbid, Frankenfood GMOs – successive heirloom generations adapt to the conditions where you live!

The reason heirlooms are heirlooms is because they are so desired and adaptable with consistent qualities that people want. That’s the definition of heirloom: A valued possession passed down through succeeding generations; in this case, a plant of enduring value.

So, I guess folks can have heated debates in the Times and on the Internet about how “outdated” are heirloom varieties.

But seedsavers and folks who actually grow what they eat and eat what they grow know better. Heirlooms prove their worth in the organic garden again and again.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Traditional’ planting time

April 15, 2011

‘Traditional’ planting time no longer set in stone

Next week marks Earth Day and Good Friday – both major events for gardeners (aside from religious and social reasons).

Good Friday is the traditional day central Mississippians have planted seeds in their gardens.

Some old-time gardeners plant by the moon, which means they plant while the moon is waxing, not waning; in which case, you’re a bit late as Monday is full moon. You would have to wait until May 3 (new moon) to “plant by the dark of the moon” with it waxing again – which could be a good idea for plants that like hot weather, like okra.

When is the right time to plant? Nowdays, there are so many hybrids that can be planted at various times that it’s hard to tell when the right time may be. For example, when I was young, farmers would want to get their corn in the ground by April 15 so they could avoid pests later on and still have time to plant soybeans and/or cotton.

The rule of thumb for cotton and other summer crops was that the soil temperature would be right when folks stopped sitting on buckets to fish and instead sat directly on the ground. (If your bottom didn’t get cold, it was warm enough to plant.)

Nowdays, though, I see folks planting corn in the middle of May; and a lot of folks don’t plant by the moon, or Good Friday.

And have you tried to buy corn that’s not genetically modified? A friend and I have been trying to find old traditional, local varieties to plant, without much luck.

Pioneer, which used to be a widespread variety here is no more, unless it’s GMO (which is banned for organic).

Mosby Prolific Corn (introduced by J.K. Mosby of Lockhart, Miss., in the 1800s), which used to be widespread, is now a rare heirloom that, as far as I can find, is not available locally in bulk seed.

We should be conserving local heirloom seeds, not allowing them to be bought up by multinational ag giants, to be modified genetically or discontinued and allowed to go extinct. Genetic diversity in plants is something we owe to future generations and it doesn’t belong to anyone, much less as a patented monopoly.

Normally, I would plant the week after Easter, since we here in central Mississippi usually have a cold spell then. But the temperatures have been well above normal and Easter is late this year.

So, we’ve been planting, really, since mid-March. Up so far are peas, onions, shallots, various greens, lettuces and chard. We’ve also been planting: tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, beans, nasturtiums (edible flowers) and various other plants. Because of the heat, some of our plants, such as radishes and salad mizuna, just bolted. They bypassed maturity. The weather got them confused!

You want to plant as early as possible, being mindful of the number of days listed on the seed packages for maturity. For example, if you plant April 15 and it says on the package “90 days,” that means its average date to bear fruit will be July 15.

We’ve found that, growing organic, the later you plant, the more problems with insects and weather. So, if you plant May 15 in that hypothetical plot, fruition will be Aug. 15, which is also usually quite hot in Mississippi and often a time of drought.

Lots of varieties wilt in temps above 100 or won’t bear fruit and treated water can stunt microrganisms in the soil which further stress plants, leading to insect problems and disease.

So, plant as early as you feel you comfortably can.

Remember: Organic! A Reminder on planting: If you’ve got your 4-by-8-foot Jim’s plot up and running, that is, having put compost in it all winter, you should be able to disc it up easily with a shovel.

Remember to use certified organic seeds or heirloom varieties and no synthetic fertilizers.

When you’re ready to plant, cover each seed or roots with fish emulsion and kelp (there are dozens of trade names, check with your local garden store) as fertilizer, mixed with water; it should be plenty of a boost, along with any amendments you have already added like compost, and/or pellets of dolomitic lime or greensand.

Earth Day: Big observances are planned in Starkville and Oxford:

•At Starkville, Mississippi State University’s Earth Day and ECO Week are in the works. The main event will be the Earth Day Fair on Thursday, since the campus is closed for Good Friday. Green Starkville, MSU ECO and the Students for Sustainable Campus are teaming for this event.

For more information, see: http://www.greenstarkville. org/earth-day-2011.

•Oxford, the University of Mississippi and Yokna(patawpha) Bottoms Farm are celebrating Green Week today through April 22.

For more information, see: http://www.mississippigreenweek.com and http://yoknabottoms.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.