Tag Archives: insecticides

Guerrilla Gardening

Meet Ron Finley – resident of South Central L.A. and guerrilla gardener. Even if you’ve never been near the place, you probably have at least a vague notion that South Central is not really where you want to find yourself. But for the residents, it’s home, and many people couldn’t move if they wanted to (and they probably want to). So, instead of jumping ship, this man decided to do something about it; to try to make a difference that everyone in his community could appreciate and anyone could participate in if they wanted.

Food Deserts

South Central L.A. is considered a food desert. That means that the residents don’t have access to healthy foods within a relatively convenient distance, though they often have plenty of access to fast food, and convenience and liquor stores. Food deserts exist all over the U.S., predominantly effecting lower-income areas, where there are, on average, 3 times fewer grocery stores than in wealthier neighborhoods. This is entirely related to the off-balance obesity rates and incidents of type-2 diabetes in these communities.

Why you should get involved

The purposes of guerrilla gardening are to both beautify and provide healthy food for local communities, no matter what their socio-economic status. As the gap between wealth and poverty widens and the middle class shrinks, it’s not just the food deserts that need help. In suburban neighborhoods, many people are struggling more to make ends meet and, as Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and he tells us that about $1 worth of green beans can generate as much as $75 worth of produce.

The effects are much more far-reaching than that, though. These gardens offer incredible educational opportunities for both children and adults, to learn how to be more self-sufficient and to understand and appreciate the importance of fresh vegetables, for health, yes, but for well-being in general. Kids that are out in the garden aren’t out getting into trouble, or sitting in front of a television. They’re learning how to improve themselves and their communities instead of watching fast food advertisements. Another great benefit is that you can control where your seeds come from and how they’re grown. You can buy non-GMO seeds, and choose not to use pesticides. You generate less waste from trips to the grocery store and all the paper and plastic you come away with in addition to your food. This is something worth getting involved with in some capacity, even if you’re just chucking sunflower seeds down a grate or creating graffiti art with moss (link to instructions below). Make whatever difference you can!

Watch Ron Finley’s TED talk. It’s only about 10 minutes long and worth your time!

Learn more about food deserts at the Food Empowerment Project.

Advice and tips on how to get started

Community pages on guerrillagardening.org and a Facebook page – try to find other guerrilla gardeners in your area to team up with

How to make moss graffiti

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Herbs & Spices for Health & Garden

Keep yourself out of the medicine cabinet, and the round-up out of your garden

ad01c-generalWe have too much salt in our food, and it’s really just a substitute for flavor. Most of it comes from processed foods that are often very high in sodium to cover up all the artificial stuff. But this can also lead to an acquired taste that gets us putting excess salt in our food even when we cook at home. Salt is vital for our bodies, and a healthy amount is an important part of our diets. It also enhances the potency of other flavors, but should be used sparingly, and certainly not to the exclusion of everything else. You’ll have to re-train your taste-buds, but you’ll enjoy the flavors more in the end.

Using a different set of spices or herbs than what you normally use can also add a whole different dimension to your meals and allow you to enjoy the creative process of cooking rather than seeing it as a mere chore.

The most important reason, though, why it’s bad that salt is the go-to flavor enhancer in so many food products and for so many people at home is that herbs and spices offer significant health benefits. They are one more piece to the puzzle of living a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

But it doesn’t end there. Companion planting with herbs is not only a flavorful addition to your dinner and good for your health, many herb and spice plants also help your garden by naturally deterring pests and attracting the ‘good’ insects that eat the pests rather than eating your crops for you. Here is a list of some of the herbs and spices that offer the most benefit for both you and your garden:

Basil – Definitely makes the top of the list. It’s incredible stuff. Basil is anti-inflammatory, good for cardiovascular health and the upper respiratory system, and fights off bacteria such as staphylococcus, e. coli, shigella, and pseudomonas. Adding basil to your next salad can actually help ensure it’s safe to eat. Basil is also high in vitamins K, A, B6 and C, as well as iron, calcium, fiber, manganese and more. In your garden it will benefit the growth and the flavor of tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, oregano and petunias. Many of the health benefits from basil come from its essential oils, which will benefit from being planted with…

Chamomile – Great for your digestion and helps with abdominal pain, cramps, and breathing when you have a cold, as well as being a mild sedative. Good for soothing headaches and skin problems, too. It even seems to help with hormone regulation, which might be why it looks to be effective against some cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. Planted alongside any other herb, chamomile helps to increase its essential oils. It also helps out cabbage, cucumber, onions and wheat, and attracts hoverflies and wasps which pollinate and feed on unwelcome garden guests like aphids.

Cilantro/Coriander – These both come from the same plant, which is a good source of dietary fiber, calcium and magnesium. It lowers bad and raises good cholesterol, protects against nausea and arthritis, UTIs and salmonella! In your garden it protects from spider mites, aphids and potato bugs.

Dill – A very good source of calcium to help prevent bone loss. Dill also protects against free radicals and some carcinogens, and has antibacterial properties. It makes a good companion for cabbage, lettuce, onion, sweet corn and cucumbers, keeping away spider mites, squash bugs and aphids wile attracting pollinators.

Garlic – Whole books are written about garlic. It’s antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and eating it daily has been shown to help protect against most types of cancer. It helps metabolize iron and has cardiovascular benefits as well. It’s as close as we get to an actual panacea. Planted with apple, pear and peach trees, roses, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, and celery it helps keep rabbits and a myriad of pests away from your food.

Mint – A rich source of dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B2, potassium and copper. Mint is good for your tummy and can help you breathe if you have asthma, allergies, or a cold. It’s also antibacterial, fighting e. coli, salmonella, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and others, and inhibits certain types of fungus. Cuttings of mint can be used as mulch, which will help keep mice out and is beneficial for cabbage, mustard, turnips, and broccoli. The living plant attracts bees and deters beetles, mosquitoes, ants, aphids and more.

There are so many flowers, herbs and spices that make good companion plants and benefit health. Do some research to decide what would be best for your garden and keep them in mind while you’re planning for next summer. Of course, during the winter you can keep potted herbs going in your kitchen to continue to enjoy their advantages.

Resources to get you started:

Check out this comprehensive infographic of complementary flavors. Every home cook should have access to this resource.

Companion Planting: friend & foe

Herbal companions

The basics of companion planting

Health benefits

Cooking with herbs & spices

An Unsustainable Food Supply

Fur trappers and traders who came to North America in the 1600s and 1700s had to eat what they could forage and catch. Rabbits were plentiful in many regions at that time, and so they formed the bulk of some trappers’ diets. Those trappers who relied too heavily on rabbit meat often died of malnutrition. Rabbit meat takes more calories to procure than you get back from eating it. That balance is unsustainable, and yet it is exactly how the U.S. food system works.

A little bit of math

It takes approximately 10 calories worth of fossil fuels to produce and transport 1 calorie of food. That means, for a family of four with a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, 930 gallons of gas per year will be required to produce and transport their food, not including that family driving to and from the grocery store. Since the average household in the U.S. consumes somewhere around 1,000 gallons of gas per year, the way we manage our food supply nearly doubles the already ridiculous amount of fuel each person is responsible for consuming. That kind of imbalance on a personal level will eventually kill you, and what we’re seeing on a national level is no different.

Approximately 15% of the energy supply in the United States goes into crop production, livestock production, food processing, and packaging. A Cornell University professor of ecology and agricultural science did the math for what that means for the big picture: if all of humanity were to go about food production the way the U.S. does, we would exhaust all known fossil fuel reserves in seven years. Wow, that’s wasteful!

Agricultural practices contribute greatly to global warming. Because of the complexity of the problem and the multitude of factors, it’s difficult to arrive at an accurate number, but it’s thought that approximately 33% of contributions to climate change are a direct result of the food supply system. Some of the factors are farm machinery, petroleum-based chemicals used in synthetic fertilizers, the manufacturing processes for agro-chemicals and fertilizers, the processing of major crops like corn and soy into a vast array of derived products, and the distribution over long distances of everything, including the final output. Animal agriculture itself accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions (18%) than all transportation in the globe (14%). (Others argue that the figure of 18% allows a large number of unallocated emissions that are really due to animal agriculture, bringing the figure up to 51% – read more here.)

Let’s take school lunches as an example, if only because a) they need to change anyway as they’re incredibly unhealthy for our children, and b) I can quote directly from an article by Tom Starrs, VP and COO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation:

“According to 2005 USDA National School Lunch Program participation figures, 29.6 million American school children were served nearly five billion meals at school last year. Typically these meals are highly processed, filled with conditioners, preservatives, dyes, salts, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. Usually they’re individually portioned and packaged, and travel thousands of miles to the school cafeteria.

School meals are commonly delivered frozen, wrapped and sealed in energy-consumptive packaging, and in need of some interval in a warming oven to thaw before being served to students. Studies of packaging and plate waste in school cafeterias indicate that, every day, as much as half, by weight, of these hasty, unappetizing, low-nutrient, highly processed and packaged meals is tossed by students — unopened, un”appreciated”, untasted, unrecycled and uncomposted. The energy needed to collect and transport the waste generated by school lunch must also be added to the net energy embedded in the meal.”

This is no different from food in the grocery store, which travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to get there, and is wastefully packaged to boot.

It’s the Monsanto monster again

A huge amount of agriculture and food supply mismanagement can be traced back to Monsanto & friends. The federal government has been convinced by lobbyists and money to subsidize over-production of monoculture crops such as corn and soy. They are genetically modified crops, grown in petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer, drenched in herbicides and insecticides, then either fed to cattle who can’t digest them or highly processed before going into your own food. Monsanto & friends get extremely-well paid, while you and I foot the bill, twice – once in our tax dollars funding their subsidies and once for increasingly expensive health care to treat our inevitable diet-related illnesses.

Farmers growing fruits and vegetables that are fit for human consumption don’t receive subsidies. It’s really an upside-down system. We should be able to offer farmers subsidies to protect them from a year of drought, blight, etc., but not for purposeful overproduction of nutritionally useless and environmentally damaging crops that serve no purpose but to line the pockets of those in charge of unethical corporations.

Tipping point

With a rising global population, increases in droughts and flooding, and a beautiful planet that can’t take much more of what we’re throwing at her, we absolutely have to make our system more sustainable and energy-efficient if we’re going to survive. None of us can implement that change alone, but we can each make choices in our daily lives that will contribute, and we can urge others to do the same. If enough of us care and get involved, we can and will reach a tipping point where the system will have to change. It’s a top-down problem that we need to try to solve from the bottom-up. We all have to get involved. Buy local as much as possible. Go to farmer’s markets. Grow your own vegetables at home. Start to think about the net energy that goes into your food and the waste that results. Start or get involved in a local community garden, farm-to-school program, or food forest project. Above all, teach your children!

Bees & Butterflies & Alternative Energy

We have to stop using massive amounts of insecticides & herbicides. Obviously. But it may take some time to get there, so what can each of us do in the meantime to help our little buddies who are suffering mass extinctions?

Win – win

There’s a company in the UK getting it right. Unlike fossil fuel extraction methods, solar power doesn’t destroy the immediate environment in which production happens. So we’re already a step ahead, but that’s not enough for the folks at Solarcentury, who have decided to do what they can to support biodiversity in their country.

They are about to begin planting indigenous flora throughout their solar parks that bees and butterflies love, and that promote native biodiversity in general. They envision their solar parks as wildlife sanctuaries, and it’s not just for bugs; it’s estimated that 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost since the 1940s. They’ve found an ingenious way to make human interference in a natural landscape beneficial. The CEO of the company pointed out that solar parks actually provide a wider array of wet, dry, shaded and sunny areas than completely open fields, making it a perfect place to promote biodiversity. Win – win.

How bee-friendly is your land?

You could easily follow their example at home and make your land a refuge for bees and butterflies, who are fighting to survive and could use all the help we can give them. Frankly, it also has the potential to be more beautiful than a grass lawn. It may not be the right thing for everyone to do. Of course, you can also have gardens, but they do require more care. One of the nice things about attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinators, though, is that they do help you out with that.

There are more benefits, too. Many of the plants that attract bees and butterflies also attract hummingbirds. Many are also edible, including herbs like fennel and basil. You just have to make sure you let them go to flower, but you were going to do that anyway so that you can save the seeds, right?

See how synergistic it can all be? When you begin to recognize it, it seems so inane of us to have commercialized this process to the point of destruction. Nature takes care of all this with relatively little intervention on our part and here we are wasting valuable energy and resources (non-renewable ones) engineering plants that lack the nutritional value of natural plants, while creating robotic bees (yes, it appears Monsanto IS involved in that project) just in case that’s the only way they can survive. Well guess what? We’re next.

What to plant

Here are a few resources to learn more about the plants that pollinators love, and other potential uses for some of them, as well as a helpful hint for people with allergies, and more.

21 best plants for pollinators

No-fail plants to attract hummingbirds, butterflies & bees

Bee balm: for butterflies & bees

10 things you can do to help save the bees

Hormones – how they’re related to sustainability

Did you know plants have hormones? We hear about hormones all the time with reference to people – they’re those things that make teenagers and pregnant women crazy. They’re responsible for inducing and regulating a lot of physiological processes, and not just in humans. All multi-cellular organisms on this planet produce hormones. It’s part of how things grow – you and trees both get bigger, in very distinct ways of course, because of hormones.

Hormones are essentially chemicals that are produced in the body and bind with receptors in cells. It takes only tiny amounts of these chemicals to be effective, as each has a unique chemical structure designed to produce specific results. In short, living things regulate their systems with internally-produced chemicals. The natural process can be interrupted by exposure to other chemicals that trick the cell’s receptors into thinking that it received the hormone, or that somehow block the reception of the natural hormone.

For example, people with type-1 diabetes don’t produce enough of the hormone insulin. They can take insulin shots to help make up for this lack, so all the receptors that require insulin will receive it. Another example is the phytoestrogen (plant estrogen) in soy milk. It mimics the human estrogen hormone and interacts with the receptors for estrogen. For some people, that’s a good thing.

Danger, danger, danger

safety-44441_640Where we start getting into trouble is with the chemical soup that’s in our food supply, our air and water, and, by extension, in us. But it doesn’t end there, because we’re spraying these chemical insecticides and herbicides all over the place. Since all plants and animals produce hormones, they’re potentially in danger as well. It’s not well-understood how all the various chemicals we’re continuously exposed to are affecting us physiologically, but the evidence is slowly mounting.

A study of 268 men who had presented themselves to an infertility clinic in Massachusetts showed a direct relationship between levels of testosterone and the amount of insecticide present in their urine. (The insecticides present in these men are mostly manufactured and sold by Dow, known by the trademark names Dursban, Lorsban, as well as the trademark Sevin made by Bayer.)

Widespread insecticide spraying was our answer to west nile virus in many cities across the US, and many cities use insecticides in their parks.

Monsanto’s at it again

Case in point:

cow-35561_640Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is a genetically-engineered hormone manufactured by Monsanto. It’s similar to a natural hormone found in cows that spurs them to produce milk. The problem is that giving milk-cows enough of this hormone to turn them into cash-cows doesn’t come without side effects.

Cows that are injected with the GE hormone rBGH have a greatly increased (79%) susceptibility to udder infections, called mastitis, leading to increases of bacteria and somatic cells (pus) in the milk (and, yes, there’s a legally allowable limit of pus in milk). Eeewww. And that’s only the part that affects milk-drinkers. The poor cows also get digestive problems and lesions on their knees and hooves. Then there are the antibiotics that are used to treat the mastitis. Yes, you end up drinking those, too. rBGH benefits Monsanto and no one but Monsanto.

Bees

You probably know that we’ve just managed to devastate bee populations with insecticides. What you might not know is that what’s actually killing them is a manufactured hormone that’s part of the chemical make-up of the insecticides. Even less-than-lethal doses severely damage a bee’s ability to navigate, communicate, forage, and work communally.

Disruption of the natural hormonal systems in human populations can cause asthma, cancerous tumors, birth defects, diabetes, obesity, developmental disorders, infertility, etc. And what about the dangers to other living things that rely on hormones? We cannot possibly know the extent to which the introduction of so many different chemical compounds will act on the hormone balances of other species, including plants. Sadly, we may be about to find out.

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