Tag Archives: michael pollan

A Delightful Evening with Michael Pollan

 

Last night, I had a wonderful time visiting with Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

There also were about 600 other people in the room for “An Evening With Michael Pollan” in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Judging by their rapt attention and applause, I’d say they had a splendid time, too! If you care about food (other than stuffing it in your mouth), its history, its social importance, and health effects, then Pollan is an expert worth heeding. The fact that his six books on the subject have all reached bestseller status is testimony that plenty of people are interested in heeding him.

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. I was thrilled to sit on the third row in the packed auditorium. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The event was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Square Books of Oxford. Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, has just come out in paperback and Pollan was on a book-signing tour.

His talk, which lasted about 70 minutes, started out with background and stories from the gathering of information about the book. He regaled the audience with humorous stories about his immersion into the making of barbecue — and the audience laughed at his tales, which included pork aficionados’ crack-like desire for “skins” or crackling.

The Southern Foodways Alliance had two short films that illustrated the cooking of pork and places featured in the book that were located in North Carolina.

Pollans’ talk vaguely paralleled the layout of the book: Fire (barbecue); Water (soups); Air (bread); and Earth (fermentation). It’s a superlative book; but I’m not an impartial observer. I’m a big fan, and it really made my day to briefly chat with him afterward and give him a signed copy of my book, Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing: Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012) while having him sign my copy of Cooked.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that my reading the hardcover copy of Cooked last year led me to start baking my own bread. I figured, if Michael Pollan can do it, I can, too! Baking bread – particularly sourdough bread – is now one of my favorite hobbies. I have three different sourdough starters bubbling in the fridge, even now. (Might have to pull one out and bake a loaf this weekend!)

Readers of my book, Conscious Food, will remember that a central question is: How did we become so distanced from the making and appreciation of our food, including its spiritual aspects?

It’s a puzzling and disturbing quality of modern life, and Pollan also brought it up, saying that only a generation ago no one would have bought his books explaining where food came from because it was so tied to daily life. There would be no mystery, no question. Now, of course, that’s not so.

In fact, as Pollan pointed out, there are laws being enacted and proposed to actually prevent people from seeing how food is made, making it a crime to photograph a slaughterhouse or chicken factory farm. The highly processed food we eat, composed of highly refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates often can only truly be called “food products” rather than food. That processed foods also almost certainly contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also a cause for alarm among many.

That’s how far we’ve come in making something which should be wholesome and good (making food) into something that is feared, insulated, even secretive.

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing.  (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

While Pollan seemed to get the most interest by the audience in his tales of making barbecue, he also explored the other foodstuffs in the book. He discussed the making of bread – not nearly enough in detail for my avid interest, of course. But he did point out in great detail how sourdough bread, and other fermented products such as cheese and krauts are healthful when done in traditional ways.

Illustrating the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria versus bad bacteria) he told of one experiment that showed that raw milk processed into cheese in stainless steel vats and injected with e. coli became toxic while the same milk in reused wooden barrels did not because they contained accumulated beneficial bacteria that held the e. coli in check.  So much for our theories of anti-bacterial cleaning!

He even often insights that what we usually eat – for flavor, texture, etc. – is aimed at only 10 percent of us; the part that tastes food. Ninety percent of real food feeds the “gut” – the microorganisms that do the work of digestion, absorption of nutrients and health protection. Mother’s milk, he pointed out, is 100 percent food. A pizza or cheeseburger or “Supersized” cola would be 10 percent.

Soups, he noted, extended the lifespans of humans since, generally, people lose teeth when they age; it allows nutrients to be obtained with a minimum of chewing. Taking a swipe at raw foods, he said that cooking unleashes myriad nutrients and chemically changes food; but he also said that raw food enthusiasts can obtain premium nutrients by processing their food with a mixer. I love my Vitamixer!

I know I’m not doing him justice here. His talk was insightful, interesting and not only repeated some information in the book but provided his thinking behind it and revealed his zeal in pursuing and promoting a healthier society that exalts good food. He was singing my song, for sure!

If he appears anywhere near you, and you care about these subjects, I’d highly recommend you go hear him and, of course, buy the book. The talk was three and a half hours away from me by car — I didn’t get back home until after midnight. But it was well worth it and I would certainly do so again!

Before the "Evening with Michael Pollan," I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Before the “Evening with Michael Pollan,” I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I also got to visit for a while beforehand at Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford — one of my favorite independent bookstores. Naturally, I bought a couple of books while there and since I had a few moments before the talk started, I also had a cup of delicious fresh-brewed coffee and a couple of homemade cookies.

What  delight!

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.

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2013 Next Big Thing in Books

Jan. 28, 2013

2013 The Next Big Thing in Books

Thanks to Grace Walsh, a Boston author, whose new book is Divine Arrows. Check it out at www.earthenspirit.org – and her book blog: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Grace invited me to join a blog chain 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING – a series of self-interviews by/with authors about what they’ve been working on.
So, here are 10 questions concerning my newest book:

What is the title of your book?
Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My wife Annette and I own a small organic farm and I was out working in the fields one day and it really struck me how beautiful it was to be out there under the blues skies, the puffy white clouds, the gentle breezes. The plants were gently waving in the breeze and I was going about my chores, just thankful to be alive. Thankful in the moment, that Annette and I, essentially, were living a “walking prayer.” We were growing food for people — good, healthful food — and being a part of this great cycle of life. It was spiritual. It was sacred. It was holy. I was in bliss.

Then, I came inside the house and checked the messages on the computer and there was an alert that some food we had bought at a local grocery store might be contaminated, affecting people in six states. I looked in the news and there was a report that this generation could be the first in modern history that would have shorter lifespans than their parents due to the epidemic of obesity among children. And there was a report on “food deserts” — areas of cities where no fresh fruits and vegetables are available.

And I thought: How did we get like this? How did our food become unhealthy? Where did the sacredness of our food go? Or, was it ever sacred. I knew intuitively, and from my own experience, that it WAS sacred, and had to have been so. So, the question was, how did it get this way? That was the basis for the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Inexplicably, on Amazon, it falls under organic cooking; I thought that odd until I saw the other offerings listed that way, including books by Eliot Coleman (one of the founders of the organic movement) and Michael Pollan (a journalist who writes about food and farming). So, I guess I’m in good company. I would say the book falls under: Food, Farming, Organic, Environment, Spirit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm. I would say the current hunk du jour to play me, of course. But that wouldn’t be very accurate. My wife would be any Marilyn Monroe lookalike.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Over the past 2,000 years, we have lost our spiritual connection with food in Western society; here’s how to get it back, and create healthy families, communities and a healthful world while we’re at it.

Who is the publisher?
Findhorn Press (Scotland); distributed in the United States by IPG.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About six months. A lot of it was already written through my newspaper columns on organics and my blog about food, farming and agriculture. And, of course, through notes scribbled to myself.
A little explanation: I always carry a small notepad with me and whenever I think of something I might want to write about, I make a note of it. As a consequence, I have these pocket-sized notebooks everywhere, as well as torn out scraps of paper with scribbling on them – on my desk, in the car, in the pockets of my clothes, by my bed. I also have three blogs:
On organics: Shooflyfarmblog – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/
On philosophy, etc.: Postcards From A Green Planet – http://jimpathfinder.tumblr.com/
On daily life: http://coinkyinc.wordpress.com/

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s something of a personal journey, with a bit of explanation/how-tos on growing your own food, but with a message overall that we need to change ourselves and our planet. So, I guess, I’d say it’s closest to Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, but with a more spiritual aspect to it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have greatly enjoyed the books of Michael Pollan, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Kingsolver. Oh, and “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, not so “lunatic” farmer Gene Logsdon, and, of course, Wendell Berry and Thomas Berry. Someone who may or may not be as well known but who writes thoughtfully about spiritual ecology, as what I write about is often called, is Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke Divinity School. And, of course, there’s the continuing example of eco-spirituality at Findhorn in Scotland, now recognized by the United Nations as an eco village.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m a firm believer in the spiritual principle that when one heart is changed the world changes. That is why I point to the words of Buckminster Fuller in my book regarding the way atrophy can be reversed and new paradigms can be started by the simple acts of individuals. When done unconsciously, it’s evolution. When done consciously, it’s revolution. Now, as perhaps never before in human history, with the Internet, social networking, etc., we can accelerate consciousness and the place of humanity in history through what I call biocultural revolution. It starts with being conscious about our food.

Again, thanks to Grace and her new book, Divine Arrows: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Thanks to Dale Neal, an Asheville, NC, author whose new book is The Half-Life of Home. Check it out at http://www.dalenealbooks.com

Thanks to Marjo Moore, an Asheville, NC, author, poet, whose new book is Bear Quotes. Check it out at http://marijomoore.blogspot.com

And to keep 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING going, here are some wonderful writers and their recent books:

Denise Low
Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the Middle Plains (Omaha: The Backwaters Press). This book is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. http://deniselow.blogspot.com http://www.deniselow.com

Trace DeMeyer
Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, an anthology of first-person narratives by Native adoptees, edited by Trace A. DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee, ISBN: 978-1479318285 (Ebook and Paperback). An important contribution to Native American history! Read more: http://www.splitfeathers.blogpot.com/.
Published by Blue Hand Books (Create Space/Amazon), http://www.bluehandbooks.blogspot.com/

See also: Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread: http://myfanwycollins.com/2012/12/24/the-next-big-thing-guest-post-by-nan-cuba/
Marjorie Hudson is the author of ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS, a fine collection of short stories that was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Michael Jarmer is the author of MONSTER LOVE, a contemporary twist on Mary Shelley Wollenstone’s classic “Frankenstein.”

Joe Schuster, whose book, THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a terrific baseball novel with a compelling human story.

Finally, see any of the fine authors at Findhorn Press: http://www.findhornpress.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.

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.

‘Tilth’ helps hold soil moisture

July 1, 2011
Check ’tilth’ in organic garden for soil moisture
I guess weird weather is the “new normal” now, with weeks of no rain, crops fried in 100-degree days, then rain falling finally, blessedly, but perhaps too little too late for many this season.
Given the heat, now’s a good time to check the moisture holding capacity of your soil. If you have adequate tilth (loamy material) and regular watering, you should have only a light crust on the top but can push in your finger without a great deal of effort.
But if it’s too hard for a gentle push of the finger, don’t despair. It can take years to build up the soil. We’ve dumped tons, literally, on our plots and they break down rapidly with acidic, sandy soil.
Remember, with organic gardening, the soil is everything, but it’s a moving target. It’s a constant balancing act between biomass and soil digestion activity.
Take this as an opportunity for future growth: Just keep adding more compost and, in fall, more leaves or other vegetative matter to build up your tilth.
By the way, old folks used to put sawdust in their gardens. That’s fallen out of fashion, as it tends to eat up nitrogen breaking down. But if you are using foliar feeding – spraying kelp or fish emulsion to feed nitrogen for it to be absorbed through leaves – I believe sawdust could help hold soil moisture. That is, as long as it’s not chemically treated wood.
It was good enough for our Mississippi forebears and Helen and Scott Nearing – homesteaders in 1930s Maine (see their book: Living The Good Life). So, if you’ve got it, I’d use it.
Growing tip: You can grow your own natural sweetener using leaves from the Stevia plant. It’s not too late to plant to get some leaves by fall.
According to WebMD, it is useful for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other weight-related medical problems.
The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Seeds are commonly available and can be purchased from Burpee, if not locally. It grows prolifically, like mint.
We grow it and use it. Tastes great. I like it in my tea instead of sugar.
Summer reading: I recommend: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs, $24.99).
Founder and head of the nonprofit Fair Food Network and a former agronomy professor at Michigan State University, Hesterman is quick to point out that he is not writing about our broken food system from the standpoint of a chef or journalist, but as someone who has experienced it from plow to plate.
The observations he makes are similar to the popular notions of journalist Michael Pollan and chef Mark Bittman, but his methods are more direct, from developing locally profitable food distribution systems in urban and rural “food deserts” to joining corporations such as Costco in developing transnational fair trade supply trains that ensure living wages for producers and reinvestment in local communities.
Fair Food is a serious book about a serious subject. It offers ideas for local communities, as well as suggestions for local, state and national policy makers (I hope members of the Legislature read this book!) It should add immeasurably to the national conversation about fixing our food – and world! – for the better.

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.

Better food, a better planet

May 26, 2011

Growing organic makes for better food, a better planet

I had a nice email exchange with a reader about organic gardening, in which he essentially said he “sort of” did it.

As I wrote to the reader, back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was doing as he is now, planting hybrids (Better Boy tomatoes were my faves) and lightly using chemicals. I thought that if I just limited the amount of synthetics, that would be “organic” enough, and I reasoned, what was wrong with hybrids, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I found that even a “smattering” of chemicals destroyed the delicate balance of organisms that make up a truly organic garden. By using chemicals to change one issue, such as blight, or bugs, or using harsh, synthetic fertilizer, necessitated even stronger artificial methods in a self-perpetuating cycle. And, all the while, I was destroying the delicate microbial life that enriched the vegetables, ensuring nutrients were going from the ground into my body.

I had no idea that when I occasionally threw a handful of anhydrous ammonia into the compost or soil, I was killing the unseen universe that supported abundant, nutritious, healthy produce.

Further, I had no idea that by relying on hybrids that I was voting with my dollars to decrease planet’s biodiversity.

Every year, between consumers not planting rare seeds and giant Ag Biz conglomerates buying up seed stocks and either converting them to genetically engineered products or discontinuing those lines, we’re reducing food plant diversity.

What happens when we no longer have access to diverse seeds? We set up our food seed supply to be owned by a handful of private multinational corporations and open the way for potential famine when a pathogen inevitably mutates to attack those few lines of patented seeds. And, by the way, do you think that entire nations will calmly starve to death when crops fail and there are few commercial seeds available except those genetically vulnerable to disease?

So, I changed my thinking and behavior to true organic. This is the path I believe is something of a “back to the future” approach, away from petrochemicals and artificial fertility and working toward restoring the earth and bringing balance for healthy crops – and people!

Grow organic. Cultivate heirlooms and rare seeds. Enjoy the rich bounty of the earth. And know you are doing your part for better food, a better planet, for future generations.

Reader response: Ratio for applying compost?

A little bit of compost goes a long way. Apply 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch on your garden. That translates to 1-4 cubic feet of compost for 100 square feet. Incorporate that into the the top 2-4 inches of soil by digging or raking or tilling. Apply more thickly to poorer soils, more lightly to richer soils.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lay it on more thickly if you have it. Just work it in the soil. At ShooFly Farm, we have several 50-gallon “spin” composters that we use, and they digest down to about 1 1/2 to 2 cubic feet every 90 days. We just keep filling them in sequence, so we generally have compost routinely available. You can also use windrows; that is, pile up the material and turn it from time to time until it’s digested into dark, rich matter.

Author Michael Pollan makes fun of organic gardeners’ fixation with compost, but it’s for a reason: The plants you put into your body contain the nutrients that are in soil. If your soil does not contain the full array of minerals and trace elements, along with the proper beneficial bacteria that allow the plants’ roots’ efficient intake of them, then your food and your body will be lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

It’s called “full belly” syndrome. You can buy processed food, or vegetables grown in depleted soils, and fill your belly, but won’t receive all that you need for strong muscles, bones, hair and teeth. Nurture your compost. By saving such waste as food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, melon rinds and yard clippings, you are turning trash into gold. Your compost is like money in the bank – in the coin of health for you and your family!

Reader response: I have a big problem with fire ants taking over my raised beds. How can I control them organically? There is an OMRI-approved fire ant bait called Garden Safe; it’s sold at some Walmarts. You may have to order it online. Although it’s OMRI approved for certified organic gardening, we usually dump coffee grounds on the mounds if they are in the garden per se, then use the Garden Safe around the garden. The active ingredient is Spinosad, which is a bacterium. You can also pour boiling water on the mound.

Online. Plants looking bedraggled? Clip this out and save it: Common symptoms of soil deficiencies: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/nutrient-deficiency-problem-solver.

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.

Weeds not ‘natural’

March 18, 2011

Organic gardeners befriend weeds, but they’re not ‘natural’

In previous columns, I’ve written about how weeds can tell a lot about the fertility of soil.

They can peacefully coexist in the organic garden, providing needed shade and helping to hold coveted moisture near valued crops in our steamy Southern and sometimes drought-plagued environment. (Just keep the roots clear so nutrients go to the veggies, not the weed.)

But, as Michael Pollan noted in his garden book, Second Nature, most “weeds” aren’t natural to the garden, either. Most are “invasives” from Europe, including St. John’s Wort, daisies, dandelions, buttercups, mullein, Queen Anne’s Lace, couch grass, sow thistle, shepherd’s purse, groundsell, dock, chickweed – even the Old West’s signature “Tumbleweed” (properly, Russian Thistle) that came from Eurasia, as did henbit.

In fact, Native Americans called plantain “Englishman’s Foot,” because it seemed to spring up wherever a European walked. (Which may have some truth to it, with seeds lodged in baggage and cracked leather boots.) Even the venerable all-American apple tree is an import.

But this seemingly unnatural plethora of garden invasives has a silver lining for organic gardeners. Many of these ostensibly tough and thorny “weeds” are considered delicacies by bugs that will in many cases choose them over the gardener’s greens, fruits and vegetables. That’s the key to attracting “beneficial” insects – those bugs that prefer your weeds and not your cultivated plants or that prey on those bugs that covet your plantings.

Reader response: I had just gotten off the phone with a local woman who was wanting info on how to build a “Jim’s Plot” 4X8-foot organic food and edible flower garden for her daughter at her new digs in Madison emphasizing herbs, when the mail came and, by gosh, a book arrived that she might find useful: Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs by Tammi Hatung (Storey Publishing, 2011; $19.95). It’s a good book for a beginner, with common herbs and their uses (medicinal and otherwise), harvesting guidelines, unique challenges, how to prepare them, recipes and, of course, important here: all-natural care using beneficial insects and nontoxic treatment.

My beautiful wife Annette is the house herbalist and she makes herb teas, infusions, tinctures, and food for us daily. She gave it her thumbs’ up, too.

Herb Association, Anyone?: Speaking of herbs, it came up in conversation recently that Mississippi has no statewide herb society or association, which seems rather astounding, given the number of herb gardeners in the Magnolia State.

I’m wondering if there would be enough interest to form a Mississippi Herb Association for people who grow herbs, herbalists, commercial growers, foodies, stores, horticulturalists, state ag and extension officials, medicinal growers and gardeners to network, share knowledge, tips and information and, perhaps, seeds and cuttings.

If so, drop me a line (P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39205).

I’ll keep you informed as to how it’s coming along, if there’s any interest in it. It will take some volunteers and committed individuals to get something like this off the ground, but I’m game to do what I can to help out.

Reader response: I’m not knocking subsidies, per se, only pointing out inequities in the system and the fact that organic food is so “expensive” because it’s not subsidized by the taxpayer; you pay the full cost.

Subsidies are actually price supports to keep farmers from going out of business. The farmer is offered a price that is beyond his control, and the subsidies only apply when the price goes below a set point.

If there were no subsidies, even more farmers would go out of business and the big ones would probably buy them up.

So, doing away with subsidies doesn’t help the small or family farm, or help diversify crops (or benefit organics).

The bottom line in this is that the actual producers of crops (organic or “conventional”) are on the short end of the stick and kept on a treadmill of risk by the commodities players on Wall Street, the processed “food” giants, the chemical-seed-fertilizer oligarchy and the government programs these big players manipulate Congress to approve.

So if we want to change the system, we change our behavior by buying organic, locally grown foods first (and milk, fruit and vegetables, not processed foods) and support programs, politicians and retail outlets that promote this way of life.

Not coy about koi : A couple of weeks ago, the paper had a wonderful article about a family that raises the beautiful Japanese fish koi for sale ($15 to $150) for garden ponds. Dawn Barnidge, who operates Falling Waters Koi Farm in Raymond, can be reached at (601) 214-8887.

•Online: A great column in The New York Times by Mark Bittman explains how, contrary to the big ag chemical biz standard line, sustainable agriculture (organic or eco-farming) can feed the world: http://nyti.ms/fnWAn7

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.