Tag Archives: organic writer

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.

Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Aug. 20, 2012
Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Healthy and nutritious food: sort of goes together, doesn’t it? Like soup and sandwiches.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Yet, how strange it is that we don’t know if our food is safe, much less actually nutritious, or if the food we put into our bodies is even good for us.

If we want nutritious food, then we must pay attention to the labels on the packaging—even ostensibly healthful fruit and vegetables. We should know whether they have been sprayed with poisons, what kinds and how much.

Buying organic should be a given if you want safe, healthy, nutritious, poison-free food. Better than that is buying local organic food. But even that’s not enough to ensure good health. Only so much food is organic, only so much is local, only so much is unprocessed.

What you put into your body has enormous impacts on your health. Environmental factors can play a large role–beyond your body and even your lifetime. Earlier this year, a report by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center concluded that the toxins your great grandmother encountered in pregnancy can increase the risk for breast cancer.

But just as unhealthy food and toxins can cause cancer and other diseases, so healthful food–especially local and organic–can have positive health effects. In fact, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, one-third of cancers in West could be prevented through nutrition.

We should consider “good food equals good health,” particularly regarding cancer, as part of a bedrock understanding of food. Proponents have promoted vegetarian diets as the healthiest form of nutrition for hundreds of years; Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of a meat-free diet. However, since the 1950s and the development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Food Pyramid,” America’s diet change to put meat squarely in the center.

This happened to coincide with the rise of industrial agriculture, including harmful chemicals used to produce vegetable foods and animals as industrial “inputs,” herded into confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This industrialization of farming, and the subsequent promotion of fatty foods, incidentally, also coincides with the higher incidence of cancer and other food-related illnesses. For more information see Livestrong.com.

As nutritionists will tell, meat alone is not the culprit for food-related ill health, but careful selection of food can lead to greater health.

Jackson is lucky this month to have a panel of experts speak on the role of food selection as well as other practices in good health, specifically regarding cancer, at the “We Are The Cure Cancer Prevention Conference” Aug. 25 at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium (201 E. Pascagoula St., 601-960-1550) in downtown Jackson. Rainbow Whole Foods Natural Grocery sponsors the conference, along with Pathways to Wellness LLC and Thermography Advantage.

The conference starts at 2 p.m., and admission is $20. Featured are five physicians who will address cancer prevention strategies–including complementary medicine therapies that can support conventional therapies. For more information and to register, visit mscancerprevention.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.

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Aug. 17, 2012

Earth v. Eaarth: We Need a ‘New Story’

Competing Visions of Anthropocene and Ecozoic Eras

The late philosopher and theologian Thomas Berry gives an uplifting vision of Earth in his writing in which he posits that a new age, the Ecozoic Era, could be upon us.

This “New Story,” as Berry called it, would be marked by “a period when humans would dwell upon the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.”

As Berry explained in the October 1991 Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures in Great Barrington, Mass.:There are only two other moments in the history of this planet that offer us some sense of what is happening. These two moments are the end of the Paleozoic Era 220 million years ago, when some 90 percent of all species living at that time were extinguished, and the terminal phase of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago, when there was also very extensive extinction.”

He laid out six conditions for an Earth community to be engaged in this Great Work that are required for this New Story to unfold and thereby save the planet and humankind.

“The biggest single question before us in the 1990s is the extent to which this technological-industrial-commercial context of human functioning can be made compatible with the integral functioning of the other life systems of the planet,” Berry warned.

Bill McKibben seems to have answered that in the negative with his book, Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough, New Planet (2010), explaining that climate change with its attendant problems isn’t something that’s “going to” happen, but is already here. The planet that we have now is not the planet we had before, and the technological-industrial-commercial context that was destroying natural systems has worsened and shows no indication of abating.

In fact, there is a growing movement to name a new geologic era, the Anthropocene, to reflect the cumulative ill effects of human impacts upon Earth — or, Eaarth.

Berry later refined his conditions for ushering in the Ecozoic Era that broadens the abilities of humans to make positive change in the world (see: Twelve Understandings Concerning the Ecozoic Era, www.ecozoicstudies.org). His vision remains a powerful challenge to humankind to change its course, from creating an Anthropocene Era to an Ecozoic Era, away from a worsening Eaarth to a wholesome and life-sustaining Earth.

Central to Berry’s New Story is that ecological spirituality hold a special place as one of three “key building blocks.” This “presence to the primal mystery and value of nature and to Earth as a single sacred community, provides a basis for revitalizing religious experience and healing the human psyche,” Berry says. It’s central to the New Story that it “invites new cosmological reflection on meaning and value and the role and place of humans in the universe process.”

And that concern for ecological spirituality is closely allied with the third key element: “Bioregionalism,” that cares “for Earth in its relatively self-sustaining geo-biological divisions, reorients human activity in developing sustainable modes of living, building inclusive human community, caring for the rights of other species, and preserving the health of the Earth on which all life depends.”

Significantly, many who support the vision of declaring an Anthropocene Era say it began 12,000 years ago with the birth of agriculture, rather than, as some contend, with the Industrial Age. Indeed, rather than manufacturing alone, if one were to reverse course toward Eaarth, much of the application of Berry’s principles would require changes in the way agricultural policy is conducted.

Practical ways could include:

— Federal subsidies or grants for rural redevelopment, much as “healthy cities” initiatives by past Congresses helped urban areas. These could include bond mechanisms such as GOzone (Gulf Opportunity) bonds that were offered in the Gulf Coast to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

— Farm Bill subsidies or grants supporting local and organic growing, promoting small ecofarms both rural and urban for fresh fruits and vegetables. This would directly address the problem of “food deserts,” areas where fresh food is lacking. It would help address spiraling health care costs.

— Public distribution network funding would help farmers and promote farming by reducing the bottleneck between producers and processors/distributors who dictate low prices. This already is in place in limited fashion by the promotion and certifying of farmers markets; but if regional hubs could be developed for distribution of local organic and heirloom varieties, small farmers could find larger markets for their crops and biodiversity could be supported. This would boost local communities, as well as the bioregionalism of the areas.

As Berry and others have detailed, the growth of the industrial megafarm relying on fossil fuels and chemicals has devastated rural communities by producing commodities for shipment overseas or national food processing giants, instead of local food, hastening jobs to the cities, and making states food importers rather than food exporters.

In his book, Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community, Berry outlines that accepting a New Story is a rejection of the industrial mindset that leaves Earth as wasteland.

While the forces that are propelling destruction of Earth are large, collectively, the individual power of human beings is great, as well. The power to create is as great as that to destroy. As Berry so persuasively argues, building a sense of awe for the universe and its beings as sacred can change the course of humanity and planet. It’s up to us, each, individually, to enact this New Story.

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.

The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

Aug. 3, 2012
The Challenge of Growing Tomatoes

A favorite of home gardeners—urban, suburban or rural—are tomatoes.
Yet, to be perfectly honest, it can be tough to grow perfect tomatoes,
especially in Southern climates.
Often,  the problem is uneven irrigation. Too much water, and you can get  fungal and root maladies. Too little and leaves wither, fruit fails to  develop or grows unevenly (with split skins, though some varieties split  more than others). Add high heat, and the plants can just shut down on  fruition.
Here are a few hints for growing tomatoes in problematic conditions.

Tomatoes Shut Down?
Mississippi’s  high heat and humidity play havoc on vegetable crops, especially  tomatoes. But you can extend the production of your plants by using an all-natural plant hormone, kinetin, that keeps blossoms from falling off  when the heat index soars.
The  active ingredient is kinetin, but it’s sold under a variety of brand  names, the most popular being Blossom Set Spray. It’s available at local  stores, or visit tinyurl.com/c5w98q5. (Cytokinins are OMRI-approved for organic
growing as a type of fertilizer.)
When  your tomato plants flower during high heat and humidity, just squirt a  little mist in each one. Essentially, the spray keeps the flower  attached long enough so that bees and other pollinators can do their job  fertilizing the
plant. And fertile flowers become tomatoes.

Blossom End Rot
Another  common tomato malady is blossom end rot. There’s a popular spray on the  market that is essentially just calcium chloride (available at local  stores). It’s not OMRI-listed, so I can’t recommend it for organic  growing.
However, blossom end rot is usually an indicator of a lack of  calcium in the
soil. You can remedy that by adding bone meal or egg  shells.

Tomato Blight
Unfortunately,  tomato blight pretty much spells doom to tomatoes. It usually appears  after heavy rains or toward the end of the growing season. In the South,  blight often isn’t a matter of “if,” but when.
The  best solution to blight is to rotate your crops; don’t grow tomatoes  where you had tomatoes the year before. That’s good advice for any crop,  not only to fight the various viruses and fungi that live in the soil,  but for insect control, as well.
Blight  can be treated, but it’s difficult. First, always wash your hands after  touching a blighted plant, and never put blighted plants in your  compost. Keep plants mulched and open so that air can pass between the  plants reducing humidity.
You can use some copper- or sulphur-based fungicidal sprays. Visit tinyurl.com/7f2j8yd for some examples on the Ohio State University website.
VeggieGardener.com also offers some homemade, natural remedies for plant maladies on this page: tinyurl.com/7l9ymw5.

Don’t overwater
Overwatering  is the cause of many problems, along with poor soil conditions. Just  water thoroughly every week or so and allow the soil on top to dry out.
Well-tended soil will hold moisture and stay springy (lots of “tilth”),  while poor soils will harden if dry. Work on your soil after you harvest  your plants by plowing under vegetation and adding compost. Work your  soil year round to
make growing in the warmest season easier.

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.

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

July 12, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

You don’t have to have a large  garden spread to grow your own organic food. In
fact, you can grow  plenty of food to supplement your diet in a small space.
While  growing enough grain for bread might be a challenge in, say, a small
apartment or tiny yard, you can grow nutritious grain sprouts anywhere  to add
to your sandwiches.
Start  with one to four tablespoons of food-grade organic seeds. Put them in a
wide mouth jar, and cover the jar opening with nylon mesh or tulle  cloth from a
fabric store and affix it with a rubber band. Add water,  swirl it around and
drain. Repeat the water, swirl and drain cycle twice  a day for three to six
days, and you will have sprouts ready to eat.
A  word of warning for growing sprouts: Use only food-grade organic seeds,  as
some seeds are poisonous. Also, non-organic seeds could be  contaminated with
food-poisoning bacteria. Several online companies  offer food-grade organic
seeds specifically for sprouting, including  Johnny’s Selected Seeds
(johnnyseeds.com) and Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com).
Good  sprouts to grow are lentils, garbonzo beans, mung beans, red clover,
sunflowers, radish, rye, winter wheat, alfalfa, arugula, broccoli,  buckwheat,
canola (non-GMO) and adzuki beans.
For  those who are more ambitious — and have more room or access to a  community garden plot — you can grow your own sandwich. With 100 square  feet (a 10-foot by 10-foot plot), you can grow enough amaranth, barley  or rye to bake bread twice a month for a year.
You will have to buy (or rent) a grain mill, or find someone who grind grains in
small quantities. Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com), offers a hand-cranking
grain mill for $149. A bread maker would be nice, too.

Bread From Your Garden?
If you’re interested in growing  grain in your garden, a good book on the
subject is “Homegrown Whole  Grains” by Sara Pitzer (Storey Publishing, 2009,
As  Pitzer notes, in a 10-foot-square plot, backyard farmers can grow  enough
wheat to harvest 50 pounds in a single afternoon—and that can be  baked into 50
loaves of fresh bread.

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.

Irrigating The Organic Garden

Proper Irrigation Helps Keep Plants Disease Free

July 12, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere….

People who jump into organic  gardening without any preparation often start off
on the wrong foot by  overwatering or not watering properly. They may have
stereotypes in  their minds that are hard to erase. One is the image of lawn
sprinklers  casting long arcs of water into the air, as is often seen in photos
of  golf courses.
While  watering with a sprinkler like that can work, it’s not the best way  and,
if done in the heat of the day or in the evening is an example of  how not to
water your garden and can even be self-defeating. While it  may give the
gardener the impression that he or she has “done some work  in the garden,” it
can be harmful for two reasons: First, during a hot,  sunny day, the water
mostly evaporates before it can soak in to the  plants’ roots where it can
actually do some good. Second, sprinkling  raises humidity in the garden, which
can create ideal conditions for  harmful fungal and bacterial growth, and
rejuvenate viruses in the soil  that can stunt or kill plants. The effect is
worse if you use sprinkling  techniques in the late evening; it allows fungi and
bacteria to grow  overnight and really “set in.”
If  you use a sprinkler in your garden, it’s best to use it in the morning  and
leave it running long enough so that the water soaks in. The garden  will then
have all day in the sun. Water on the leaves, plant stems and  the ground
surface will dry out as the day goes on, leaving the water  where it belongs, at
the roots.
You  will find that morning watering in this way can be a great delight.  Birds
use the puddles to splash in and wash themselves, pollinators will  flitter in
and out, drinking the precious liquid, and your plants will  seem to grow and
blossom before your very eyes as they absorb the  moisture and turn their leafy
faces toward the sun. It can be a  spiritual experience.
The  key is to not overwater. Once a week is plenty, and you may need to  water
less. To test whether your garden needs watering, stick your  finger in the
soil. If your finger goes in easily with a slight feeling  of moisture, it’s
fine. If it’s muddy, it’s too wet.
It’s  a careful balance. Plant roots need to be able to breathe in the soil.
That requires air pockets as well as moisture. You want your soil to be  light
and fluffy (have good “tilth”) with lots of organic matter, but  damp enough so
that earthworms can happy slither through, and beneficial  bacteria and fungi
can thrive. In organic gardening, your soil is  alive. It needs to thrive for
your plants to thrive.
Professional  gardeners, of course, have found more efficient (and often
expensive)  ways to water their crops. Some use garden or lawn sprinklers on
tripods  with timers so that they can soak a large area in a small amount of
time. By moving the tripods, they’re able to cover several acres. If  your
garden is the small, backyard variety, timers and tripods probably  aren’t
Drip  and soaker systems are additional watering options for larger gardens.
Drip irrigation sends an even supply of water directly to the root zone.  It
uses less water because it doesn’t run off on the surface (carrying  precious
top soil with it) or evaporate as readily as water mist sprayed  into the air.
It almost eradicates mold or fungal concerns because the  drip tape or soaker
hose is in contact with the soil. In established  crop systems, gardeners often
will bury the hoses so they stay put,  about 4 inches deep, so they water only
the roots. Burying your soaker  hoses to keep them from freezing and splitting
is a good idea if you  plan to leave them out during the winter.
Unburied  hoses will give you the advantage of using them where they’re needed
most and removing them otherwise. But whether you bury your soakers or  leave
them above ground, you’ll need to be careful when you mow around  the garden, or till within it. With buried hoses, be sure to remember  (or mark) where you
buried them!
Soaker  hoses are available at most garden supply stores and online. Because
you want the water pressure to be low throughout your garden, keep your  hose
sections to no longer than 100 feet. If you need additional length,  connect
100-foot sections using garden hose splitters with adjustable  valves. That way,
you can adjust the flow in each section—open the  valves for highest flow at the
end, lowest at the beginning.

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.

Animal ID Plan A Blow to Local Food Movement

Animal ID Plan Punishes Backyard, Urban & Small Organic Growers

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. government is attempting to force animal identification on farmers again.

But as the Cornucopia Institute has pointed out (http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/06/5385/), the U.S. Department of Agriculture is resurrecting the proposed national animal identification rule that many thought dead due to massive outcry a year ago.

The rule would subject cattle and poultry owners across the country to new tagging and paperwork requirements that could collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as Cornucopia points out, yet the USDA has designated the final rule it’s proposing as “not economically significant.”

Huh? Small poultry and livestock farmers would be unfairly and tremendously burdened by the cost of this regulation. Many likely would be put out of business or young farmers or beginners decide that the regulatory burden was too much to start. And this is for a problem (tracking diseased animals) that is overwhelmingly the result of large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), not small farmers.

It’s more of a blow to the local food movement than a “solution” to giant industrial farming abuses in the food system. In fact, it seems designed to specifically target and deter small farmers, backyard farmers, and urban farmers. Why? Because it requires extensive documentation and ear tags or expensive transponders with electronic chips implanted for each animal — goat, horse, pig, chicken — for them, while whole herds are treated as one animal for CAFOs (no fuss, no bother!).

These records are for any and all animals, except dogs and cats, but including cervids. If for any reason, a tag or ID device is removed (like, the animal died), it and its documentation must be kept for five years! If you think doing your income taxes each year is fun, add keeping records for your goat and backyard chickens — including those carried off by a fox, died of natural causes, or you ate. Regarding the rest of your flock, you won’t be able to sell them unless they have documentation, and you cannot buy animals without documentation, you cannot transport your animals without documentation and documentation about you and your records are kept on state and national registries to ensure compliance. (Maybe they ought to call it the national small farmer ID system!)

There are more regulations here for owning a chicken than for owning a gun!

Happy Easter, little Johnny or Sue, here’s your baby chick! …. And here’s the 29 pages in the Federal Register of regulations that go with it!

This proposed regulation fails for a number of reasons:

— It would make outlaws of most backyard poultry owners and small farmers who mix birds with their neighbors and grow their own flocks.

— It’s at odds with a government trying to cut costs, for taxpayers, businesses and consumers.

— It would be an “unfunded mandate” for states to track animals, adding regulatory staffs and paperwork even as they are cutting essential services like firefighters, police and schoolteachers to make ends meet.

— It would add red tape and expense to every step from farm to fork but mostly financially punish those who aren’t the problem — and act as a regulatory block and deterrent to new small businesses.

Small farmers everywhere — and the organizations that represent them — must join to block this unnecessary and damaging potential regulation.

Note, this is not legislation that can be voted on; it’s a proposed executive order that, unless stopped, likely will go into effect with the signature of the president’s pen.

Contact your senator or representative. Surely, reason must prevail to stop this regulation.

For more, see the Cornucopia Institute — www.cornucopia.org.

Or, The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance — http://farmandranchfreedom.org/Animal-ID-2011

Read the proposed rule at: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Proposed%20Rule.pdf

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.

2012 Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

“If we have to nationalize, we will. Agriculture is too important and vital a resource to be left in the hands of individual farmers.”

— Stuart E. Eizenstat, chief domestic policy adviser for President Jimmy Carter, 1979

That quote (from the book War, Central Planning and Corporations: The Corporate State by Eugene Schroder, et al., Cleburne, Texas: Buffalo Creek Press, 1997) is no more an indication of a Democratic presidency, under Carter, as a Republican presidency under his predecessors Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, or both parties since. It’s a common concern.
In fact, American agriculture today is all but nationalized with farmers (many corporations now) holding thin title to land, subject to the whims of bankers, federally backed loan programs, and federal crop subsidies.
The current negotiations over the 2012 Farm Bill should be a reminder that virtually every aspect of agriculture in America is under the purview of the U.S. government. Congress and the president may not issue grandiose Five Year Plans like the old Soviet commissars, but the Farm Bill comes close, spelling out which crops will receive cash payments, loan guarantees and price supports and how much, which pretty much dictates what commodities are planted and how much.

Indeed, U.S. agriculture today could be seen as a dance between corporations and the state. Farmers have little to no control over the prices they receive for their crops. The price supports, or payments for any crop, are decided by Congress in a process dictated by the political “clout” of regions (mostly between Southern soybean and cotton farmers and Midwestern corn and grain farmers). But that process is itself orchestrated by the massive political campaign cash machinery of the agribiz giants like Monsanto, Cargill and the like.
So, the farmer has no control over:
— What he plants: If he plants a crop that’s not covered by federal guarantees, he’s staking his life and that of his family, their land and their future on whether it produces in an uncertain global climate that has seen disaster upon disaster in recent years.
— The price, which is dictated by financial speculators for their own profit and the helter-skelter of international markets.
— The costs of what it takes to buy seeds (controlled by multinational corporations), buy fertilizer (ditto), buy fuel for his machinery (ditto).
— Who buys his crops (Iran? China?).
— The price consumers pay which goes up and up to fatten the middlemen — corporations again — as the farmer’s per-unit cost continues to go up and his per-unit price continues to go down, ensuring his greater dependence upon government loans and subsidies to stay in business.

Some Americans may remember when farms were virtually everywhere; even if not in urban areas, a short drive away. (I remember living in New York City in the early 1970s and crossing over into New Jersey to see dairy cows grazing; now there are only 114 dairy farms in “The Garden State,” less than half from even a decade ago.)
From a process that began in the 1970s of the de facto squeezing of individual farmers out of farming into corporate ownership and control of agriculture dictated by government policy, U.S. agriculture has in effect already been “nationalized.” If you have no control over something do you really “own” it?

Whether it’s really “owned” by the government or corporations is one of those chicken-and-egg questions. The bank (loans) or the sheriff (taxes) may be the instrument of seizing land, but was it the government policy or corporate pricing that pulled the trigger? Is “getting out of farming” by selling land to a corporation (or developer) not “nationalization” under another term?

Government and multinational corporations are the ones that both create the economic environment to coerce consolidation and benefit from increasing more and more land and production into fewer and fewer hands. More control and more profits for the government/industry alliance are the result.

Since they have no control, what few farmers remain only have an illusion of control. Yet, like those with Stockholm Syndrome (loving their captors), too many seem enamored with siding with the angers and resentments fed to them by those who seek to control them. They buy into the “poor me” mentality dictated to them by corporations and farm state hierarchies that are supported by the corporations, with mantras that: “Environmentalists” are out to get them. Government regulators are out to get them. “We feed the planet.” It’s a case of misdirection and manipulation. Who’s pulling the strings?

If there is an “answer” to this, part of it has to do with something that’s not — yet — supported by the Farm Bill but definitely has to do with farming. And that’s the rise of the locavore movement, where consumers in rural, suburban and urban areas are clamoring for “real food.” That is, organic or naturally grown food that’s not produced with chemicals or sprayed with poisons, grown locally, where those who buy the food know and trust who is growing it.

Only a few crops are specified or receive support in the $300 billion Farm Bill — corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice account for 90 percent of subsidy payments. Organic and “real” food grown by local small farmers is not a major concern of the commissars — yet. These flesh-and-blood farmers, the real small business men and woman who politicians give lip service to supporting, are growing and selling crops without any federal support or subsidies, competing against giant corporations and staggering economies of scale, including imports from other countries, and winning consumers’ hearts and minds.

The Farm Bill was created during the Great Depression to help farmers, but now it’s aimed at the corporations, financial entities, politicians and their camp followers that control farming. If the local food movement has any clout, it’s consumers voting with their dollars to buy wholesome, nutritious, healthful foods almost as a black market or underground economy outside the parameters of the Farm Bill in Washington. That growing consumer demand could be America’s — and that of local farmers, real farmers — salvation when it comes to food, health and nutrition.

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.

Picking blueberries ….

July 6, 2012

Picking blueberries … (An iPhone odyssey)

Step 1: Look for a shady spot to pick berries!

There’s plenty of shade in the bushes, without getting all hot and bothered over it.

Step 2: Pick only the ripe ones!

Pick only the dark blueberries. Some will be so dark that they will appear to be “cloudy.” That’s perfect!

Step 3: Put them in your bucket and not in your mouth!

When picking, hold your container under the berries and some of the ripest will often just fall into it as you are picking.

Step 4: Take as much as you can eat, or feel like freezing for later.

Your arms won’t get as tired if you use a smaller container for picking and another for carrying. If you can’t keep from snacking, do it AFTER you’ve picked pretty much what you want, not before.

Next step? Go over the fig tree, and see if it’s ready to pick yet.

The figs on the tree (note round fruit pointing up in center) are still green, not yet purple when they will be ready to pick.

We’ll keep an eye on them. You can bet the birds are, too!

Happy picking!


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.

Heat Reported Devastating To U.S. Beehives

Heat Reported Devastating to U.S. Beehives

Linda’s Bees in Atlanta (http://beekeeperlinda.blogspot.com/) reports that the extreme heat and drought in portions of the eastern U.S. (and I’m presuming in the West and Midwest, too) are devastating to bees this year.
She writes that The Macon Beekeeper (the monthly newsletter of the bee group in Franklin, NC) reported that there was little nectar in the area:

“Reports from all over indicate that at this point the honey crop is a failure. With one exception beekeepers report that their honey supers are, essentially, empty. A few are feeding their bees to hold off starvation. It’s no different here. The tulip poplar did bloom. I do see some dark nectar in a few colonies. However, in reality, the nectar flow did not happen. My bees continue to work, and they are not starving. But there is no excess honey. It’s hard to take, but that’s agriculture.”

Wildflowers, like these shown in our front field in Lena, MS, photographed today via iPhone, are still abundant in east central Mississippi — providing nectar for bees despite the heat and drought. Other areas are reporting severe effects from heat and drought, however, with bees living off of stored honey and beekeepers forced to feed the bees to keep them alive. Photo by Jim Ewing/shooflyfarmblog

Linda (a Mississippi native who still has family here by the way) reports, however, that although the temperature in Atlanta was to hit 106 on Saturday, and the bloom is almost over for the one source she can detect, her hives have stored honey and uncapped nectar. Her bees are still working and surviving OK.

Reading this got me concerned (here in Lena, MS, 50 miles north of the capital, Jackson), so I went out and checked my hives. Though the bees were in a bad mood (one popped me on my crown chakra — a bee blessing with a point to it!), they also had stored honey and uncapped nectar.
They weren’t as far along as I would have hoped — one that struggled this spring despite the warm winter had only four filled frames in its one super, and the other had only put wax and was just starting to fill the cells in its second super. But I’m glad they seem to be doing OK. They are working, adding wax, and filling cells with nectar.
Given the heat, Linda has some good advice, though: Check your bees!
Also note my earlier post, and water your bees! They need 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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Beneficial Insects in the Organic Garden

June 27, 2012

Good Bugs, Bad Bugs

Now that summer is in full swing, gardeners have to deal with pests.

While industrial agriculture uses chemicals to control insects, it’s a scorch-the-earth policy that kills both good and bad bugs indiscriminately.

In organic growing, we strive to live in harmony with the plant and animal nations. As such, we want to grow plants that repel unwanted insects and invite beneficial insects to take care of those that might want to feast on our plants.

Several plants can be useful in controlling unwanted pests, such as alyssum, buckwheat, coriander, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, sunflowers and common yarrow. Not only do these plants look great, they attract the kinds of insects that will help protect your garden. Some, like sunflowers, act as a “trap crop,” luring pests to them and away from the rest of your garden. Others, like dill, fennel and coriander, are herbs that you can use in your food. Buckwheat is incredibly appealing to pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies.

American Indian tribes have traditionally considered yarrow to have mystical and magical properties—from love charms to warding off negativity. The Latin name for the plant (also known as millfoil) is Achillae, named for the Greek warrior Achilles. Legend has it that Achilles gave the plant to his troops to stop bleeding. The Chinese have used dried yarrow stems for I Ching divination for centuries. And gardeners who use the principles of biodynamic farming use yarrow as a basic ingredient to invite spirit elementals to the garden.

Placing beneficial plants in your garden isn’t difficult and you don’t have to follow a specific plan; plant them here and there, wherever the mood strikes you, in and around the garden or along a ditch. They should all grow quickly.

To provide a little help for the humans in your garden, plant something that will help naturally ward off mosquitoes. Mother Earth News tested a number of plants and these were the top natural repellents: lantana, rose-scented monarda, lime basil, catnip, sacred basil and thyme (see tinyurl.com/74gwysm). Again, these plants have other uses as well—including happy cats! Planting them in pots or other containers allows you to place them on your porch or patio, as well.

Find heirloom or organic seeds for all of these plants at your local garden store—or, at this time of year, look for full-grown plants on sale at a discount.

In addition to attracting beneficial insects with plants, you can simply purchase them. Those little red beetles with black dots, affectionately called ladybugs, are popular. Ladybugs are capable of consuming up to 50 or 60 aphids per day, and one ladybug can consume many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime, according to Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply (groworganic.com), which sells the little critters online. Ladybugs also eat a variety of other harmful insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leafhoppers, mites and various types of soft-bodied insects.

Next year, you might consider the praying mantid (or mantis). These big green bugs eat aphids, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, wasps—generally, any insect it can catch. A praying mantid’s egg sac can contain up to 40,000 eggs, which usually hatch in spring. Find them for sale online and from stores such as Costco.

Finally, if you are finding strange plant symptoms or pest invaders, check out this handy online resource for finding safe, non-toxic pesticide solutions that are Organic Materials Review Institute, or OMRI, approved: The Ecological Pest Management Database (bit.ly/g6Eqgu). It covers solutions for everything from diseases to weeds to mollusks. The database is maintained by the Butte, Mont.-based National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Call them at 1-800-346-9140.

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.

Summer Planting for Fall Harvest

June 27, 2012

Plant Now for Fall Harvest

One of the benefits of living in the South is that we can extend our growing period through at least three seasons just by timing our planting, and four seasons if we put a little work into it. For example, right now is a good time to plant for your fall harvest.

One of the most highly desired foods when summer ends is tomatoes; and if you plant now, you can have a good fall crop. However, tomatoes come with a bit of a caveat. Because of Mississippi’s hot, moist conditions, tomatoes frequently begin to fail in deep summer. Fruit doesn’t form above 94 degrees and high humidity discourages pollination. During prolonged periods of drought or high temperatures, tomato plants will just shut down.

A few varieties of tomatoes will do well in southern climes, including:

  • Homestead24 (certified organic; for hot, humid weather; from Florida)
  • Neptune (certified organic; for hot, humid weather; from Florida)
  • Arkansas Traveler (heirloom; for hot, humid weather)
  • Cherokee Purple (heirloom; hot weather tolerant; from Tennessee)

If you can’t find seeds locally for these varieties, contact TomatoFest (Box 628, Little River, Calif. 95456, store.tomatofest.com) for these and other types of heirloom and organic tomato seeds.

Protect Your Skin

If you are going to be outdoors a lot, remember to wear sunscreen. Ultraviolet radiation may promote skin cancer.

Consumer Reports tested 18 sunscreen products, but rated none “excellent” for all conditions. In its tests, All Terrain Aqua Sport lotion rated best, scoring 88 of 100 possible points. Thirteen products scored 70 or higher. It gave “best buy” kudos to No-Ad with Aloe & Vitamin E SPF 45 and Walgreens Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50. For more information, visit consumerreports.org/cro/sunscreens/buying-guide.

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.

Give Bees Water

Bees Need Water …
With the hot drought conditions right now, bees — like every
other bee-ings — need water!
It’s easy to provide it for them. Just throw out a piece of plastic in a shady
spot (as in the photo) and spray it with a hose.
Any leaves and wrinkles will act as “landing spots” for the bees so that  they
can lap up the water with their long tongues and carry it back to  the hive.
It can be done also by putting gravel in a baking pan (in shade) and filling  it
with water so that the bees can stand on the rocks and sip.
Without somewhere to land, bees can drown.
Freshen the water every other day or so until rain provides natural sources.
Bees need water. It’s estimated that during summer, a hive can use a quart of
water per day, with 800 workers making trips to water sources 50 times a day.

During drought, bees need water. It’s easy to provide it. Just throw a piece of plastic in the ground (in shade) and spray it with a garden hose. Wrinkles and leaves are good, allowing “landing spots” for bees.

Help the bees!

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.

Organic Gardens Need Water in Hot Weather

June 27, 2012
Hot-Weather Watering

The hottest part of summer may require us to use more treated water than we may prefer. Chemicals from city water-treatment plants can build up and can also stunt microbial life in the soil. To help alleviate the chemical load, consider using a chlorine filter that screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool-supply stores or online. If you don’t have an untreated pond or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by using a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at your plants’ roots. Find worm castings at your favorite local garden store.

Stressed plants may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases. It’s sold under various brand names, including Serenade Garden Disease Control, and is OMRI approved for organic growing. Ask your local garden store to carry this for you, or go online to Arbico Organics (arbico-organics.com).

In the end, nothing beats rainwater, but these tips can help your garden thrive in hot weather.

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.

Ewing was recently elected to the board of directors of Certified Naturally Grown, a national non-profit organization offering certification tailored to small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers who use natural methods. Many growers who use organic methods prefer not to enlist in the U.S. government’s certified program; CNG was founded in 2002, at the same time the USDA’s National Organic Program went into effect to fill that gap, providing local, community-based third-party certification. It is not affiliated with NOP. For more information, visit naturallygrown.org.

Worst Produce for Pesticides

Don’t Buy Dirty

When it comes to produce, buying organic means not buying chemicals and pesticides with your food.

June 13, 2012

People can’t always buy organic for a variety of reasons: The local store may have limited supplies, they lack variety or cost is a consideration. But whatever the reason—or excuse—shoppers should be aware that some produce at the grocery store is more pesticide-laden than others.

Every year, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group tests all manner of produce for pesticides and chemicals to compile its list of the “Dirty Dozen,” and “Clean 15” foods. By using the list to choose the foods to buy organically, EWG says consumers can substantially lower their pesticide intake.

You would be surprised at the level of pesticide contamination found in common, conventionally grown food. According to EWG:
• Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides, followed by apples (97.8 percent) and imported plums (97.2 percent).
• 92 percent of apples contained two or more pesticide residues‚ followed by imported nectarines (90.8 percent) and peaches (85.6 percent).
• Some 96 percent of all celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by cilantro (92.9 percent) and potatoes (91.4 percent).
• Nearly 90 percent of celery samples contained multiple pesticides, followed by cilantro (70.1 percent) and sweet bell peppers (69.4 percent).
• Hot peppers had been treated with as many as 97 pesticides, followed by cucumbers (68) and greens (66).

If that doesn’t underscore the need to “buy organic,” I don’t know what does. You might want to clip this out and keep it with you for handy reference when you go shopping.

According to EWG, if you choose five servings a day from the “Clean 15” instead of the “Dirty Dozen,” you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent. You’ll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking five from the “Dirty Dozen” would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day, the EWG states. If you choose five servings from the “Clean 15,” you’ll consume fewer than two pesticides per day.

Additionally, because genetically modified, or GMO, seeds are more often used in conventionally raised corn, and the United States (unlike other countries) does not require GMO labeling, EWG recommends consumers only buy organic sweet corn; GMO seeds are banned in organic growing.

For more information, including a printable “Clean 15/Dirty Dozen” wallet card, visit http://www.ewg.org/foodnews.

The Clean 15
These are the lowest in contamination; if you must buy commercially raised products, stick to this list.

1. Onions
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocados
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplants
9. Cantaloupes, domestic
10. Kiwis
11. Cabbages
12. Watermelons
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruits
15. Mushrooms

The Dirty Dozen
Always buy these foods grown organically to avoid pesticide intake.

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines, imported
7. Grapes, imported
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries, domestic (These are grown locally in Mississippi; ask your farmer.)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

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 Gardening Dads Really Want for Father’s Day

How Many Green Beans for That?

June 13, 2012

Father’s Day often presents a problem: What to get Dad? If he’s into gardening, the answers are easy.

I’m a dad, and I think I’m fairly typical. I love to look through garden magazines, especially the sections on tools and gadgets. (My wife believes the annual Northern Tool + Equipment catalog that comes out each winter must be men’s secret porn, because it seems so many of us covet it!)

Johnny’s Select Seeds catalog features all manner of cool rakes, broadforks and cultivators (some designed by legendary organic grower Eliot Coleman) that just make my heart sing.

My problem is the cost. I measure purchases for gardening on a rather personal calculus based on how much physical labor it takes to pick a dollar’s worth of produce. A $349 cultivator, for example, costs about 110 pounds of green beans, and that’s a lot of green beans! Besides, I already have a hoe. I bought it at a local garden store for, I think, less than $25. (Eight pounds of green beans—still a lot of picking.)

The reason dads, some of us anyway, stare at those cool catalogs isn’t necessarily that we actually want to buy those things, only that we think if we happened to have one or two, it would be pretty cool.

It usually goes something like this: Staring at a new tractor, I think, “If I had that, I’d have to have more land. … We’d have to move somewhere else. … Wonder if the growing is good in, say, the Bahamas?”

In other words, Dad probably doesn’t want the $30,000 four-wheel drive, air-conditioned, enclosed-cab tractor with the satellite-guided, laser-row projectors so much as he wants a sunny beach where the living is easy—before he gets back to hoeing, anyway.

Which brings me to the point: You don’t have to spend a lot of green beans to make Dad happy on Father’s Day.

During a recent tour of local garden stores, just to see what they had, I found all kinds of stuff. Some of it, while really cheap, are still things that a dad might like, such as a rain gauge. I saw one for $3 (and bought two). Or how about a straw hat? Why not tell Dad he looks like Indiana Jones with it on (instead of Goober from Mayberry)?

You’ll find all manner of tools that maybe aren’t designed by organic farmer and author Eliot Coleman but will do good, long useful service: rakes, hoes, hammers, trowels—you name it. They will probably last a lifetime, giving Dad a warm, fuzzy feeling knowing you picked it out for him.

And don’t forget stuff that he needs. Maybe Dad just doesn’t like forking out the cash for some things, or it’s something he might not buy it on his own, like certified organic fertilizers or pricey containers that hold, carry or store stuff.

Why not just ask him, “Dad, would you like a wheelbarrow for Father’s Day?”

He might surprise you. Will it work in the Bahamas?

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.

Urban Farming: No Room? Look Up!

No Room? Look Up!

May 30, 2012

For would-be urban farmers, the solution to lack of space may be as simple is looking up.

Rooftop farming is sweeping the nation. In April, The New York Times announced that Bright Farms, a private company that develops greenhouses, plans to create a sprawling greenhouse on a roof in Brooklyn. The company expects to yield a million pounds of produce per year in what may well be the largest rooftop farm in the United States, occupying up to 100,000 square feet.

It’s also not the only Brooklyn, N.Y., farm. Brooklyn Grange, another rooftop farm developer, is set to open a 45,000-square-foot commercial operation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard this year, as well. Plans for rooftop gardens totaling 200,000 square feet are under way elsewhere in the five boroughs of New York City. The developers’ vision is to provide fresh, nutritious food in the communities where the gardens are located.

For artistry, however, few cities could match the achievement of Mexico City. Here, a nonprofit company called VerdMX has created vertical gardens called eco-sculptures. Not only do these vertical gardens provide green space in urban areas, they also sequester carbon to help prevent climate change, provide fresh air and, in some instances, grow food for the people.

Helping the planet and feeding ourselves is only limited by our imaginations.

If you live in an apartment or have no yard space for planting, check out other locations for a garden. Perhaps, even, a rooftop!

Rooftop Urban Farm in NOLA
In New Orleans, herbs grown locally on the rooftop of Rouses Market, a few blocks from the French Quarter, will soon be finding their way into local chefs’ dishes. Managing partner Donny Rouse says his store is the first grocery in the country to open an urban farm on its roof.

“The flat rooftop on this store is perfect for urban farming,” Rouse said in a release. “And the view of downtown is postcard-perfect.”

It’s set to open Thursday, May 31, one day before New Orleans kicks off its second annual “Eat Local Challenge” (nolalocavore.org). Participants agree to eat only food produced within 200 miles of New Orleans. To find out more, visit tinyurl.com/c85dfu3.

Jackson Rooftops
The Old Capitol Inn, a bed and breakfast at 226 N. State St., has what might be considered a “traditional” rooftop garden—not an urban farm, but a space where guests can enjoy greenery and downtown views. Call 601-359-9000 or visit oldcapitolinn.com

Unconventional Spaces
For photos of unconventional growing spaces from around the world—and one designed by a local architect—see Jackson horticulturist Felder Rushing’s website: tinyurl.com/7u3s2fy

Before You Build
Make sure to have a licensed professional inspect your roof before you consider building a rooftop garden. Soil and water can be quite heavy, and you must ensure that your house or building can bear the load. Check with an architect for simple designs that won’t harm the integrity of your roof or become a hazard in high winds.

Trellises, windowsills and stairs are great for containers holding food-producing plants, but again, be careful to ensure safety. For some great projects, ideas, designs and resources, visit rooftopgarden.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.

Keeping Urban Bees

Keeping Bees

May 30, 2012

Here’s a term that has gained popularity in the past couple of years: urban homesteading. It means making your property, or “homestead,” as self-sufficient as possible, regarding food and supplies, while living in an urban setting.

You could also just call it sustainable living.

Either way, I’ll write on this topic from time to time. Our first stop: keeping bees.

Bees require specialized equipment and are impossible to corral. You’ve heard of trying to herd cats? Bees are worse. They range a mile in every direction and get into anything that promises the sweetness of flower nectar — including, in one instance, invading a Brooklyn, N.Y., maraschino cherry factory and producing metallic-tasting red honey (!), The New York Times reports.

Because bees go so far afield, if a jar of honey is labeled “organic,” be wary. Unless the bees are out in the middle of nowhere, it’s impossible to certify their food sources.

On the other hand, if you keep a hive, you can take care of your end to ensure you are not adding artificial chemicals. Believe it or not, most commercial beekeepers use chemicals to control pests. They also pasteurize their honey—through either heat or irradiation, killing many of its natural nutrients—and even add thinners and artificial color. If you truly want to buy natural honey, look for products marked “raw.”

If you have an acre of land or less in an urban setting, I don’t advise trying to keep standard-frame hives. Neighbors might complain—and rightly so—about 200,000 or so honeybees living next door. To get around this, a number of urban beekeepers have joined together to provide rooftop hives. “Secret” rooftop-hive locations include The Whitney Museum in New York City, the Lloyd’s Building in London and the Opera Garnier in Paris, The New York Times reports.

For city dwellers, particularly those living in apartments, rooftop hives may be worth looking into, but for most urban homesteaders interested in keeping bees, a few enterprising folk are making alternatives to standard, commercial hives.

One option is called an English Garden Hive, which is lightweight in comparison to standard frame hives and decorative. Some call this “the hive of the future” for backyard gardeners. Another choice is called the Kenyan, or top-bar hive, which is so adaptable that you can use boxes, 55-gallon drums, old crates or even a cast-off refrigerator for your hive. Either way, the idea is to harvest just enough honey for your own use, and let the bees keep the rest.

Most beekeepers keep stacked hives, adding hive boxes to the top, called “supers,” for the bees to produce surplus honey for commercial purposes. But garden hives are small to begin with and usually don’t have a number of supers. They’re meant to house bees to pollinate your crops, thus improving produce yields, while also supplying a small amount of honey for personal use.

Urban beekeepers should also buy a bee variety that usually maintains a small population, is gentle to work with, and doesn’t swarm a lot, such as Italian bees.

Urban Beekeeper Resources
• English Garden Hive and other essential beekeeping information and tools: brushymountainbeefarm.com
• Kenyan Top-Bar Hive—See videos at bees-on-the-net.com. This site also has a ton of other information and links about bees and beekeeping.
• It’s getting a little late in the year for buying bees, but Keith Dale of Wee Three Bees Apiary in Hattiesburg, who keeps natural Italian bees, says he plans to have some bees on hand for sale into June. Visit his website, beelicioushoney.com, or call 601-447-6994.
• “Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture” by Ross Conrad (Chelsea Green, 2007, $36) is a good book on chemical-free beekeeping.

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.

Fertilizing Your Organic Garden in Planet-Friendly Ways

Fertilizing in planet-friendly ways

May 18, 2012

Now that you presumably have your organic garden planted, whether in pots on an apartment balcony or a larger space, you will want to nurture it with fertilizers.

Contrary to what those promoting chemical farming may say, there’s a big difference between synthetic and natural fertilizers. Ammonia-based synthetic fertilizers kill microorganisms in the soil, kill earthworms that keep it aerated and fertilized, burn plant roots, and destroy humus. They can also poison drinking water, kill lakes and are even largely responsible for the giant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where there is no oxygen.

In short, chemical fertilizers “kill” the soil and do damage to the planet, too.

It’s no wonder that synthetic fertilizers are prohibited from certified organic farming.

Synthetic fertilizers have three main nutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K). When you look on the side of the package, it will say something like 13-13-13, which is the NPK content. This formula will cause your plants to look really great, initially, but after a few years, your soil will be hardpan and, essentially, dead.

Beyond NPK, there are 17 essential nutrients that plants need for healthy growth. Natural fertilizers provide these trace elements. How can you tell if one is missing? Here is sample of deficiencies:

• Magnesium, discoloration of leaves;
• Calcium, plant growth stops, blossom end rot;
• Sulfur, light greenish or yellowish;
• Zinc, thin, yellow leaves;
• Copper, wilting.

So, how do you fertilize your garden organically? Easy. For the long term, you can start by composting. Save anything but meat from your table, such as eggshells, vegetable scraps, fruit peels, coffee grounds and tea leaves.

You can compost these items in a pile outdoors, keeping it turned occasionally, or in a “spin” composter. After 60 to 90 days, it will be dark and crumbly and ready to add to the garden. Your garden is a growing medium and you want to treat it as a living being, nurturing it along. Increase and replace its fertility gradually, as it loses fertility by providing you with food.

So True!
Nice T-shirt I saw for sale at the Fair Trade Store in Fondren at Rainbow Plaza: “Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.”

Chef to Plate
The High Noon Café in Rainbow Plaza is sporting notices that it supports the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America in its efforts to educate the public about food allergies. For more info, visit gluten.net.

Got an APP for That?
• Mother Earth News has a Grow Planner iPad App for $9.99 to help people plan their vegetable gardens, including specific crops for their regions and helpful rotations. Go to motherearthnews.com to download it.

• Want to know what chemicals are in your food? The Pesticide Action Network has a handy dandy online tool for that. Just click on the meat, fruit or vegetable item and it will tell you. Find it at http://www.whatsonmyfood.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.