Monday, August 31, 2009

Eat Your Meat

The Vegetarian Myth
Reviewed in Permaculture Activist

By Peter Bane
Permaculture Activist #72, Summer 2009

This book almost literally blew in the door one March day recently and I found myself still engrossed in its captivating story an hour after tearing open the brown padded wrapper. That doesn't very often happen.

Lierre Keith has written a compelling tale of her own near self-destruction from a vegan diet and a broadside against its being perpetrated upon or adopted by any other victims. She has converted 20 years of pain and suffering, and permanent damage to her health into a galvanizing passion to demolish the myth that she believe underpins the worldview of most who adopt vegan diet: "I want to eat without killing." You can't, she says, and if you try you'll die.

The arguments are compelling, and bluntly presented in three large chapters addressing moral, nutritional, and political vegetarians. Every field of grain or soybeans kills ecosystems and a myriad of creatures mostly too small to be seen and thus wept over. But they are just as dead as steers stunned and gutted in a meatpacking plant. At this point the enterprise of agriculture threatens all life on planet Earth.

Humans, unlike ruminants, cannot eat grass and survive. Our digestive systems are tuned for a variety of foods, always including meat. Many vegans, she reports from personal experience, do not know this, and fantasize worlds in which the lamb and the lion shall lie down, if not together, then at least on either side of a big fence from each other—eating the same uncomplaining plants. Can modern people actually be this ignorant? It seems so. Traditional diets have universally recognized the importance of flesh foods, especially animal fats, as the researches of Weston Price and many others have confirmed for over a hundred years. But modern people devoid of dietary or any other cultural traditions have picked up deadly memes, and many, especially younger people, have killed themselves trying to atone for civilizational violence.

Keith is no less an activist for interspecies justice and care of the earth now than she was when eschewing flesh in her diet. Are plants insentient? Do they care naught for their offspring? Of course, and the moral impulses that inform veganism are still sound: we should care for all life—animal, plant, and microbe alike—and especially its higher expressions in the organization of ecosystems and species genomes. She has simply recognized the appalling state of willful ignorance that drew her down a deadly road, and is determined to do all she can through personal testimony and powerful persuasion to prevent any others falling victim to the same form of self-destructive madness.

The author demolishes political vegetarianism by exposing its ignorance. On the pretense (and this is the one that caught me 36 years ago) that surplus grain and oil crops from the western developed countries were needed to feed the hungry of India, Africa, and Asia, many political vegetarians have persuaded themselves to turn away from healthy food and embrace arrangements of power that, were they seen clearly, would be understood as imperialist, racist, even genocidal—certainly unjust. No, people in the majority world don't need U.S. food aid. They don't need GMO corn or inedible soybeans. These countries need us to stop overpowering their own native farm sectors with our subsidized exports and our high-powered trade negotiators. She goes on to peel the covers back from the orgy of interlocked corporate boards that makes up the American food system. Scratch beneath the skin of Dean Foods or Odwalla Juice, Hain Food Group, Cascadian Farms or Muir Glen, and you find the likes of Chevron, General Electric, Monsanto, Nike, Starbucks, Texas Instruments, and WalMart as the majority stockholders. "So you're an environmentalist. Why don't you know any of this?," she asks.

Feedlot finishing, chickens in battery houses, and CAFO pork operations are lousy, and we shouldn't be eating that food, but animals living their lives under the sun on agricultural savannas like those nurtured by intensive graziers such as Joel Salatin and thousands of others are tremendously healthy. These carefully managed pastures are sequestering carbon, increasing plant diversity, and growing healthy food for people. Wake up! The author's words virtually scream out from the page. You who disdain eating flesh are fooling no one but yourselves.

Apart from the gripping passion of Keith's personal narrative, why should anyone already eating meat bother reading this book, with its indictments of fast food addiction, its tight analysis of the downward spiral of anorexia and bulimia, and its chilling litany of the deterioration of the body deprived of saturated fats and animal proteins? Because control of food is central to the control of our bodies, our minds, and the political system itself. The author has done a tremendous amount of focused research on the issues of diet and nutrition, ecosystem destruction, agriculture, and the manipulation of the food system, and the chain of money and control that weave an insidious trap for us all. You will learn many things you need to know here. Things on which your very life depends.

This book is a political exposé, a diet book, a treatise on anthropology, and a roaring condemnation of grain agriculture. Keith looks at agriculture's destruction of the land, amped up by fossil fuels to a massive holocaust in the past five decades, and finds no redemption anywhere. She admits that the Land Institute's project to breed seed-heavy perennial grasses could prevent much of the destruction of plow agriculture, but asks "why would we want to?" When Kansas and the rest of the Great Plains virtually overflowed with bison, antelope, and a host of other ruminants, flesh of which is superb food for humans, why would we try to replace it with something that may not ever work, and certainly stands little chance of feeding anyone for decades?

Grain isn't good for us. We love it because its seeds contain small amounts of opioids that give our brains a rush, but it causes all our tissues to swell when we eat it: our joints, our livers, our nerves, our blood vessels. Most of the degenerative diseases of modern life are linked to the inflammatory influence of a diet rich in refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils. We eat them also because they are the cheapest and most profitable calories that industrial farming and food processing can put on the shelf, and Money wants us to eat them.

Meat, Keith reminds us, especially organ meats with their superb assembly of minerals and saturated fats, literally made humans into our modern form. These readily absorbed, nutrient-dense foods allowed our brains to grow and our digestive tracts to shrink. We are still dependent on this complex of foods for wholesome nutrition, but most of us don't know it. Or should I say that the cultures that reminded us of its importance are eroding and disappearing from the modern world. And that the manipulation of memes by corporate advertising is killing us, one cheese puff at a time.

In the nature of a book that attempts to integrate personal passion and scholarship to a high degree, it might be too much to expect a program of reform to be well articulated. In her fourth chapter, Keith expounds on a simple formula for saving the world: Refrain from having children; stop driving your car; and grow your own food. Many will take issue with at least the first, though by any account we need to reduce the human population humanely and as fast as possible, but there can be little quarrel with the science of the latter two points. You won't find a lot here about how to make the changes happen—and let me tell you they are tough in the aggregate—though the author gives a good account of the logic of permaculture and the importance of perennial polycultures, rotational grazing, and no-till gardening. In recommending how "To Save the World," Keith takes a good lick at patriarchy and monotheism along with industrial farming and soy pseudofoods. By this point in the argument, you don't have to care if her polemic is over-the-top. The point has been driven home. Our food system is killing us—resist!

Published with the blessing and under the imprint of Derrick Jensen's Flashpoint Press, The Vegetarian Myth is an attractive and information-rich book that lives up to its subtitle. Aside from a few graphs used to illustrate the manipulation of cholesterol studies, the books consists of text only. The cover theme of Lascaux cave art is carried through on most pages with tiny glyphs of bison marking transition points in the text. No matter the lack of illustration, the writing is powerful and persuasive. Keith has every reason to be bitter and angry, but she has transmuted her anger and seasoned it well with a self-reflective humor that sweeps us along this road to recovery from a scorched earth. As I read her description of her first meat meal in 20 years (a can of tuna eaten reluctantly with a plastic fork), I found myself in tears. Ten years recovering from a quarter century of vegetarian folly myself, I never went through the agony that Keith lives with yet, but I knew the shattering epiphany she experienced with that first bite—coming home to the truth of her body, and of life itself.

Whether you are a vegan (run, if you can, to the bookstore), vegetarian, recovering from either diet, or never gave up meat at all, you will benefit from this author's painful mistakes and her laser-like focus on the path to a sane diet and all that it entails. Mark this one for the top shelf on cultural recovery.

FDA Recommends Mercury

Dr Mercola reports:

The Food and Drug Administration’s new regulation on mercury amalgam fillings is a disaster for consumers -- and a bonanza for those companies still selling, and those dentists still placing, this primitive 19th-century device.

FDA’s rule, published August 4, says there will be no warnings to patients, not even young women and parents of young children, that the mercury from the amalgam fillings is a reproductive toxin and a neurotoxin.

FDA even gives the amalgam industry the green light to sell and place amalgam without disclosing to consumers that the fillings are mainly mercury, even though the agency is aware of the industry’s long-time deceptive practice of marketing amalgam as “silver fillings.”

As a further step to conceal the mercury and its risks, the FDA even pulled from its website a warning that dental mercury can cause neurological damage to children and fetuses -- despite signing a contract in 2008 with Consumers for Dental Choice, a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to educate the public about the health and environmental dangers of mercury fillings, and to ensure more effective government oversight on amalgam.

Every scientist in the world knows that mercury is a virulent neurotoxin that can kill unborn children and cause permanent neurological harm to a child’s developing brain. But the FDA doesn’t want patients to know any of this.

Stung by consumer reaction to its new amalgam rule, the FDA immediately added a warning to its website stating:

“High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys."

But they failed to take the more important step of having the warning issued to dental patients and especially parents. The small change also still allows the nation’s #1 distributor of mercury amalgam, Henry Schein Inc., untrammeled rights to market amalgam for everyone, even pregnant women, without even disclosing the mercury to patients.

The FDA’s Web site also still fails to inform consumers that young children and unborn children are especially susceptible to the effects of mercury. The FDA does not want parents to know about this danger to children even though it admits that this information is true (buried deep in the labeling intended for dentists in the new rule’s special controls, the agency writes that “The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor”).

With the FDA already conceding that it made a mistake by not posting the risks of mercury on its website, speaking up against this outrageous rule might get results.

Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein is the FDA official in charge of the amalgam rulemaking. The corporate big-shots have his e-mail address, and so should you -- it’s . Or call him at 301.796-5000.

Why is the FDA Ignoring Its Own Scientists’ Recommendations?

The FDA’s new ruling is in direct contradiction to the conclusions of their own 2006 Joint Panel of FDA scientific experts, as well as the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology Scientific Advisory Board members who reviewed the same papers.

The ruling is even contradictory to the FDA’s own advisories that pregnant women should limit their intake of certain fish due to mercury content. Well, as IAOMT reports, mercury dental fillings contribute two to three times as much mercury to the human body than do dietary and environmental sources combined.

Well, eating contaminated seafood will expose you to about 2.3 micrograms of mercury a day, a single dental amalgam filling releases as much as 15 micrograms of mercury per day!

It appears the FDA has sided with big business once again, as its ruling will ensure Americans’ continue using and buying amalgam fillings … but at what expense to their health?

As Charles Brown, National Counsel for advocacy group Consumers for Dental Choice, stated:

"FDA remains alone in the world in failing to protect children and pregnant women from mercury fillings. Since 1996, Canadian dentists have been told not to put mercury amalgam in children or pregnant women. Since 1998, British dentists have been told the same for pregnant women. Norway and Sweden have banned amalgam altogether.

Regrettably, this rule should have meant the end of two-tiered dentistry: mercury for the poor and choice for the rest. Instead the FDA has failed to carry out its mission of protecting the public health.”

Now’s the Time to Look Out for Your Own Health

The FDA has gone back on their word and is now ruling dental amalgam as safe. What this means is that it’s up to you to make sure you do not have this toxic metal implanted into your, or your child’s, mouth.

It’s an ironic fact that the metallic mercury used by dentists to manufacture dental amalgam is shipped as a hazardous material to the dental office. Any amalgam leftover is also treated as hazardous and requires special precautions to dispose of.

Yet you can have those same toxic fillings put into your mouth just by asking (and paying the price, of course)!

Dental amalgam fillings are made from about 50 percent mercury and the rest an amalgam of silver, tin, copper, zinc and other metals.

Mercury is a potent toxin that can damage your brain, central nervous system and kidneys. Children and fetuses, whose brains are still developing, are most at risk, and that is why it’s especially dangerous for pregnant women to get an amalgam … but really anyone can be impacted. Again, those most at risk include:

  • Pregnant and nursing women
  • Children
  • Fetuses
  • People with already high levels of mercury bioburden
  • Those who are sensitive to mercury exposure

Help for Those Who Already Have Mercury Fillings

If your mouth is currently free of mercury fillings, good for you. Make sure you keep it that way by seeing a biological dentist who can recommend a truly inert material that will not harm your health in the event you do need a filling.

For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend that you have them removed … but avoid making the mistake I did 20 years ago by having it done by a non-biological dentist. You see, when you have these fillings removed you can be exposed to significant amounts of mercury vapors if the dentist doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

It’s also for this reason that I suggest you get healthy BEFORE having your fillings removed, as you want your detoxification mechanisms optimized prior to removal.

Once you’re ready to go ahead with it, do your research and seek out a highly qualified biological dentist. Some things that need to be done to keep you (and your dentist) safe during the procedure include:

  • Providing you with an alternative air source and instructing you not to breath through your mouth
  • Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors
  • Putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don’t swallow or inhale any toxins
  • Using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor
  • Washing your mouth out immediately after the fillings have been removed (the dentist should also change gloves after the removal)
  • Immediately cleaning your protective wear and face once the fillings are removed
  • Using room air purifiers

If you opt not to have your mercury fillings replaced, or if you’re concerned about the mercury burden in your body right now, I highly recommend reviewing my Mercury Detoxification Protocol, which details the things you can do right now to help detoxify your body of this toxic substance.

Please Let Your Voice Be Heard About This Important Issue

Consumers for Dental Choice is working to abolish mercury dental fillings, and you can join their fight!

Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein is the FDA official in charge of the amalgam rulemaking. His e-mail address is or you can call him at (301)796-5000.

Please contact Mr. Sharfstein and let him know how you feel about the FDA’s atrocious ruling on mercury fillings. Not speaking up now means the poisoning of another generation of American children.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fake Grassroots Orgs = Astroturf

We need to keep the Internet free, open and neutral. Network Neutrality is vital to ensuring that everyone can connect and share content freely, that we can access the information, visit the Web sites and say what we want online, free from discrimination or interference.

The big phone and cable companies that control access to the Internet for most Americans want to get rid of Net Neutrality, the rule that prevents them from discriminating against online content. They want to become the Internet's gatekeepers, deciding which sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all — based on who pays them the most.

We can't allow the information superhighway to become the phone and cable companies' private toll road. If they get their way, the Internet as we know it — as a democratic platform for free speech and innovation — will disappear.

Farewell beloved friend

Frank Cook, friend and colleague, herbalist extraordinaire, has departed his physical form due to complications of a tropically acquired disease. He will be sorely missed.
The following is from Frank's blog page written by a friend of his, Joseph...

Frank Cook passed away this morning

The doctor tells us there are multiple lesions in the brain and a large cystic mass in the leg. Frank seems nervous by that but still he is strong, even taking care of us. Memory is lapsing in and out, Hallucinations. He talks about going down to the Piedmont tomorrow for a plant walk. He talks about Artemesia...

We've been here a few days already but last night I came to the hospital a little late. Friends have prepared loving biscuits and homemade honey. Matthew is holding a shamanic ceremony and showing Frank mushrooms and Yarrow. Morgaine, distraught and exhausted for days, is loving and protecting Frank while giving him her strength. Frank is cooperating with the doctors, but in and out.

I wake up again in the early morning when I hear Frank's spirit come in and greet me saying, 'Hey Bro!' I thank God for having already gone through the anger, frustration, disappointment, and heaviness. So it's good to finally see him, "Hi Frank!" I say. He laughs at me, "Joseph what are you doing hanging out with my body. You're supposed to be hanging out with my spirit." And then adds a final dig - "When are you going to get that!" I smile and agree and suddenly I'm just hanging out with his spirit:

...I see a dark black and green smudge and I'm like, "Frank that's not your spirit." Then suddenly, right behind it, I see a light-green light. It's so pure and generous, full of love and courage. Then he says, "See Joseph my spirit still loves the plants! But it's not dark in here..."

I smile and prepare him some breakfast and drive over to the hospital to nourish his real body. When I get to the room it's empty. Behind me the chaplain comes and says that his condition has destabilized. "Oh my gosh," I hear him say in my mind. Paul is downstairs but I can't find him. Morgaine calls like a fierce lioness ready to protect Frank's spirit and respect him but she's sobbing and can hardly speak.

I'm totally numb, can't feel anything. I sit down, take my shoes off. Stand up. Shake it out. Make some gurgling noises. Can't believe this is happening. Okay Joseph, sit down again I tell myself. I'm in lotus pose. Ceara! I forgot to call Ceara. I call and Ceara comes.

A few minutes later his mother arrives - she is so bright, beautiful and strong but her eyes are droopy. His brother sad too but also ready to lift us all up and encourage us. His family is beautiful I think to myself. Finally, I get to go in the room and see Frank. I know already he's not breathing on his own anymore...There he is, lying like Jesus, completely unresponsive but his skin is warm. I touch his shoulder and repeat his words, "You are so good brother. Here we go - on the journey! Lifting it up!"

I hold his hand. I realize I'm crying and there are large strands of mucous hanging from my nose. I can't speak and every time I try to, it chokes me. Suddenly we're in the southwest together again, driving up the mountains. In the background I hear Morgaine and everyone, with all their dignity and divinity, singing songs about angels. But Frank and I are in the mountains. 'Can't you feel it!' he says to me, 'we're going up! Here we go. In the mountains the whole reality changes. You know in those valleys you can find all kinds of food and medicines. We don't have to survive, we can THRIVE! Look Joseph, over there, the elders are right on the peaks. The fathers are watching over us. Yeeeeeeeaaaauhhhhh!"

I put my hands on his head. The room is full of people again. People are crying and still singing with the angels and the mother earth. It's so graceful. There are birds singing and a sycamore tree. I'm kneeling down holding his dreadlocks and Morgaine is whispering in his ear, "Frank it's time to go." She's nurturing him, holding him, and cooing to him in such gentle words I see Frank as a little baby for the first time. I see his mother's labor pains and a wave comes over me - some tears and I breathe them out.

I leave the room. I stretch and shake my body up to the ceiling. Big stretch! "Om nama shivaya." I keep chanting to myself trying to lift the energy and let his spirit go. Don't hold on to any part of him Joseph. You have your own life to live. I keep trying to lift it, lift it, and suddenly I realize - "wait, letting go means letting it go down and up and the same time." My tears stop for a few moments. Frank's spirit comes and puts his hand on my kidneys, swiping his hand down my back to ground me saying, "Whooooosh..." I realize I'm dizzy, there are some stars in front of my eyes and I let my breathing go slow again.

The neurologist asks us back in the room. People are still singing. Grace is everywhere. Ken, his younger brother, puts his hand on Frank's heart. He's a robust man with strong hands, a shaved head, but I see him as little brother with a smile in his eyes looking at his big bro all gentle and emotional, crying and happy at the same time saying "Frank, you are my Peter Pan! You brought me places I could have never reached on my own." His mother holds his big feet saying, "Look how strong you are. You're my son but you are also my mentor. You drove me crazy but you also pushed me beyond my own limitations and I grew."

The doctor comes in the room. He asks the mother if she is ready to let Frank go. To pull out the tubes. She looks at me. If you've ever looked into a mother's eyes like that... I nod my head feeling a peacefulness and she nods her head. Everyone nods their head. We're ready and he's ready. This is it, the moment... All the plant walks, the dreams of India, the potential, the knowledge. It's slipping away. "Okay," I say to myself, "this is really going to happen."

The nurse, so gently, she comes up to Frank and says, "Sweetie, I'm sorry. This will take only a moment." She pulls the tube out quickly. It almost feels like she's whispering a little blessing to Frank as she does it. He lets out all of his breath. I feel his deep voice vibrating through my bones for the last time. We all exhale. We're rubbing and massaging his tissues. "Just relax brother. Just relax. It's okay to let go."

I look up to his face and I realize he's smiling. His spirit says, "You thought you knew what was going to happen, Joseph!" Then he says, "Just being in the flow here!" I realize he's still teaching me - and playing tricks too. "Here we go Frank!" I return the smile to encourage him. We're back in Nevada together. It's my first time and I feel so blessed he's initiating me. There are mountains and mountains for hundreds of miles across a vast expansive sky. "Joseph, the world is this big," he says as he opens his hands really wide.

Then I'm back in the room and his mother says, "You're my boy. I always knew this would happen to you. Look what's happened." Ceara is holding his hand. Juliet is kneeling at the bed. Paul and then Morgaine, and then me and then everyone comes to kiss his forehead. I step back from the body. The spirit is leaving. I feel as if it's not okay to touch him. His spirit is expanding and expanding. There is a wheel of blue and pink and it's spinning. "Frank, here we are buddy! Going up into the mountains - here we go!"

I step away. The lights are dim again. Everyone steps away except his mother who turns back to the body. She's hugging him with her big mother bear arms and talking to her baby with so much sympathy. I put my hands together in prayer. Namaste Frank...We love you.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Urban Strategies

Found (along with many other images and stories) at the blog Tokyo Greenspace

North Vancouver and Edible Boulevards

Edible Boulevard in North Vancouver

The City of North Vancouver is considering an innovative plan proposed by the Green Skins Lab of the University of British Columbia to create edible boulevards. The idea is to combine commercial vegetable farms with social spaces within the city. Some features include biointensive farming, on-site energy generation and rainwater harvesting.

Like many cities, North Vancouver zoning currently prohibits commercial farming within city limits. However, the city government is reconsidering this industrial age policy as part of its 100 year sustainability plan. It is an interesting mix of food production, small business and job creation, community space, and aesthetic improvement.

edible boulevard

See also:

The Shrinking Cities International Research Network™

The Shrinking Cities International Research Network (SCiRN™) is a worldwide research consortium of scholars and experts from various institutions pursuing research on shrinking cities in a global context. SCiRN’s mission is to advance international understanding and promote scholarship about population decrease in urban regions and urban decline, causes, manifestations, spatial variations, and effectiveness of policies and planning interventions to stave off decline.

SCiRN™ was founded 2004 under the aegis of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, scholars from various countries realized that although the decline of cities and urban regions was a common issue for urban planners in different local contexts, there was little comparative research on this topic.

The work being developed by the network since 2004 includes case studies of suburbs, cities, towns, and regions that are investigated through a common comparative framework. It aims to produce both theoretical and methodological tools for analysing Shrinking Cities in different national contexts. In the long run an important repository of data will be gathered through the development of an observatory of shrinking cities.

Leipzig, Germany

SCiRN™ activities include:
  • exchange ideas, methods, resources and develop a strategic framework for discussion of the shrinking cities phenomenon,
  • disseminate research findings through publications, conferences, workshops,
  • network with institutions and other groups focused on similar topics,
  • provide policy analysis and advice on shrinking cities and regions.
See also:

publisher of Urban Agriculture Magazine:
The Urban Agriculture Magazine is an initiative under the RUAF Programme. It functions as a platform for exchange and discussion of grounded information on urban agriculture: research results, project experiences, and critical analyses of conventional and innovative policies on urban agriculture. The Urban Agriculture Magazine is published on this website twice a year. Articles are presented in PDF (including illustrations and graphics). The Magazine is available in several languages.

See also:

Vacant Land Re-Use Pattern Book (2MB PDF)

The pattern book is a companion to the Re-Imagining Cleveland plan and recommendations for vacant land reuse that were adopted by the Cleveland City Planning Commission in December 2008. This book is intended to provide inspiration, guidance and resources for community groups and individuals who want to create productive benefit from vacant land in their neighborhood and begin to restore Cleveland's ecosystem.

Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland (9MB PDF)

Creating opportunities for all people, fair access to resources, commitment to healthy places for children, and using our ingenuity to capitalize on our assets are the values that are at the core of Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland. This report summarizes the goals, principles and strategies for returning vacant properties to productive use at the city-wide scale. It identifies policy changes that will enable the city to better make use of this growing resource. The report also includes a range of potential pilot projects meant to illustrate and test the principles, and to build capacity for the strategic management of vacant land throughout the city.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Interesting Ideas for Urban Spaces

The following was found at Landscape & Urbanism where the focus is "landscape architecture, sustainable urbanism, vegetated architecture, urban agriculture, living walls, green roofs, ecological planning and landscape urbanism theory". I just spent a good while there.

"Of all the phenomenal spaces concocted by Paisajes Emergentes for their entry in the
Parque del Lago ideas competition, our favorite one has to be the open-air theater that doubles as a rainwater storage tank."
Paisajes Emergentes

Or is it a water tank that occasionally hosts cultural events, the itinerary being dependent on weather conditions beyond a day's forecasted precipitation? One can't imagine it functional during the wet season or even during the dry season if rain isn't particularly scarce.

Of course, there's a simple solution: build a floating stage. The number of available seats might then determine what sort of program can be scheduled. If mostly empty, a popular band can be booked. If one or two tiers are available, an experimental play.

Even in its flooded state, however, the space is still occupiable, a point of interest just like any of the artificial lakes and pools in the park.

Surprisingly adaptable, it's a space attuned to the temporal vagaries of climate, the fluctuating rate of water consumption and the cultural preferences of Quito's residents.
Esocoff & AssociatesArchitects look at gardening and design for disassembly: "The vast roof supports solar voltaics, which enables not only a greenhouse, but a recharging area for electric cars, and a veneer of apartments for people who really want to get near their groceries. Everything is designed to be easily disassembled and moved as the economics of the box location changes."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bioregional Congress #10 - Be There!

The 10th Continental Bioregional Congress will be held Oct. 4-11, 2009 on The Farm, one of the continent's premier ecologically-based communities, in Summertown, TN.

In the ceremonial village of the congress, we will share and celebrate stories of place, model the communities we wish to support and create, and organize for ecological and cultural restoration.

The congress will pilot the a bioregional curriculum – a toolbox of practices focusing on building, sustaining and relocalizing communities; reinvigorating culture and arts; and grassroots organizing for ecological restoration and policy change. The congress includes large group plenaries, ceremonies and celebrations; small group talking circles; open space workshops and presentations; men's and women's circles; and a bioregional school for children.

Holding this event at a successful 35-year-old ecovillage allows us to experience life in a permaculture-designed village full of earth-friendly housing, cooperative forestry, local foods, and consensus-based decision-making.

During a time of environmental devastation, social injustice and economic upheaval, CBC X unites activists, artists and writers, permaculturists and farmers, entrepreneurs, public policy-makers, community leaders, scientists and researchers, homesteaders and ecovillagers, children and adults, and all concerned about the state of the planet. We recognize that all justice, freedom and peace must be grounded in the recognition that we are part of the web of life. For More Information: Please visit or call 931/964-4474.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exactly the WRONG choice!

Prisons everywhere, especially the US, should be adopting farm and garden training programs for all inmates. They have a long track record of low recidivism rates and prisoners become better people through interaction with plants and soil.

Canada Set to Close Important Asset: its Prison Farms

In February 2009, Canada’s Public Safety Minister and the country’s Correctional Service announced a planned closure of all six of the prison farms owned by the people of Canada and operated by CORCAN - the branch of the Correctional Service that operates the farm rehabilitation programs which also provide employment training to inmates. The excellent syndicated Canadian radio show Deconstructing Dinner, which covers the local food movement, detailed all of this in its July 2nd show, and it’s a fascinating listen. The proposed closure is a move that’s spawned a national grassroots movement to block the action, Save Our Farms.

Why close the farms, Mr. Minister?
Because, he explains, they’ve lost $4 million (doesn’t that sound like the cost of a training program, though?) and, worse, prison farms are training people in skills that are 50 years behind the times - growing food by hand, milking cows, and such. This guy apparently has no idea what’s on the horizon for food production, and prefers the model with the hydroponic aquabots tending to seas of floating produce or something.

Never mind that Canada’s prison farm infrastructures are often relied on by small private farms nearby, that they supply cheap fresh food to large institutions, and the fact that the inmates interviewed in the story told of enjoying the farm work and testified to its great therapeutic effects and a desire to continue this work after release. Add to the picture Canada’s farm succession problems and its burgeoning local agriculture revival and one would seem to be mad to close these farms. The one in Kingston, Ontario, is likely the
largest urban farm in Canada, a last reservoir of open land in a sprawling city.

Where the prisons plan to get their fresh food from post-CORCAN is my question, and rumors abound that the farms will either be privatized or worse, sold for development at a profit. But what a loss that would be: Canada’s prison farms sit on some of the most desirable agricultural land in their regions and many are close to urban areas. And there’s an ironic twist: Canada’s prison farms are an international model and have been recently toured by delegations from Japan, Russia, and New Zealand, the latter hoping to take its own prison farms organic.

See also:
Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime by Kenneth I. Helphand
Doing Time in the Garden: Life Lessons through Prison Horticulture by James Jiler

First Annual PDC in Bloomington, IN!

Bloomington, Indiana Weekend Series Permaculture Design Course

The time has come! Permaculture is a great foundation for the transitional and regenerative work our generation needs to be doing. This course is designed to give us all a solid starting place.

Peter Bane, publisher of the Permaculture Activist; Keith Johnson, who has been practicing permaculture for over 25 years; and Rhonda Baird, originator of the Bloomington Permaculture Guild team up with Kevin Glenn of Owl Creek Programs and other guests to offer a fun, fast-paced, and transformative course.

The cost of the course is $750 (or $700 if registered by Sept. 15). This is a deal for anyone and meant for those who work and can't take time away for a two-week course.

This course is designed for busy, working adults and meant to be affordable. We are so pleased to offer a weekend permaculture design course this fall/winter for people in the Bloomington, IN region.

We will gather at the Friend's Meeting House Friday (3820 E. Moores Pike) evenings, Saturday all day, and Sunday afternoons on October 16-18, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, Nov. 13-15, Feb. 19-21 and March 5-7. We would be happy to help those traveling from out of town find accommodations. The cost of the course is $750 (or $700 if paid by 9/15). This includes Saturday lunches and materials for the course. You may pay for the course using Paypal (though you will need to contact Rhonda for registration materials). Please contact Rhonda Baird at 812.323.1058 or rhonda.kb[at]yahoo[dot]com for more information.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good Bugs

Have you looked into Rincon-Vitova? They’re the oldest among commercial free-enterprise insectaries and have been a pioneer for a growing biological control industry and profession since the late 1950’s.

They supply predatory and parasitics beneficial insects, inoculants, nematodes, services and just plain old information to farmers and gardeners who want to use effective and sustainable technologies based on biological pest control by natural enemies. By maintaining an emphasis on building habitat diversity and conserving natural enemies they ensure biological control programs that are affordable and work.

Rincon-Vitova serves thousands of large and small farms, nurseries, green houses, landscape and interior plantscapers, livestock and composting operations, hotels and resorts, zoos, botanical gardens, government agencies, many research institutions, and private residences.

Read their blog at

and see the Catalog of Beneficials

Organic IS Better!

Organic Versus Conventional Food:
UK Report Flawed

by Paula Crossfield

A report issued yesterday [PDF] by Dr. Alan Dangour of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK, claims that there is no substantial difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional food. The report was based on the review of fifty years worth of research papers on the subject. But reading it makes one wonder if influence caused a misreading of the findings, and in addition, if the agency has addressed the wrong questions entirely.

Even with very few studies comparing organic to conventional out there, evidence has proven that certain nutrients, such as Vitamin C and antioxidants, are on average higher in organic food. For example, a US study released in 2008 by The Organic Center focused on the nutrient quality of plant-based organic versus conventional foods, using matched pairs, "crops grown on nearby farms, on the same type of soil, with the same irrigation systems and harvest timing, and grown from the same plant variety." According to their report,

"Across all the valid matched pairs and the 11 nutrients included in [The Organic Center] study, nutrient levels in organic food averaged 25% higher than in conventional food. Given that some of the most significant differences favoring organic foods were for key antioxidant nutrients that most Americans do not get enough of on most days, the team concluded that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, offered significant health benefits, roughly equivalent to an additional serving of a moderately nutrient dense fruit or vegetable on an average day."
The Soil Association in the UK also pointed out yesterday that the FSA left out a more rigorous report commissioned by the European Union that found a range of "nutritionally desirable compounds" like antioxidants, vitamins, and glycosinolates were present in greater amounts in organic crops, while the amount of "nutritionally undesirable compounds" like mycotoxins, glycoalkaloids, cadmium and nickel were present in lower amounts by comparison in organic crops.

For research purposes the FSA report took into account studies beginning in 1958, from before we knew about the role certain nutrients played in our diet. In addition, studies show that nutrient content of our food overall has been going down over time. According to Michael Hansen of Consumer's Union, "including older studies, with crop varieties that no longer are on the market, and which did have more nutrients, only serves to lessen the possibility of finding any significant differences between organic and conventional foods."

The FSA study also ignored the 15 relevant studies that have come out since their February 2008 cut off date that could have changed the outcome of the report. In addition, the FSA analysis actually found that organic food contains more phosphorus, a beneficial nutrient, while conventional food on average contains more nitrogen, which scientists have linked to cancer. (Read more here) Why wasn't this information considered before issuing a substantial equivalence?

Aside from nutrients, contaminants are not considered in the FSA report. It has been proven that antibiotics are being taken up by plants via manure application on fields. The study did not address this or the unhealthy side effects of continued intake of pesticide residues, which accumulate in our bodies. There are a lack of studies on this subject, and investigators' claimed that these questions were "beyond the scope" of this report, but that also might be due to a certain interest in keeping the scope small and thus the outcomes skewed.

The FSA is a branch of the government of the United Kingdom, but states on it's website that it "works at 'arm's length' from Government because it doesn't report to a specific minister and is free to publish any advice it issues." With no oversight, influence over the selected research could have been a factor in the outcomes. A look at the profiles of the head of FSA reveals former employees of agribusinesses like Arla Foods (now part of Europe's largest dairy), Sarah Lee Corporation, and UK grocery giant Sainsbury's. Therefore it is not hard to assume that the perspective may lean towards what is best for agribusiness interests.

The FSA report was commissioned to determine whether or not the nearly 4 billion dollar organic industry in Great Britain could claim higher health benefits when selling its products. By rendering the playing field equal for conventional farmers, the government and the agricultural sector wouldn't have to begin the difficult work of shifting the unwieldy agricultural system towards sustainability.

One of the biggest hurtles to reforming our food system in the United States is our unwillingness to acknowledge at the governmental level the superiority of sustainable agriculture. Leaving aside the nutrient question, organic agriculture helps improve the soil, protects farm workers from exposure to toxic chemicals, places an emphasis on animal welfare, and keeps toxic runoff out of our waterways. In so doing, sustainable agriculture improves not just our personal health, but our collective environmental health.

The nutrient content in our food is going down because our soil is being degraded. Sustainable agriculture, by contrast, improves the food we eat by improving our environment. Instead of focusing on puny reports that tell us next to nothing and yet dominate the media with simple binaries, we should be taking an integrative approach to analyzing data and therefore face the hard truths before us. As Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, two of our countries most respected voices on our soil wrote in a New York Times op-ed back in January, which continues to be as scary as it is relevant: "Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland."

So we have a decision to make. If we chose business as usual, it will be at our own peril.

This article came from

Also see in this blog...
"Mineral Deficiencies—and Their Fall Out"