Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs

Institute for Responsible Technology – 10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs.

10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs

1. GMOs are unhealthy.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.

Numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor, doctors groups such as the AAEM tell us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk.

The American Public Health Association and American Nurses Association are among many medical groups that condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)―which is linked to cancer.

2. GMOs contaminate―forever.
GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. The potential impact is huge, threatening the health of future generations. GMO contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-GMO farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.

3. GMOs increase herbicide use.
Most GM crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”―they deadly weed killer. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide.

Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in “superweeds,” resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.

4. Genetic engineering creates dangerous side effects.
By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.

5. Government oversight is dangerously lax.
Most of the health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments’ superficial regulations and safety assessments. The reason for this tragedy is largely political. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn’t require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency. Their justification was the claim that they had no information showing that GM foods were substantially different. But this was a lie. Secret agency memos made public by a lawsuit show that the overwhelming consensus even among the FDA’s own scientists was that GMOs can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. They urged long-term safety studies. But the White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, and the agency official in charge of policy was Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president. He’s now the US Food Safety Czar.

6. The biotech industry uses “tobacco science” to claim product safety.

Biotech companies like Monsanto told us that Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT were safe. They are now using the same type of superficial, rigged research to try and convince us that GMOs are safe. Independent scientists, however, have caught the spin-masters red-handed, demonstrating without doubt how industry-funded research is designed to avoid finding problems, and how adverse findings are distorted or denied.

7. Independent research and reporting is attacked and suppressed.
Scientists who discover problems with GMOs have been attacked, gagged, fired, threatened, and denied funding. The journal Nature acknowledged that a “large block of scientists . . . denigrate research by other legitimate scientists in a knee-jerk, partisan, emotional way that is not helpful in advancing knowledge.” Attempts by media to expose problems are also often censored.

8. GMOs harm the environment.

GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GM crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GM canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.

9. GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.
Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report noted, “Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” They determined that the current GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.
On the contrary, GMOs divert money and resources that would otherwise be spent on more safe, reliable, and appropriate technologies.

10. By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing them out of our food supply.
Because GMOs give no consumer benefits, if even a small percentage of us start rejecting brands that contain them, GM ingredients will become a marketing liability. Food companies will kick them out. In Europe, for example, the tipping point was achieved in 1999, just after a high profile GMO safety scandal hit the papers and alerted citizens to the potential dangers. In the US, a consumer rebellion against GM bovine growth hormone has also reached a tipping point, kicked the cow drug out of dairy products by Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Dannon, Yoplait, and most of America’s dairies.

The Campaign for Healthier Eating in America is designed to achieve a tipping point against GMOs in the US. The number of non-GMO shoppers needed is probably just 5% of the population. The key is to educate consumers about the documented health dangers and provide a Non-GMO Shopping Guide to make avoiding GMOs much easier.

Please choose healthier non-GMO brands, tell others about GMOs so they can do the same, and join the Non-GMO Tipping Point Network. Together we can quickly reclaim a non-GMO food supply.

Mood-boosting Bacteria Found in Dirt

Mood-boosting Bacteria Found in Dirt

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Healthy Living – Tue, Jan 31, 2012 4:53 PM EST

A bacteria found in dirt may act like a natural antidepressant.A bacteria found in dirt may act like a natural antidepressant.Even if you don’t love gardening, digging in the dirt may be good for your health — and it has nothing to do with a love of nature or the wonder of watching things grow. The secret may be in the dirt itself: A bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae that acts like an antidepressant once it gets into your system.

That’s right. A living organism that acts like a mood-booster on the human brain, increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels and making people feel happier. It was accidentally discovered about 10 years ago, when Dr. Mary O’Brien, an oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, tried an experimental treatment for lung cancer. She inoculated patients with killed M. vaccae, expecting the bacteria — which is related to ones that cause tuberculosis and leprosy — to boost their immune system. It did that, The Economist reported in 2007, but it also improved her patients’ “emotional health, vitality, and general cognitive function.” Later experiments with mice confirmed the bacteria’s effects; the study was published in a 2007 edition of the journal “Neuroscience.”

“These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health,” the mouse study’s lead author, neuroscientist Dr. Christopher Lowry, said. “They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all be spending more time playing in the dirt.”

“We believe that prolonged exposure to [M.vaccae] from childhood could have a beneficial effect,” he added.

It raises the intriguing idea of a future where doctors could treat clinical depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder with a simple vaccine (and possibly a future in which kids don’t need quite so may baths). In the meantime, people seeking a bit of a boost may be able to find it in their own backyards.

In an article in The Atlantic this week, author Pagan Kennedy tests out the ultimate in eco-friendly antidepressants herself. “As I huff the soil, I have no way of knowing exactly how much M. vaccae is floating into my lungs — or whether it’s enough to change my mind,” she writes. “But I sure can smell this compost.”

We wouldn’t recommend inhaling dirt, of course. But, come spring, we’re looking forward to spending more time getting dirty.

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.

22 Uses for Lemon Peels

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what to do with all those lemon peels? Don’t toss them, put them to work.  Lemons juice is about 5 to 6 percent citric acid and has a pH level of between 2 and 3. This low pH acidity makes lemon juice a great ally in breaking down rust and mineral stains, but gentle enough to not dull finishes. There is generally sufficient juice left in used lemon halves to tackle small tasks, and it all comes with its own applicator (the rind itself).Plus, the oil in the peel is perfect for clever culinary applications, and not bad in the beauty department either. Here’s what you can do:

1. Clean greasy messes
Greasy pans? Splattered stove tops? Messy counters? If your kitchen has been the victim of some sloppy sauteing, try using lemon halves before bringing out possibly toxic chemical cleaners. Sprinkle some salt (for abrasion) on a juiced lemon half and rub on the greasy areas, wipe up with a towel. (Be careful using lemon on marble counter tops, or any other surface sensitive to acid).

2. Clean your tea kettle or coffee pot
For mineral deposit build up in your tea kettle, fill the kettle with water, add a handful of thin slices of lemon peel and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit for an hour, drain, and rinse well. For coffee pots, add ice, salt and lemon rinds to the empty pot; swish and swirl for a minute or two, dump, and rinse. Hello, sparkly.

3. Clean your microwave
All it takes is one exploding bowl of food to render the interior of your microwave officially gunked, sometimes gunked with cement-like properties. Rather than using strong chemical cleaners, try this: Add lemon rinds to a microwave-safe bowl filled halfway with water. Cook on high for 5 minutes, allowing the water to boil and the steam to condense on the walls and tops of the oven. Carefully remove the hot bowl and wipe away the mess with a towel.

4. Deodorize the garbage disposal
Use lemon peels to deodorize the garbage disposal (and make your kitchen smell awesome at the same time). It is a great way to finally dispose of spent lemon peels after you have used them for any of these applications.

5. Polish chrome
Mineral deposits on chrome faucets and other tarnished chrome make haste in the presence of lemon–rub with a squeezed lemon half, rinse, and lightly buff with a soft cloth.

6. Polish copper
A halved lemon dipped in salt or baking powder can also be used to brighten copper cookware, as well as brass, copper, or stainless steel. Dip a juiced lemon half in salt (you also use baking soda or cream of tartar for the salt) and rub on the affected area. Let it stay on for 5 minutes. Then rinse in warm water and polish dry.

7. Clean a stainless sink
Use the same method described to polish chrome, applied to any stainless sink.

8. Keep insects out
Many pests abhor the acid in lemon. You can chop of the peels and place them along thresholds, windowsills, and near any cracks or holes where ants or pests may be entering. For other ways to combat pests naturally, see 7 Steps to Chemical-Free Pest Control.

9. Make a scented humidifier
If your home suffers from dry heat in the winter, you can put lemon peels in a pot of water and simmer on the lowest stove-top setting to humidify and scent the air.

10. Refresh cutting boards
Because of lemon’s low pH, it has antibacterial properties that make is a good choice for refreshing cutting boards. After proper disinfecting (see: How to Clean Your Cutting Board) give the surface a rub with a halved lemon, let sit for a few minutes, and rinse.

11. Keep brown sugar soft
If your brown sugar most often turns into brick sugar, try adding some lemon peel (with traces of pulp and pith removed) to help keep it moist and easy to use. (For all recipes using lemon peel, try to use organic lemons–and scrub the peel well to remove any residues and wax.)

12. Make zest
Zest is the best! Zest is simply grated peel, and is the epitome of lemon essence–it can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. If you don’t have an official zester, which looks like a very fine cheese grater, you can use the smallest size of a box grater. To dry zest, spread it on a towel and leave out until dried, then store in a jar. To freeze, use a freezer-safe container. Use zest in salads, marinades, baked goods, grain dishes, etc.

13. Make Vegan Lemon Biscotti
Once you’ve made some zest, make these Vegan Lemon Biscotti cookies. Delicious.

14. Make twists
Strips of peel, aka twists, are good in cocktails, sparkling water, and tap water. Use a vegetable peeler to make long strips, or use a knife and cut the peel into long strips, cutting away the white pith which is bitter. These can be frozen in a freezer-safe container or bag.

15. Make lemon extract powder
Make zest or twists (above) and dry the strips skin-side down on a plate until they are shriveled and dried up, about 3 or 4 days.  Put in a blender (or spice grinder) and pulverize into a powder. Use the powdered peel in place of extract or zest in recipes.

16. Make Lemon Sugar
You can make lemon extract powder (see above) and add it to sugar, or you can use fresh twists, put them in a jar with sugar and let the peel’s oil infuse the sugar.

17. Make Lemon Pepper
Mix lemon extract powder (see above) with freshly cracked pepper.

18. Make candied lemon peel
Orange or grapefruit peel can be candied too.  Yum. Candied peels are pretty easy to make, and can be eaten plain, or dipped in melted chocolate, used in cake, cookie, candy, or bread recipes. These recipes for candied citrus and ginger use Sucanat, the most wholesome sugar you can buy.

19. Lighten age spots
Many folk remedies suggest using lemon peel to help lighten age spots–apply a small piece to the affected area and leave on for an hour. You can also try one of these 5 natural ways to lighten age spots.

20. Soften dry elbows
Use a half lemon sprinkled with baking soda on elbows, just place your elbow in the lemon and twist the lemon (like you are juicing it) for several minutes. Rinse and dry.

21. Use on your skin
Lemon peels can be very lightly rubbed on your face for a nice skin tonic, then rinse. (And be careful around your eyes.)

22. Make a sugar scrub
Mix 1/2 a cup of sugar with finely chopped lemon peel and enough olive oil to make a paste. Wet your body in the shower, turn off the water and massage sugar mix all over your skin, rinse, be soft! You can also try any of these 5 simple homemade sugar scrubs as well.

via 22 Uses for Lemon Peels Page 5 | Care2 Healthy & Green Living.

Get Off Your Grass and Create an Edible Lawn

Americans currently spend more than thirty billion dollars, millions of gallons of gasoline, and countless hours to maintain the dream of the well kept thirty- one million acres of lawns. An estimated sixty-seven million pounds of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides are applied around homes and gardens yearly. Commercial areas such as parks, schools, playing fields, cemeteries, industrial, commercial and government landscapes, apply another 165 million pounds.

Lawn grasses are not native to the North American continent. A century ago, people would actually pull the grass out of their lawns to make room for the more useful weeds that were often incorporated into the family salad or herbal tea. It was the British aristocracy in the 1860’s and 70’s, to show off their affluence that encouraged the trend of weed-free lawns, indicating one had no need of the more common, yet useful plants. Homeowners were encouraged to cultivate lawns that would serve as examples to passersby. These types of lawns also lent themselves to the popular lawn sports, croquet and lawn tennis. From the 1880’s through 1920’s in America, front lawns ceased to produce fodder for animals, and garden space was less cultivated, promoting canned food as the “wholesome choice.” Cars replaced the family horse and chemical fertilizers replaced manure.

It has been estimated that about thirty percent of our Nation’s water supply goes to water lawns. In Dallas, Texas, watering lawns in the summer uses as much as sixty percent of the city water’s supply.

On weekends, we increase noise and gasoline consumption to mow down the grass we have worked so hard to grow. Lawn clippings are put into plastic bags and have been estimated to comprise between twenty to fifty percent of our country’s overcrowded landfills. Running a power mower for one half hour can produce as much smog as driving a car for 172 miles (E – The Environmental magazine, May/June 1992.) Bizarre customs, are they not?

The definition of a “good” lawn has come to mean, a plot of land growing a singular type of grass, kept mowed, maintaining a smooth even surface, uniform in color, with no intruding weeds. The United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Golf Association and The Garden Club of America have promoted this type of lawn. Lest a weed appear, it was to be destroyed at once. Manicured lawns have become an opportunity for rivalry between neighbors and an example of man’s domination over nature.

Pesticides are defined as any chemical designed to kill a living organism and can include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides. Pesticides enter the body via the lungs, mouth and skin. They are tracked into one’s home, and once inside can last for years. In a 1987 grant from the National Cancer Institute, it was revealed children were six times more likely to develop leukemia in households that used lawn pesticides. Children have faster metabolisms and more likely to be in the outdoors, and put their hands in their mouths, making them vulnerable.

The elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and chemical sensitivities are also at risk to having their immune systems further disrupted by exposure to lawn chemicals. A 1991 report issued by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that dogs, which lived where the lawn herbicide 2,4-D was applied more than four times yearly, were at a greater risk of developing canine malignant lymphoma.

Chemicals when sprayed, can drift to other neighbors, kill birds (who eat insects), and endanger precious water supplies. Pesticides can also reduce earthworm populations, which help aerate soil, by as much as ninety-nine percent, for up to twenty weeks. Many insects are beneficial in lawns. Ladybugs, preying mantises, and ground beetles all consume aphids, mites, mealy bugs, mosquito larvae and caterpillars. Honeybees provide valuable cross-pollination and without their help many fruits, vegetables and flowers would cease to exist. Substances designed to kill things are unlikely to be totally safe. Frolicking in one’s yard should not be a health risk to anyone.

What would happen if you stopped watering, fertilizing, pesticiding, and mowing your lawn? You would certainly have more free time. The grass would grow a bit higher or lower depending on weather conditions. And then the wild things, which are naturally adapted to be hardy, and require no special care, would grow. For two and a half years in the 1970’s, I lived in The Ozarks in a teepee, totally subsisting on all the wild edible fruits, roots, leaves and berries that was provided in the untamed wild. All without watering, fertilizing or spraying. It was a very healthy time.

We do not need to fear wild plants. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Dandelions look like rays of sunshine and have edible leaves and roots. The dreaded lambs quarter is really wild spinach and far more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. Malva and violet leaves are refreshing additions to the salad bowl. Even the prickly thistle can be dug up, its roots consumed, as Lewis and Clark once did when traveling. Purslane is one of the richest sources of heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. One should focus more on our education of “weeds” and less on eradication. It has been said that the average American recognizes over a thousand logos and the products they correspond to, yet less than five plants in their area.

A few ideas on environmental lawns:

1. Compost. Use organic fertilizers such as manure, rock dust, and wood ash. Do a soil test and find out what your land requires.

2. Choose plants that tolerate dry conditions.

3. Learn to use wild plants that are low growing, not water demanding and might even provide salad fare or herbal teas. Turn your lawn into a wildflower sanctuary specializing in sunny well-drained dry areas. Consider buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) chickweed (Stellaria media), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla species), clover (Trifolium pratense or T. repens), English daisies (Bellis perennis), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), penstemon (Penstemon species), pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), plantain (Plantago major), pussy toes (Antennaria neglecta), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetelosa), strawberries (Fragaria species), thyme (creeping, lemon and wooly) (Thymus species) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Periwinkle (Vinca species), speedwell (Veronica officinalis), uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and violet (Viola odorata), grow well in dry shade.

4. Mulch around plants, using grass clippings, shredded hardwood, dry leaves or wood chips to retain moisture.

5. Group together plants that require similar amounts of water. Use a drip system or soaker hose that waters a plant’s roots, rather than sprinkles the air. Frequent watering encourages shallow roots. Water in the early morning before the sun is hot, to give the plants more benefits. Watering during the heat of the day is wasteful, as the water quickly dries.

6. Collect water from washing vegetables. Recycle rainwater. An ancient Hindu proverb says, “If you have water to throw away, throw it on a plant.”

7. Don’t water, don’t fertilize and in many cases you won’t need to mow. Let the wild things grow and learn to use them. Learn to eat dandelion, malva, purslane and violet.

8. If you do mow, keep the mower’s height around three inches, or the highest setting. Have sharp blades. The taller the lawn, the more drought resistant it will be. Tall grass shades the soil and helps keep it moist.

9. Use a non-gasoline push mower. (Less noise and pollution). Leave clippings on the ground as mulch and fertilizer.

10. Use an organic landscape service. Find out what products they are using and tell them you want to look at the labels.

11. Boycott places of business that use lawn pesticides. Write them a letter and tell them why you are no longer giving them your business.

12. Those that live in condominiums and apartments can organize the neighborhood to create edible landscaping and community gardens. Let the maintenance managers know you would rather have a few weeds than be subjected to sprays.

A healthier environment begins with you. Businesses including parks, schools and industries need to set a better example and not buy into the harmful hype about a chemicalized lawn. Make all your actions conscious of conserving, nurturing and honoring the earth. Resist conformity and allow your ecological lawn to flourish, and flower, celebrating life and diversity!

via Get Off Your Grass and Create an Edible Lawn | Care2 Healthy & Green Living.

Planting a Three sisters garden – corn, beans, and squash together

I love the idea of planting things together that actually benefit each other naturally. Let’s get back to some Native American traditions. They had it right the first time! :)

How to Create Seed-Starting Pots From Newspapers

I just bought some seed starting supplies at the trusty dollar store, and was so excited to save so much buying from there over garden stores. Then, of course, I come across this video that shows you how to make your own biodegradable seed starting pots using nothing more than a page of newspaper and a straight-sided glass.

Since I have the stash I already purchased, and now armed with the knowledge of this super-sustainable newspaper re-use project, I’ll probably try a combination of methods this spring. :)

How to Create Seed-Starting Pots From Newspapers | eHow.com.

The Good Food Revolution

Industrialized food harms the earth and our bodies. Thankfully, there’s a wave of passionate innovators who are growing a healthier food culture, one radish at a time.

By Jake Miller

Food is love. The first time I ever heard that was when I asked my friend Jona what in the world he was thinking cooking for 100 hungry guests on his own wedding night. Jona bought heirloom tomatoes from his neighborhood farmers’ market and served a splash of rich golden squash soup in shot glasses hand-painted to match the bridal flowers. The vegetarian menu wowed even the most committed carnivores at the party, and each course served to tighten the bonds of our shared community.

It’s easy to believe that food is love when you’re enjoying a special meal for family and friends, or when you bite into a peach that’s still warm from the sun. But how do those words apply to a society where people eat meals alone in their cars, or where whole communities don’t have access to basic fresh produce, let alone a sun-warmed peach?

On a late summer afternoon last year, my two-and-a-half-year-old son and I went to one of our favorite spots, where a series of paths wind between woods and fields, around the old grounds of a defunct psychiatric hospital on the edge of Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. Nowadays it’s home to the Boston Nature Center and the Clark Cooper Community Gardens, where gardeners from all walks of life share tips and talk about the weather, while naturalists watch wild turkeys patrol the edges of the plots. My gregarious son hails them all, saying hello to the growers, the butterflies, the turkeys, and the vegetables ripening on the vine. It’s a little bit of magic to see this slice of the world through his eyes, where everything here belongs together and has a role to play. The scenery is beautiful, but what’s even more inspiring are the people working and living together, growing healthy food and a strong community while revitalizing the environment.

Elsewhere in Mattapan—and throughout the city, the nation, and the world—the view is not always as lovely, with epidemics of malnutrition and obesity striking within the same communities, sometimes paradoxically within the same person. Many experts say that this growing crisis is due in large part to an industrial food system that pollutes the environment while propagating cheap, low-nutrition processed food. One out of every three children born in 2000 could develop diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control tells us, and obesity rates are rising. Today’s children may be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents.

At its best, food is love; at its worst, it can be toxic—to our health, to the environment, and to our communities.

In response, a diverse food movement has arisen, with farmers, public health activists, social justice advocates, and people who love to eat well, all collaborating to create alternatives to the industrial food system. The real beauty of this movement is that none of its strands can exist in isolation. It’s a healthy, vibrant ecosystem—a community of innovators helping to grow a new sustainable food culture.

Here are five key players who embody the diverse ideals and approaches of this movement. They’re working in cities and out in the countryside, on the left and the right of the political spectrum, with gourmets and with communities that are struggling with hunger. Some of them came to the movement when they realized that food was a key component of social justice; others came to share their love of fresh healthy food when they realized that too few people had access to it. A sense of intention connects them all—a commitment to building a food system that promotes not just efficiency and profits, but health, community, environment, and ethics.

Frances Moore Lappé

Envisioning Abundance
In 1971, Frances Moore Lappé found herself poring over books and reports in the agricultural library at the University of California, Berkeley. She felt confused. In study after study, evidence showed there was more than enough food for the world to eat, yet policy makers and pundits were talking about famine and lack.

“I was this kid trying to figure out, ‘Why is there hunger in the world when there’s enough food to make us all chubby?’” she says.

She went on to write Diet for a Small Planet (1971), a three-million copy best-selling cookbook that provided delicious recipes and showed how adopting a diet based on grains and vegetables, and eating lower on the food chain, would allow everyone on earth to have enough food.

It wasn’t the details of the diet that were the key revelation, Lappé told me in a recent interview: it was the simple realization that scarcity is a state of mind.

“If we start with a sense of lack—lack of stuff and lack of goodness—we’ve bought this caricature of ourselves, this shriveled sense of ourselves, that all we can count on is greed,” Lappé says. But in the real world, we’re all much more than that. “Look at the behaviors and traits that have been hardwired into us. Cruelty? Selfishness? Yes, but also fairness, cooperation, and creativity.”

Breaking through this illusion of scarcity—the idea that we don’t have enough to eat or that we don’t have the power to change the world—has been the constant theme of her work (which includes 16 books and co-founding the anti-hunger think tank Food First). She’s as passionate about it as ever. In her latest book, Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad (2007), she says that under the wrong conditions—extreme concentrations of power, cultures of anonymity, and scapegoating—most of us will behave selfishly and cruelly.
The beauty of the food justice and sustainable food movements, she says, is that they create the opposite of these conditions, which allow our better selves to shine through. Social power is dispersed, anonymity is diminished by true community, and everyone has to shoulder some of the responsibility for the state of the world we live in. It’s easy to see how when we eat and garden together, shop at a farmers’ market, or become a member of a community-sponsored agricultural project, we don’t just build a healthier food system, we build a healthier democracy.

Since she started writing about food, Lappé says, things have gotten a lot worse, but also a lot better.

“We’re heading very rapidly in two directions. The dominant direction is horrific. We’ve turned food into a health hazard,” she says. “At the same time, much more than I ever could have imagined when I began, people are reclaiming their own food traditions, learning more about soil ecology. A recent study from the University of Michigan shows that if the whole world went organic we would increase food output and build a healthier environment.
“My hope is in the evidence, and the evidence is in,” says Lappé. “We have the power to make a better world.”

Makani Themba-Nixon
Seeds of Justice
“Food has always been at the heart of the struggle for social justice,” says Makani Themba-Nixon, a community health advocate. According to her, it’s all a question of “Who has access to land, to food?”

Often the answer comes down to race and wealth, Themba-Nixon says. That’s part of the reason the epidemics of childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have hit communities of color particularly hard, and that’s why it’s crucial to empower these communities to find appropriate, integrated local solutions.

Themba-Nixon is the executive director of Washington, DC–based Communities Creating Healthy Environments (CCHE), a new nationwide initiative to support innovative solutions to the crisis. In its first round of funding in 2009, CCHE supported water activists in the Southwest, youth programs in Madison and New Orleans, and a program to introduce community vegetable gardens on a tribal nation’s ranch in Montana. Think of it as an innovation incubator, supporting creative strategies that other communities can learn from and build on.

As for childhood obesity, Themba-Nixon says, we won’t solve the problem without addressing the root causes—the land-use policies, predatory marketing, and underfunded public infrastructure that make it difficult for kids and families to make healthy choices in the first place. It’s easy to blame personal choice and individual character flaws for problems like obesity, which seem so private, but it’s not enough to simply ask individuals why they don’t take better care of themselves. We also have to ask, as communities and as a society, questions like, Is anyone selling fresh fruit and vegetables nearby? Are the streets and parks in the neighborhoods safe for children to play in? Is the soil in the neighborhood too contaminated for gardening? And what’s for lunch at school?

Part of Themba-Nixon’s inspiration in the fight for social justice is a love for healthy food that started in her own childhood.

“I was very fortunate to be raised by a mom who was into organic and growing your own before it was cool,” she says. “She was always baking things and sprouting things. It gave me a great appreciation for food, not just as fuel but as something sacred and alive.”

Joel Salatin
Caretaker of Creation
Joel Salatin calls himself a Christian conservative libertarian environmentalist and a “lunatic farmer.” He also calls himself a “caretaker of creation,” believing that his role as a farmer is to make the cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and, most important of all, the grasses on his farm, happy, and then to stay as far out of the way as possible while nature produces abundant healthy food. He sells it all from his local food shed, to his neighbors, and to nearby restaurants.

“Pasture-based livestock and local food systems can feed the world and heal the land,” Salatin says. “These are not mutually exclusive.”

As proof, Salatin offers his own Polyface Farm, a family-owned, multi-generational 550-acre operation in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He’s been so successful at proving his claim that he now devotes several months a year to writing and speaking about his message and methods.
Salatin believes that we were put here to nurture God’s creation, not to pillage it for maximum profit in the short term. The secret to the abundance of the farm is a carefully choreographed dance that mimics and enhances the natural food web of a grassland ecosystem. Salatin’s pigs, turkeys, and rabbits, as well as the farm’s 450 acres of woodland, all have their own dances to perform. Sunlight feeds a polyculture of grasses, cattle graze on that pasture (encouraging the grass to grow again), the cattle’s manure feeds the insects that feed the poultry, the chicken manure enriches the soil, and so on.

If the answer is as simple as letting nature work, why is our food system such a mess?

“First of all, as a culture we have been raised with a dominion mentality not balanced with a nurturing mentality,” Salatin says. “We have not had an environmental ethic, but rather an exploitation ethic. We ran through the environment much faster than we realized it was not limitless. Second, as a Western parts-oriented culture, we did not practice holism like Eastern cultures. While this made us technologically superior, we sacrificed social and environmental ethics.”

You don’t have to take his word for it, either. Salatin is so convinced of the virtue in his way of farming that his entire operation is open to the public—from the pigs aerating cow manure to the chickens and turkeys foraging in their mobile enclosures. And, as Salatin says, they’re not only producing delicious food for the local market, they’re healing the land. Since his family bought the farm in 1961, the Salatins have transformed their Shenandoah Valley home from an eroded shell of a farm into a treasury of living abundance.

“Awareness of our connection to our ecological umbilical brings decision-making integrity to our daily lives,” says Salatin. “And it allows us to participate in a cause far bigger than ourselves, with the joyful reality that we are creating the landscape our children will inherit, one bit at a time.”

Alice Waters
A Delicious Revolution
Every day, on her commute between her home and her world-famous restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, Alice Waters drives past the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. When she first began to notice the school around 15 years ago, it looked so poorly maintained—with raggedy overgrown lawns and broken windows—that she thought it might be abandoned. In fact, she writes in her recent book, Edible Schoolyard (2008), more than 1,000 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders were studying there.

Waters is known for revolutionizing American cooking—bringing simple, exquisite flavors to life with fresh, local, sustainably produced ingredients—and helping to launch the Slow Food movement in the United States. But before she became a chef she had been a pre-school teacher at a local Montessori school and has always been a firm believer in the value of public schools. The sight of the King school on her daily commute was a sobering reminder of the harsh reality of public education for many of our underserved children. She decided to see if she could help change that reality.

In her first visit to the school, Waters outlined a wildly ambitious plan to completely overhaul the way the kids experienced food—growing their own in a garden, learning to cook it themselves, and sharing it with their classmates. Today the King school’s Edible Schoolyard is a prototype for a new kind of holistic healthy school lunch program. Kids learn to grow and cook their own food—and eat much healthier lunches, teachers incorporate the garden into their science, math, and humanities classes, and parents and neighbors build new relationships that strengthen the school and its community.

Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation has also helped launch a sister program in New Orleans, a sustainable food project at Yale University, and a network of school gardens and holistic culinary projects sprouting across the country.

In September 2009, the Greensboro Children’s Museum in North Carolina broke ground on a new garden, becoming the first children’s museum in the country to join the movement.

Each garden is created by the children to be a lovely place and to help make their school more beautiful. This isn’t a side effect of the project; it’s one of the main principles. “Beauty is a language,” Waters writes. “A beautifully prepared environment, where deliberate thought has gone into everything from the garden paths to the plates on the tables, communicates to children that we care about them.”

It’s all part of what Waters calls her “delicious revolution.” The secret is that the seemingly selfish act of wanting to eat delightful food is actually based on sharing and connecting: people cook together, eat together, and work together with their local farmers to build a healthy community.

Will Allen
Tilling the Inner City
When Will Allen bought Growing Power, a nursery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his plan was to start a small urban farm where he could grow produce for sale to the local community. That modest vision changed when a group of neighborhood kids asked him to show them how to grow their own food. What was meant to be a small for-profit business has grown into a nonprofit community food center, offering not just produce but the know-how to grow, process, market, and distribute sustainable healthy food. It’s one of the most influential forces in urban farming in the nation, if not the world.

Allen, a MacArthur Fellow and a former professional basketball player and marketing executive, has developed innovative holistic techniques for integrating fish farming into his plant-growing operation. Growing Power produces astonishing amounts of food and lush vermicompost in remarkably small spaces—25,000 plants, thousands of fish, plus laying hens, goats, rabbits, and turkeys, all on two acres of inner-city land. This oasis of fresh nutritious food lies in the heart of what Allen calls a “food desert,” but Growing Power’s message and methods are spreading far and wide, with spin-offs and partner projects around the nation and a new project launching through the Clinton Global Initiative to share the methodology in Africa.

Everything on the small city farm is integrated: The aquaponics tank not only grows fish, it also produces nutrient-rich water for the tomatoes and salad greens grown in the greenhouse. Allen’s beloved worms, which he proudly counts among his livestock, not only digest millions of pounds of food waste to produce nutrient-rich compost, they generate all the heat needed to keep the greenhouses warm and producing vegetables throughout a harsh Midwestern winter. But the soil and the food grown on the property aren’t an end in themselves; they’re the means—the groundwork upon which strong communities can come together to solve the profound problems of our food system.

“A lot of times I’ve heard, ‘Let’s go in—we have 200 vacant lots—bring some compost in and throw it down, and everyody’s going to run out of their houses and start farming,” Allen told a group of activists in Minneapolis earlier this year. “If you’re not able to engage the community, nothing else can really be sustained.”

Allen is working to overcome the all-too-common perception—especially among urban youth—that farm work must be cruel, grueling, or dirty. The 6’7″ force of nature who appears year round and all over the country in his trademark sleeveless hooded sweatshirt, has turned the gift for sales that he first exhibited at corporations like Kentucky Fried Chicken to promote something much more precious than the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices: inspiration for a community of citizens to work together and take control of their own food system.

“I don’t build gardens with fences. Everybody’s talking about, ‘You gotta put up a fence to protect the garden.’ No. You have to engage the community,” Allen says.

He sees a future with 50 million new growers—not just full-scale farmers but families with rows of pots on their porches, students turning soil in schoolyards, neighbors sharing plots in community gardens. If it works, they won’t just be growing food. They’ll be growing stronger interdependent communities that rely on and nurture one another as surely as the tilapia and lake perch growing in Allen’s aquaponics tanks depend on the composting worms and floating watercress that complete their cycle of life.

Digital Digest
Learn more about these sustainable food projects and how you can get involved:

Rebel Tomato
No yard? No community gardens near you? No problem. Use this Web-based tool to start your own.

Edible Schoolyard
The digital home of the original Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, with resources to help you start your own school garden project.

Ethicurean
The blog that pre-digests all the important food policy and sustainability issues for you.

Growing Power
Will Allen’s tips for growing worm compost, establishing an aquaponics greenhouse, or getting involved in the movement for sustainable community food systems.

Local Harvest
Learn more about Community Supported Agriculture, where consumers buy a share in a local farm’s production and get ultra-fresh food while providing farmers with better cash flow.

Polyface, Inc.
Get the lowdown on Joel Salatin’s model of pasture-based permaculture.

Slow Food USA
The United States branch of the international movement to support good, clean, and fair food and to preserve endangered culinary and cultural institutions in the face of fast food and fast life.

Small Planet Institute
Tools and tips for skillful engagement in democracy, including “food democracy,” from Frances Moore Lappé and daughter Anna Lappé.

The Ethical Diet
Changing the way you eat is a good start, but real change comes when we build communities that can support viable alternatives. Here are eight steps to help you expand the circle of good food in your life—beyond your plate and into your neighborhood:

• Start talking about food. Don’t stop.

• Learn where the food you already eat comes from.

• Ask at your local markets and restaurants if any of the food is locally or sustainably sourced—let them know that this is something that their customers value.

• Talk to producers at farmers’ markets to find out what the freshest and most delicious local foods are at the moment.

• Talk to your friends and family about your food traditions and values. An elaborate potluck feast—or a trip to gather you-pick strawberries—is a perfect opportunity for meaningful conversation.

• Grow something yourself and then eat it. You don’t need to launch a new community garden project to feel the power of connecting directly to the food chain. Plant a pot of basil on your porch and make one perfect batch of pesto, or capture some wild yeast and make an über-local batch of sourdough bread.

• Make eye contact with the people around you when you’re eating. At a harried family meal, this simple moment of connection can create a sense of calm. In a crowded café, it can help you build new friendships and expand your personal community.

• Add meaning to your meals by saying grace. You can thank God or simply take time to acknowledge the community of people, plants, and animals that worked together to provide your food. Infusing food with intention is also a great way to encourage yourself to eat healthier.

Learn about other sustainable food visionaries, print out tasty recipes, and more.

Jake Miller is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. He has cultivated tomatoes in his window, basil on his porch, and worm compost under his desk.

Photo by Alamy / fotolia.com

Spring 2010

Yoga+ magazine

The Good Food Revolution

Indoor Gardening video

This video shows an example of a great way to grow food indoors.

Veggie Trader: A Craigslist for Local Produce

Selected from Green Options

How great would it be if there were want ads in your local newspaper or on Craigslist for organic fruits and vegetables, grown in your town, by your neighbors? A new website – Veggie Trader has sprung up that offers exactly such a service–a purchasing and bartering clearinghouse for locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Veggie Trader describes itself as the “place to trade, buy or sell local homegrown produce.” The idea is simple: you register on the website and then offer to purchase, sell, or trade any manner of surplus fruits or vegetables. If you have too many tomatoes and want to see if anyone nearby has a surplus of peaches or peppers, you can log on, run a search, and find out who in the neighborhood may be willing to exchange with you.

It’s a great way to offload additional produce and exchange it for something that you might be unable to grow in your own yard, but that another gardener may specialize in growing. It’s totally free to join, and costs nothing to post an offering, or place a wanted listing.

The website only started four months ago, and is definitely still in its infancy. Despite that, they have over 6,000 people signed up so far. The folks who have registered thus far are concentrated on the U.S. West Coast in California and Oregon, but since the website is still starting out, it could very well extend to your neighborhood. You can help make the website grow by registering and offering to buy, sell, or trade for whatever produce you have or may want.

Veggie Trader has ambitions to expand to include dairy, eggs, and meat, all items that are heavily regulated. The future may hold great things for Veggie Trader, only time will tell if the site can attract enough members to gain enough momentum to make a difference in the local food movement, but we’re certainly rooting for them.

via Veggie Trader: A Craigslist for Local Produce | Healthy and Green Living.

How to start a garden, save money, and eat fresh!

AARP the magazine featured a great article recently, detailing a full plan for a vegetable garden in your yard. I’ve been looking for something like this all summer! This year was too busy and I spent too much time away from home to start my organic vegetable garden, but I’m armed with all the information I need to get a great start on next year!

The article talks about specific plot sizes, how to prepare your soil, keep out greedy animals, what is will all cost and how much you can save on groceries.

The author also points out how a garden can be a teaching experience:

Most vegetables are annuals, planted anew each year, but I tuck in a few alpine strawberries, too. These tiny, exquisite plants bear fruit all season and remain in place from year to year, to our grandchildren’s delight. They head for the strawberry row the minute their parents pull up in the driveway. Our sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes are also kid magnets, and I like to think our small foragers are gleaning far more than a healthful snack. They’re learning that growing food brings joy, and that dividend is priceless.

I would add to that, not only does growing food bring joy (which it definately does) but also that it nurtures an understanding that the food you grow needs balanced care, sunlight, water, protection etc, just as people do. This lesson makes it easier to understand why it is unhealthy for people to eat and drink junk and fake foods, and to have respectful balanced care for their own bodies. What a great lesson to draw on, especially in the teen years!

Dirt Cheap Eats.