Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arsenic in Our Food

I came across a number of sources simultaneously this weekend that referred to arsenic in chicken manure. I used to use a chicken manure based “organic” fertilizer but I stopped when I found the OMRI report that showed that compared to other pelletized organic fertilizers that it had a very high level of arsenic. Now I think I know why. According to the movie and industry sources, arsenic is fed as part of a sub-therapeutic antibiotic in large poultry operations to help keep chickens healthy and put on more weight in inhumanely crowded and stressed out environments. I think we have to assume that arsenic is a marker that also indicates the presence of antibiotics (and other things? hormones?) since we know many antibiotics don’t break down even in hot composting operations. In the movie below and according to one of the conventional poultry industry’s lead magazines they mention that the “organic” form such as I guess is in Stutzman’s fertilizer is not as dangerous but that “Arsenic in chicken litter can convert to more dangerous forms of arsenic than those originally used in feed.” One example given in the movie is dust from the soil where chicken manure had been applied that had blown into people’s nearby houses by the wind.I stopped using this product over a year ago because arsenic is an element and can’t break down. Even though we may have adapted to exposure to small quantities of arsenic, after all we evolved with it in our environment and even use some forms of it in medicines, when we start building concentrations of it in our soils in order to grow a large number of developed and changing varieties of crops that this represents new territory that science still hasn’t caught up with.

I assume the only reason that these products are categorized as organic is because manure is simply not regulated in the organic standards the way that other ingredients are. Where there is arsenic my assumption is that there other sins as well such as antibiotics and other industrial chemicals that wouldn’t normally be allowed in an organic operation.I would like to see all such manures that we know contain additives that could never be considered organic otherwise except that they passed out of the rear end of an animal be banned. I am curious to hear if there is a reason to disagree with that, especially considering that there are so many other options to fertilize organically. I would like to see distributors voluntarily put a label prominently on the front of the bags that says “Contains ARSENIC” so people can decide for themselves whether they want to start salting their soil with this element. Better yet, until science catches up with us and we can show that products like this are safe and don’t have other antibiotics or other drugs maybe we should just stop using them. I can’t imagine that it would be a big cost difference to make this manure only using manure sourced from farms that aren’t spiking the feed or water with such toxic chemicals which they can only do because the animals will be slaughtered before they are old enough get sick enough from eating such poisons.

Another reason to stop buying these products is because they are derived from and support economically a style of farming that is eating away at the fabric of our country. The only place chemicals like this are used are CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding organizations) also known as feed lot in the case of beef in which tens of thousands to millions of animals are all kept in one place living on mountains of their own manure while everything is brought to them but very little is actually taken away or disposed of properly because doing so is “too expensive”. We shouldn’t support industries like this in any way since not even the food they create, while cheap, should be considered for human or other animal consumption.
We don’t need this kind of industrialized agriculture supported by taxpayer through the USDA commodity programs in order to maintain adequate supplies of food for our country or the world. The United States has vast grasslands where millions of bison, deer, elk, and other animals grazed in such vast numbers that it could take days for a herd to pass someone if the were able to stay in one place to watch it. This improved the quality and fertility of the soil, created a more diverse range, and manufactured the most nutritious meat. This actually increased carbon retention in soils instead of burning and releasing it into the air. We don’t need to grow our food in large cesspools where the only feed animals get is food that people could be eating and that doesn’t have the complete nutrition that grasslands have for ruminants and the kind of food that they are most adapted to eating.

When you buy fertilizer like Stutzman’s then it is like saying “I like my meat raised in poop” instead of free range and that you want arsenic and drugs that you don’t need in your food. It brings up another point regarding foods that are labeled organic. It is hard enough to know enough what to ask someone even if you were buying all of your food directly from a farmer. It is impossible to walk into a supermarket when you realize how corrupt the organic standards have become since they were first introduced. There is also a morality story about people that want too much and will accept gifts from strangers in order to get things where when we look into it they have turned want into need. My conclusion is that we usually will be much better off learning to make the best of what we have and managing those resources instead of assuming that it is sustainable to always be relying on external inputs and resources  or that there is no risk by seeking things from far and wide hoping and believe that innovation will make our lives richer or easier. Personally, I doubt if that is the case.

A River of Waste, The Hazardous Truth About Factory Farms

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tea Parties, Politics and Food

Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament has Tea Party envy. In an op-ed piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week he expressed deep anguish about how the parliamentary political systems prevalent in Europe, that are often fragmented at times by the number of minority parties, couldn’t possibly launch a Tea Party. He likes the one growing in our country that, if you get your news from other Newscorp companies, opposes all forms of government. Why the WSJ had to look so far abroad to find a loon that had something positive to say about what Newscorp has turned into a laughing stock by continuously misleading it’s customers is unclear unless it is that third party verification was all that was missing to convince someone that was still undecided about what the Tea Party really stood for. Actually, at this point, that is becoming less and less clear as the people claiming that banner have such widely varying views that the only common ground they universally seem to have is be unemployed opportunists and devoid of any knowledge whatsoever about any policy complexities on one hand and history on the other that explains what has been tried and what the results are likely to be based on government action or inaction.

What confuses me about the TEA Party isn’t their goals-a more sensible government or to create a wealthy country that isn’t falling behind the rest of the world in wages and employment. I have yet to hear them take on one issue, however, that change things in a meaningful way. As a suggestion of a particular policy to start with I would like to suggest that they take on the government’s intervention in the food supply. Halt all direct to farm subsidies for commodities for instance. Granted no one from the Midwestern states could be elected on a platform like that because the economy of that region is dependent on tax funded corporate welfare that has been driving people off of their family farms and politicians are dependent on large money donations from those corporate entities they created because regular folks couldn’t be counted to vote as often as needed to keep our ruling parties in power.

I haven’t heard one speech by a politician this campaign cycle that addresses the corruption that has turned our capital in Washington D. C. into a cesspool that permeates and trickles all the way down to the local level. Opening that discussion would invite a lot of finger pointing that would end up being pointed back at the person who started it so people are afraid to talk about anything that real. Unfortunately, we have seen all too often that the people that cry out loudest are often the worst offenders so there isn’t a lot of trust or much love of people who claim that they are going to reform things. The last President that tried that, Jimmy Carter, got his head handed to him on a platter. The President that followed claiming to champion such things, Ronald Reagan, was merely a puppet for people that said one thing while doing the exact opposite, not even bothering whether it was legal or not, drug running, exchanging arms and money to terrorist states for hostages, assassinating political opponents, implementing the largest tax increase in history up to that time, and just saying no to drugs while becoming the largest importer of hard drugs into this country to raise money for illegal covert operations. When all of this information became public the opposition party barely made any attempt at all to prosecute because these activities had such broad acceptance at the highest levels of government that instead of collecting evidence about the criminal activity they were busy destroying it to make sure they never got caught. Yet this is the party that will probably be voted back into office as the majority party this fall.

As we go into the next election cycle happy with the mythological baggage we have collected over the last few decades hardly anybody will bother themselves to become educated about even one problem that we have as a nation because our basic needs have all been satisfied. Even the poorest American has access to transportation, cheap food (not good food), and more entertainment available in more ways than ever. Even though the country is headed for decades of very hard times that will be made worse by a lack of leadership, planning, and management we can’t possibly be bothered much by that because our bodies and minds are full.

The enormous cost of our health care system, our financial commitments to the elderly that will most certainly be broken, & the debt we are leaving our children are things that won’t be forgotten as long as there are people around to curse the day we ever walked the earth.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Planning on Permaculture?

One of the things I like about Permaculture is that it is largely conceptual and adaptable to every biome. It can be difficult getting to know your biome and understand what kind of problems you might be willing and have the resources to tackle. There isn’t one book that I know of that would answer anyone’s question about how to design a one size fits all Permaculture scheme since biomes can vary in so many ways.

I have taken an approach that marries the best of organic agriculture, ala Eliot Coleman , with Permaculture principles which look at permanent agriculture systems from an engineering viewpoint. Permaculture concepts are nothing new. Farmers and other people that lived closely with the land have been practicing what would seem like to them the obvious for thousands of years. Placing your home near water and light, planting trees to cool and warm the house and yard, arranging the garden space so that things that need the same level of care were concentrated in the same area a few basic permaculture principles that fit into this category. The books and the concepts mostly became necessary to discuss because we today are so far removed from having to live in the real world that we are no longer aware of it.

I am asked for resources and I have posted links to many fine books on my blog/website to suggest some that I feel are original sources that other books are derived from. Other than that you should make use of all the sources of information at your disposal. In the United States I would contact the local extension office and Master Gardeners associated with the land grant university in the state for a list of trees and edible and useful plants that will do well in your area. Prior to planting you can refer to Permaculture resources to see if they can help with the implementation. One common feature is building swales either to trap water, guide water to a storage area, or drain it away depending on your need. You might want to consider planting without irrigation if you can design a system that can largely do without it.

Extension offices often can point to other resources such as small farm educational programs and water and manure management information and sometimes even grants to help you pay for projects. The US Department of Agriculture works with conservation districts that promote the sustainable use of the land and conservation of clean water resources, a concern for any land owner. Conservation districts often have free or almost free plants and trees that are native to the area. The one in our area also has a manure spreader that can be borrowed for free.

If your focus is on forestry then you will have to become an expert on managing forest resources and you should get to know everyone in your area that is doing the same thing you are so you can learn from their experience. Get to know the fruit and vegetable farmers. Find out which varieties do well and what kind of cultural practices are common to your area. Find out what works for sure and why before you start to experiment on your own. The same goes with livestock. Get to know someone who seems to be doing things well, perhaps by being one of their customers at first, before you decide to buy a bunch of stuff only to find that you don’t like doing it or you were unprepared to care for the project or see it through to the end. The best piece of advice I can give you is to be patient.

You might want to start living solely off of your own resources right away but that takes time and you and your land will have to transition to that goal. Pick a small number of project areas and start building them out. To get started add a few fruit trees, bushes and some livestock, even if it is just a few chickens that you raise for eggs, to create your first community. Learn to think about the things you plant and raise as communities, because they are and understanding how they can work together will help you more than anything. The richer and more diverse the community the less work you will have to do to protect and nurture it otherwise. Start planting and building the infrastructure for your food forest a bit at a time, maybe a thousand square feet, and care well for it the first few years until it seems like it can take care of itself. When that seems like it is working well for you then do more or try a bigger plot. You might be in transition for 20 years but do it in such a way that the next person to come along can see the value of it and will be able carry on with your project.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What Is In Your Food System?

With the news report that Vladimir Putin had banned further exports from Russia of cereal grains like wheat and barley it comes to my mind again today how fragile the food system is in the United States and how the industrialization of growing, processing, and delivering food creates a weak system not to mention one lacking in basic nutrition. Having reconnected with many people in the Los Angeles area recently I began to imagine what would happen to the tens of millions of people in that area, many of them trapped in valleys surrounded by mountains, with little water, and almost no usable land in which to grow food if any one of the known and expected natural or manmade catastrophes were to occur. Being completely dependent on a remote food supply isn’t a situation I would willingly put my family in.

Aside from the creeper disasters like drought that slowly erode an area’s ability to produce food, we have the super volcano in Yosemite ready to go off at any time, an eight foot bulge at a plate convergence running 100 miles up the coastline of Oregon, and wildly variable weather like that which caused late blight to reappear this week again in New York. We will have to wait to see if it creates the kind of destruction to whole fields of crops like it did last year. Too much rain might fall drowning fields or making it impossible to collect a usable crop. Many combinations of all of these and our dependence on the Interstate Highway System that won’t work if people are attempting to flee an area create a multitude of potential crises, some of which might make the atomic bombs I was drilled repeatedly to protect myself from in grade school by hiding under a piece of wood look like a welcome scenario.

Maybe it was this aspect of growing up in the United States that has lulled us into a state of euphoric bliss and denial that anything could ever go wrong. After all, we survived the atomic bomb, the Nazis and Soviet Union, the Korean and Cold War and at the same time were fed the same kind of propaganda that every dictator uses “we are the best country”-meaning that everyone else is second class, “people envy us for our freedom”-the rest of the world exists in oppressed slavery, and “God bless America”-yes we really are that much better than everybody else. With that kind of one-two punch why would anybody ever take off their party shoes?

I remember how unhappy my daughter was once when a family decision was made not to bring certain types of entertainment into the house. My wife and I could not understand what the fuss was about but our thinking is much more like the generation that lived through the dust bowl and Great Depression whereas my daughter is like most people today, needing to be entertained and not understanding the limits we put on spending for consumer goods. Her generation has forgotten the happiness of a long drink of cool clean water after a hard day’s work or what it is like to eat after not having had food for a while. For the most part we take cool clean air and protection from the weather for granted and most of us would be terribly unprepared if we had to live outside without these things.

I am sure that it seems implausible to many people that we should prepare for a disaster on the magnitude of the ones discussed here and reported widely elsewhere. It would make sense to think about our food systems, though, for other reasons. Many people believe that we shouldn’t be eating as much cereal grain as we do. No animal on the planet evolved to live on as much cereal or corn as we eat or feed cows and hogs to fatten them up. We feed them to animals to fatten them up the last few weeks of their life and we eat them because they are cheap to grow and lend themselves to mechanized industrialized processes, not because they have the nutrition we need and despite the fact that they are hard to digest and cause a multitude of health problems.

Cereals and corn make us feel good because they release energy quickly and we have associated that sugar rush and addiction with good health. Sometimes feeling good isn’t so good for you, like the skin rush you get when snorting brown heroin, one of the hazards I was exposed to during my time in the U. S. Army. I survived that and lived to tell the tale so I imagine anyone could decide to make any change they want, if they are strong enough, have the right kind of friends, and realize that in order to be a friend first you have to be strong and true to your real needs and self.

Friday, May 28, 2010

2010 Poultry Report

I mix most of my feed except for chick starter. These animals grow so fast that it doesn’t make sense to me to not give them the best start possible. I buy bulk whole grains from Concentrates NW and Azure Standard. I make my own modified mix for my adult birds that contains a combination of rolled and cracked grains, peas, supplements, and grit. I don’t use corn or soy. You can also buy an organic corn/soy free mix, Cascade Poultry Mix (chick, starter, and layer) from Azure Standard and the Urban Farm Store. It wouldn't hurt to consider adding a vitamin supplement to put in water like “Broiler Booster” or similar additives that contain probiotics, vitamins, and biotin which is recommended when raising fast growing birds like Cornish X Rocks.

Sprouted grains are a part of the daily ration. The chickens come running when they see that coming. Sprouted grains don’t change the amount of or quality of protein, but in trials done sprouting a portion of the ration birds showed a higher weight gain, in other words-better utilization, without feeding enzymes as an additive to the feed. Sprouting grains deactivates anti-nutrients like phytates that are present in the bran in all grains. It also activates enzymes and by turning a relatively inert grain into a vegetable it becomes more digestible as well. Phytates can also be neutralized by fermenting cereal grains. Phytates bind our ability to absorb metallic nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Fermenting or sprouting grains neutralizes phytates found in bran but not soy.

Here is a article about soy and anti-nutrients Soy is being oversold in this country because it is cheap to grow and extremely profitable but there are some very compelling reasons not to eat it in any form or feed it to your animals. If you are going to feed soy and you are starting out with raw untreated grain then find and use directions for preparing it for use. Soy should be roasted before feeding it to animals. In China and Japan, where soy comes from, it is a very, very, small part of the diet.

According to Harvey Ussery, barley and oats should not be more than 15% of the diet because of digestive problems caused by high levels of saponins. Other sources said that saponins were helpful. As I understand it, they aren’t harmful but may be a limiting factor and reduce the feed conversion efficiency. If you are making your own feed for pullets one way to give a nutritional balance of vitamins and hard to come by nutrients like methionone is to use a product like Fertrell Poultry Nutri-Balancer. This contains calcium, phosphorous, vitamins, salt, and probiotics, and methionone.

One of the essential amino acids, methionone is sulfur based.  It is often fed as an additive and is only found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Amino acids are considered essential if animals cannot manufacture it for their own use, it must be fed. Several amino acids like cysteine and taurine, and enzymes like ATP and SAMe are derived from methionone. A lack of methionone is another limiting factor in the growth and feed conversion of poultry, although some articles appeared recently that suggested growing meat birds more slowly in a free range setting without feeding additional methionone. For more information about amino acids  in different feed stocks a good book to have in your library, especially if you are vegetarian, is "Diet for a Small Planet".

If you are eating vegetarian eggs then they are probably feeding the chickens artificial methionone, although if you are eating truly free range eggs they are probably getting it from bugs and other things they are finding in the field which raises the question “Can I eat bugs and be vegetarian?” A recent survey of our flock was inconclusive on their feelings on this subject. Some people set up grub stations to feed their birds by attracting black soldier fly grubs. During the warm weather you can supplement the diets of ducks and provide hours of entertainment for them by leaving a light bulb just out of reach in their pen because they are excellent at snapping up flying insects.

Instead of salt I use SEA-90 We have also replaced salt in our house with SEA-90. For table use I bake it which turns it into chocolate brown chunks that are easier to grind with a small spice grinder. When making things like garlic salt I just whiz it for a few seconds in a small coffee mill to get super fine flakes. Most of the hand harvested salt we buy is collected by taking the mostly purified crystals that form by capillary action at the top of large windrows inside salt lagoons or ponds. SEA-90 is made by taking the entire windrow so it includes massive amounts of micro-nutrients, all of the minerals that were in the sea water, not just the salt. Since it only costs about forty cents a pound I have to laugh every time I go into Whole Foods and see the stuff they are selling there for ten to twenty times that.

From what I understand, except for some special situations, you are not going to hurt your birds if they don’t have completely balanced feed every day. An exception would be something like raising meat birds. You need to be on top of vitamins and supplements from day one to make sure that you don’t induce structural defects like splayed leg. My layer pullets get at least half of their feed from different portions of my yard inside a moving 625 sq ft poultry net enclosure that can be electrified if needed. We usually don’t electrify it and sometimes one of the birds will find itself on the other side of the fence, mostly because our birds are still young and smaller. After the first couple of times being herded back into the fence they tend to avoid that. Every time we move we need to watch them for a couple of days to make sure they are staying put. So far it has worked really well. You can see more about movable fencing at Premier1.

The meat bird that several people in our area are trying this year is the Freedom Ranger. This is a bird that was bred for pasture and is slower growing than the Cornish X Rock. Word is that this is a superior bird in every way. Cheaper to raise, healthier, better tasting, excellent forager, etc.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Feeding the New Ducks

Just found some interesting information about ducks that is different than chickens. I thought someone told me that they need vitamin B12 but Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks says it is Niacin, vitamin B3. Ducklings need 35 mg per pound of feed from 0-2 weeks, and 30mg weeks 3-10. Ducks can be permanently crippled if not fed enough Niacin.

You can add it directly to their water by crushing 100-150 mg worth of tablets per gallon of water or 2-3 cups of commercial grade brewers yeast per 10 pounds of feed. There is a lot of new information in this book that isn't covered in the chicken books. I recommend getting or reading this book before you get ducks. Bad me. It also has a lot of recipes in the back for make your own duck food including variations that allow you to choose wheat or corn as the base ingredient. Another recommendation was to stick with pellets instead of ground mash to keep the duck's bills and water cleaner since they are constantly washing and eating with wet beaks. That can get very messy. Now, where can I find that home pelleting machine............ It may be time to get a mill that makes rolled grains. Many birds will eat whole grains but the feed conversion isn't as good.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Turning Grass into Soil

I have had discussions with a number of people in the last couple of months that are starting to put in new vegetable gardens. These are often people that are looking to replace their lawn and many of them asked me what I did to replace my lawn. I used sheet mulch, a permaculture technique that starts by placing cardboard or up to 40 sheets thick of newspaper on top of the ground followed by 12-18 inches of mulch. I was able to get several truck loads of wood chips and trimmings combined, about 70 cubic yards of material, delivered to me for free from the people that trim trees away from power lines. The chips are steaming hot from composting just a few hours after the chipper blows them into the back of the truck. I followed that later with manure and other materials to start turning the chips into soil. As the sheet mulch decomposed in the seasons that followed I started digging down with a garden fork and working and lifting the soil layers below that into the decomposing chips by pushing a digging fork as deep as it would go and just pulling back on the handle to make the soil deeper and the compacted layer disappear. Now when I dig where we had chips I cannot find a distinct soil layer no matter how deep I dig in with a fork.

If you are killing grass then how much material you use depends on what kind of grass you have. If it is grass that has a rhizome that runs under the ground then 6 layers of paper and some compost will just make it grow and spread even faster. Deep mulch and thick layers of paper are effective at killing almost anything as long as the paper is put down overlapping, the mulch on top is heavy enough, you protect your edges from invasive runners, and enough time has been allowed for the rhizomes to die and rot away. This takes at least six months to destroy perennial root systems but maybe longer. As long as you don’t dig through the paper layer you should be good. Even if your weed survives that, it will be much easier to remove because your soil will be soft enough to make it very easy to work. I still have a few stray roots but I can pull foot long pieces of grass root at a time without tearing them now.

The quality of the implementation is certainly more important than the quantity if you have a challenging situation like invasive weeds that are difficult to control. Just about the only thing that I consider to be a weed is lawn grass but I would also include things like the non-fruiting passion flower that has crept its way into several adjoining flower and vegetable beds. Try doing a manageable section at a time and keep the margins clean of any running root systems. Start small and see if you think you can manage another section after you have proven the concept of your implementation six or more months later. Cover it with mulch or compostable material, not finished compost or nursery soil mixes and make it deep. I have done 12-18 inches of just wood chips that I got for free.

Be prepared to wait. There is an obsession in the U. S. for instant results and instant gratification. Your choice generally speaking is this-naturally nutrient rich, deep, highly organic soil that you will take 9-18 months to build using mostly raw materials, or a poor to mediocre product that you bought and installed in an afternoon or a few days. You will be able to plant into mulch beds within 3-6 months with my method, just in time for a winter garden which should be planted starting in August.

I tried the recent fad of container gardening, square foot gardening, etc. some years ago and found that it created more problems than it solves. Containers require a large initial investment, break up the yard into illogical and more difficult to manage units, lower productivity, create inefficiencies to maintain, water, fertilize, harvest, and weed, and creates habitat for a lot of different pests. This might be a good method in some parts of the country but I strongly advise against it in the Pacific Northwest. It also falls into the category of trying to solve a problem by buying a manufactured product, a grossly inferior product to growing healthy soil with an active soil food web. In my opinion in this area, container gardening of any type should be a method of last resort for people that have no access to soil. If you are interested in nutritionally dense organic vegetables in a sustainable manner, then growing vegetables in containers can’t get you there. It is far harder to maintain container mixes than it is soil, requires continuous outside inputs to keep it going, and soil mix will never be a part of an active living soil community which can contribute to make organically grown vegetables have the highest potential quality without constant additional inputs. Soil mix will never become a humic soil which is what I consider the gold standard for soils. For the price of maintaining any kind of container garden, it is probably cheaper to give people money to go to Whole Foods market to buy food there than it is to grow it in a container. I consider this to be a method that should only be used by hobby gardeners or as an amusement, not a serious or economical way to provide needed nutrition.

If what I am suggesting above seems unattainable or lacking in detail, as an alternative to growing in boxes or containers I recommend picking up a copy of "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza if you want to colonize your front yard with a vegetable garden and start growing this year. She has a really good, low work method for colonizing lawns and turning them into highly productive gardens by putting layers of mulch down and goes through all of the stages of how to make that productive in as short a time as possible. This is derivative of sheet mulching and goes into some detail about materials you can use, how to use different plants with this method and a lot of tips and time savers you might find useful. This is also a good way to manage a seasonally fallow bed that you want to prepare for next year or the next season. You should be able to find this book in your library. I also have a link to it on the side bar if you want your own copy.

Regardless of your soil type, the best thing you can do for poor soil is to add lots of organic matter, not finished compost or soil mix that is based on finished compost. Finished compost is useful as a quick fertilizer. You can also use it as a temporary building material if applied thickly enough because it packs and become anaerobic so can last up to a couple of years on top of the soil. It disappears quickly when mixed in soils but doesn't help the soil structure. Over time, soil mixes have a tendency to become heavy, anaerobic, and drain poorly unless it incorporates a long fiber organic material like peat. It is also possible to have too much organic matter in soil and not enough of a mineral component which is why deep mulch methods are most productive once you start mixing underlying soil with your mulch or plants have the ability to reach down and start interacting with more of the soil/mulch complex.

That is one of the reasons manure can be so valuable. It has a mixed texture with lots of woody material that takes a while to break down. It contains a wide array of micronutrients and expands the number of types of micro-organisms in the soil that contribute to higher available fertility, tie up nitrates and carbon then slowly releases it back to plants through the soil food web. The PAN, plant available nitrogen, of manure (except chicken manure) is only about 10% of total nitrogen after 60 days according to Oregon State University. So putting enough manure down to meet your nitrogen needs might mean that you are putting down too much phosphorous which could tie up other nutrients. Manure can also contain hormones and antibiotics unless it comes from an organic operation or someone you know that hasn’t used such things. Even when doing something as seemingly innocuous as building your soil you can’t be too careful about where you source your material from. The thought process that it is safe and reliable to buy everything you need is something that should be approached with some caution.

I prefer material like tree chips to colonize new areas because it usually has a low cost-free, is unlikely to have weed seeds, pests, or disease that affect vegetables because it is made from completely different plant types, and it just went through a chipper. I don't think there are any insects that can survive that. Other sources of compost could be rotten hay bales or other feed stocks that can’t be fed to animals that are often seen at the edge of fields. One of the reasons to develop a system that is self reliant, besides avoiding an ongoing expense of purchasing stuff to make it work, is that the more dependent you are on outside resources the higher the chances are that you will get some exotic pest or disease that will become a lifelong companion. I think it is OK to take some extraordinary steps to get a yard established but you should develop a plan and implement it as soon as possible how you are going to make this a closed system with the lowest need possible for outside inputs. This will save you money, lower your exposure to industrial chemicals and pest problems, and hopefully result in soil and produce that you know is superior in many ways that might not be obvious to a casual observer.

Tom Gibson

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food System Council

Jamie Oliver is a trademarked business and his marketing strategy is succeeding really, really well. Some people even love him naked which can’t be a pretty sight :-).

As charming as he is-I am a big fan of his show too, most Americans are conditioned to act on those feelings as they follow the information through the Internet and other marketing venues by buying stuff instead of using that energy to support something we could be and should be doing anyway in our own homes. He is selling a lot of stuff on his web sites. The emotional appeal to buy items he is selling should not be equated with making a contribution to or helping your community which has problems and problem areas that are as bad off as any town in West Virginia. In some parts of Vancouver, Washington the number of families whose kids that are eligible for free or reduced lunches is way more than fifty percent. Those kids are already at risk because of poverty, higher than average lack of stable family life, frequent home changes, lack of ties to the community and community resources, etc.

You can get a sense of how urgent the need to start taking action, to especially protect those neighborhoods from junk food that is indirectly subsidized by the Federal government, effectively stripping away any choice they have of which food to buy. This drives those families even deeper into poverty because they have far more health problems than people with the means to spend more for their food and it compromises mental and physical development. We have a lot of obstacles to implement the kind of change Oliver’s show talked about in our community.

Take as an example, the Food System Council, a group hosted by the Clark County, Washington “Health Department”. The “Health Department” representative to the FSC recently made this statement: Public Health is concerned about community health but is not charged with the responsibility to reduce food supply problems or protect individuals from unhealthy food choices. We function to work in a collaborative manner to improve community level wellness. This does mean that we will work with many others who don't always have the same goals and values as we may have but our purpose would be to find common ground and opportunity for change.”  I have several problems with that statement. First of all there is no urgency to deal with what I would describe as the largest public health crisis that we have ever seen in this country. The second is the assumption of what free choice is for people living in a market economy with a limited income. For the most part free choice for people of limited income is a myth and one of the most cynical arguments I have ever heard to cover up what is really a lack of choices. Third, is the bit about collaborating to make improvements. This suggests that even one concrete change has has ever even been discussed, let alone acted on by the council except as an abstraction or something it heard it in a report of what someone was doing all on their own anyway. In this abstraction putting ketchup on GMO corn chips fried in CAFO grown beef tallow could be seen as a health food.

Is the “Health Department” at best charged with having meetings to talk about side issues and keeping statistics while they count the germs on food that in many cases has little or no supporting nutrition and would make almost any kind of animal sick? Would a farmer feed the vast majority of goods we see in the supermarkets to animals they wanted to keep healthy? Of course they wouldn’t. Essentially what we have here is a local governmental organization that is giving businesses that trade in poison local, state, and federal resources as legal cover to keep poisoning our population for a profit.

The council works on a “consensus” basis in which no one should ever ask a vested money interest, that are very well represented on the council, a direct question that might expose their part in this train wreck of a food supply. Another example of how this consensus works is that if someone is selling products that are known to be harmful, then in order for the council to recommend any change all the businesses impacted by the change would have to agree to recuse themselves from the consensus or agree to change their business model, something that they can’t do. No recommendation could be made by this community council that is contrary to current business practices. Public corporations, companies that issue stock to investors, are legally obligated to manage their business for the profits of their shareholders, so how this council was formed, who was asked to sit on it, and it’s internal rules of governance were designed by definition to have no impact on the food system that would result in any kind of change.

Because the federal government subsidizes many commodity crops it predisposes people to choose energy and food sources that are the most affordable. It is cheaper to buy junk food that is derived from corn, a low nutrition energy food fed to livestock in the last months of their lives to gain weight and tenderize the meat by fattening them up, than it is to get fresh whole foods that have the nutrition necessary for good health and development of, among other things, the nervous system. The participation in the council of fast food companies, including burger joints and supermarkets whose largest profits are in selling the least nutritious food, has the added affect of virtually guaranteeing them legal immunity to keep on doing business as usual because now a “community standard” has been established by the existence of a council that never recommended a change. This is a combination of Orwellian and Catch-22 logic in which there is no possibility for the long term survival of any of the participants. Our food system is an early death sentence for a growing number of people and life imprisonment for anyone whose choices are limited by it because a person’s ability to grow physically and mentally is directly related to the quality of their nutrition.

Holding hands with snakes while singing campfire songs is not a way to improve our food system. If it can’t do any better, the “Health Department” should be legally required to change it’s name to what it really does, something like “Counting Germs”; or the “Counting the Dead and Dying Department” or something else that tells taxpayers in a more transparent way what they paying for. Jamie Oliver did show that it is possible to change the consensus in a community by encouraging people to demand better of their elected and non-elected community leaders. We need our governmental agencies to take leadership roles and be consensus builders, not consensus followers. Constructing a consensus arrangement in such a way as to sustain the status quo in perpetuity as was done with the FSC is not a public interest or service.

The cost of the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution show is something that didn’t get a lot of press. ABC/Walt Disney pumped a lot of money into this show, at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it happen, provided a lot of behind the scenes staff to organize activities, and subsidized a lot of the food and activities in the show. The cost of that in Clark County would be cheap compared to the unfunded liabilities that grow every day we don’t fix our food system. What we saw wasn’t a reality show. It was a made for television fantasy propped up by a huge marketing organization. Making a change in our community will take leadership that won’t have as much capital to invest.

Unfortunately, this discussion in Clark County has been delegated to people that themselves have a vested interest in keeping their own jobs by not offending anyone so their ability and willingness to lead in this environment are limited at best. Call Tricia Mortell 360-397-8000 Ext 7211 or Jonnie Hyde (360) 397-8122 at the “Health Department” and ask them if they can tell you what they are doing to make sure that the generation that we are raising now doesn’t have a shorter lifespan than we and our parents will. Ask why they won’t even ask BurgerVille and Wal-Mart, FSC members, if they would stop selling products contaminated with high fructose corn syrup. Shouldn’t offend anyone to ask, right? Ask them when they are going to start being consensus builders, not consensus followers. You should share these same concerns with all of our elected officials. Ask federal officials why taxpayers subsidize high fructose corn syrup but not fresh vegetables which robs people of the ability to make healthy choices.

Let’s join Michelle Obama and Let's Move! But let’s not wait for someone in Washington D. C. to solve our problems. Let’s have a food system council in our county and every county that represents the people, not businesses that cannot and will not make changes that we need now.

Contact your U. S. Representative and ask that they become a cosponsor of and support:
H.R. 4971: Greening Food Deserts Act
H.R. 4607: Healthy Food for Healthy Schools Act of 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Getting the Most From Fertilizer

I have been looking for a way to band fertilizer in my vegetable beds. I only have about a quarter acre to play on so I work with smaller tools as a rule. Many organic materials are very dusty powders that are difficult to apply, especially if there is any kind of weather going on. Banding means to put a line of fertilizer within a few inches of the roots. Fertigating, a term coined by Steve Solomon-“Water Wise Vegetables”, helps conserve water and fertilizer by providing both where they are most needed.

This also makes it economically viable to add mycorrhizae to the mix in enough concentrations to do some good without spending a lot of money. The rationale is to provide good nutrition to the soil where the plants can get it. It isn’t helpful to put material where it is not usable because of a variety of field limitations that put the material out of reach of the plants. If the plants can’t get to the fertilizer then it either gets locked up in the soil or leached away by rain. Banding should help control fertilizer costs while maximizing your return on your fertilizer investment by accurately putting the fertilizer where it would do the most good. I looked at converting a regular garden drop spreader by masking off areas that I didn’t want to drop material with masking or duct tape but I wasn’t confident that I would get a good even drop because those units are primarily designed to work with material that is more pelletized than powder.

I had a epiphany one day where I had seen the device I was looking for. If you have ever been to a baseball or football game you may have seen someone freshening up the base lines with a “dry line marker”. After doing a bit of research it looks like this may meet all of my fertilizer banding needs. The first one I found was a Stackhouse 25 pound marker for $85 plus shipping that puts down a 2 inch wide chalk line but has no other calibration that I could see. The next unit I looked at, the Alumagoal, for $116.34 with free shipping has a way to calibrate the width of the drop from “Off” to 4 inches wide so a fairly reasonable method of calibrating the tool to drop the intended amount although you might need to make more than one pass to get the right amount down.

To calibrate a tool like this, or any drop spreader or seed drill for that matter, spread a tarp out on level ground and mark off a measured distance. Fill the hopper and set it to a medium drop rate and make 2-4 passes back and forth on the tarp. Make separate passes by not going over the same spot twice so you can see if your tool has any obvious variations in the drop rate on any of the passes. If it looks like you are getting way too much or not enough material adjust the tool and repeat after cleaning up the material that has already been dropped and start over. The more passes you do and the more material you drop the more accurate your calibration will be.

You need to weigh the material and divide the weight by the amount of ground the tool would cover. You should also pay attention to any variations related to the evenness of the drop. For instance, does speed make a difference in how much material per square foot is dropped? Does the applicator drop less at the beginning or end of a pass? Do coarser materials or materials with larger granules drop at a slower or faster rate than dusts? You should calibrate the tool for each blend of fertilizer you use until you have a good handle on how it performs. If you want to cover the hole width of a row then I would look at something like Scotts AccuGreen® 3000 Drop Spreader which is available in most hardware stores.

Banding may not be a good method for putting down all types of fertilizer. If you have a soil test that says you should put down a certain amount of lime to raise the pH then I would spread that evenly over the entire growing area. Other fertilizers, especially ones supplying nitrogen I would get as close where the plants are going to be as possible. A tool like this might not work well in beds that have soft, wet, or very uneven soil.
Baseball Field Dry Line Marker - 25 lbs Capacity
Alumagoal All-Steel Dry Line Marker

Contact your U. S. Representative and ask that they become a cosponsor of and support H.R. 4971: Greening Food Deserts Act.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fee For Service-What’s Wrong with Capitalism

It occurred to me a few years ago that there was something fundamentally wrong with all forms of ism. Communism, socialism, capitalism all seemed to be different forms of colonialism whose only claim to greatness according to it’s advocates was this decidedly chauvinistic claim that, for instance, Capitalism is good because Socialism is bad. Not much of a recommendation since all any of these did was promote a hierarchy of opportunists that game the system for their personal pleasure to the detriment of the vast majority of the people who like good herd animals willingly follow the latest strong man as long as he is packaged in the appropriate phraseology and images.

One of the latest crazes, a slight improvement over medieval feudalism, is Capitalism, generally an English invention that was spectacularly successful in launching the widespread exploration of the planet on tiny wooden sailing ships and then the industrial revolution. I will lump all forms of ism together with the name of capitalism for the remainder of this discussion since it is the only form of ism that really exists today despite what corporate propagandists would have you believe.

What made capitalism so successful in part was what started out as Lloyd’s of London, a service that sent young boys as runners out to solicit subscribers to invest in different capital projects that would have been impossibly large for the English government to fund at the time. Although there were some short lived examples of large scale enterprises funded directly by the government in other European countries during this same period, it was the direct involvement by the middle class in these investments and direct participation in the rewards of these projects had a much more lasting effect, allowed for much more rapid and enduring growth and in fact those same financial markets have grown, become more complex, and drive the world economy today.

What was a novel way to finance large projects without interfering with traditional ways of feeding, clothing, and attending to the health, education, and welfare of the people has now been applied to every aspect of life much to the detriment of our economy as a whole and the ability to deliver high quality services as the corporate model of cost reduction has been applied to systems that have gotten far too large and complex to be sustainable in this kind of system. Strangely, what made the system so robust has come full circle to not being able to exist without the direct intervention of the government in every economic and public service sector. The economy has gotten to the point where it is no longer sustainable and the situation will continue to deteriorate until there is a paradigm shift into a new system beyond the current era of colonialism whose last and ultimate expression of capitalism is the corporate fascism and it’s addiction to handouts by the government at taxpayer expense.

No system is perfect and people, being the adaptable creatures they are, will always find a way to manipulate the system to their advantage. After taking care of chickens for a few weeks I call this chicken behavior-they are always trying to steal food from each other and if one starts to bleed then the entire group will attack that chicken and peck it to death while they eat it’s flesh. Nothing describes capitalism better than that in which every kind of opportunism is not only expected but encouraged. It took me a long time to come up with something that might replace fee for service capitalism but after discussing cooperative and community life with people from every economic sector I think that cooperatives and guilds are worth reviving and that they would work better than ever before especially with the communications technology available today. Guilds and cooperatives aren’t new. They were a traditional method of doing business before the capitalization of the industrial revolution created a system of people that controlled the ability to create things people wanted and another class of consumers that were subordinated to service them. Described like that I don’t discern any difference of the worst excesses of those two twins Communism and Capitalism.

I define guilds as professional organizations that produce goods or services. People that belong to guilds could negotiate with other guilds and cooperatives to receive compensation, services and goods. This isn’t a radical departure from the way things work now, just more honest about describing the relationships. For instance, doctors currently decide how doctors are going to be trained, how many are trained, and even have a lot of influence over the cost of the training. The doctor industry has a virtual monopoly and have been the driving force in keeping fee for service medicine alive at all costs and preventing any reform for over 100 years that interfered with their ability to charge what they will with complete disregard for the efficacy of treatment or the cost to our economy.

The American Medical Association fought the establishment of Medicare in the 1960’s but, since Medicare institutionalized the fee for service system in medicine, they have reversed course and now fight any attempt to change the way they are compensated preferring to pursue a corporate model of increasing revenues by providing as many goods and services as possible and always charging as much as the market can bear for each and every delivery whether it is a benefit to the receiver or not. In a system that is twice as expensive as the next most expensive country in the world on a per capita basis, that means that we are paying providers over a trillion dollars each year, in other words-more than the entire cost of the Iraq war every year, more than we should be for a high quality health care system. The cost to our economic development in other areas has been enormous. Instead of being the most progressive and well educated country on earth we are the largest debtor nation subject to theatrics and theft by our government with little to show for it.

Cooperatives can be operated by workers, producers, buyers, or even guilds. Typically members of cooperatives are owners. They can negotiate to buy or trade goods and services with others and participate in a democratic and equitable way with the proceeds. There really isn’t any point in talking about all the different types of cooperatives because they are endless. The point of this is that we need to move beyond the quaint and inefficient separating and isolating individuals to promote the counting and accounting of money. The worth of individuals can be based more on their worth to their community, not their ability manipulate and compete with other in a system that disregards the needs of communities. We also need to move beyond this kind of compensation as the sole reason to do things that we all agree need to be done anyway.

People need to have housing, eat, receive healthcare and clothing. In order to maximize production and communication we need to have a robust education system, but not this factory model that is common today where we mostly produce cheap labor for corporations. Not providing those things or not giving everyone access to basic resources actually costs more than providing basic essentials if you assume that society at large will feel the effects of every sickness or disability in one way or another and really unless we are going to start culling what we see as the weak and disadvantaged from our society by various means of mass murder then we will be affected in a negative way for failing to care for everyone. What is happening now is more like a slow death for many people that are simply ignored if they can’t be utilized as a profit center for an investor and we all pay the cost of deferred maintenance either directly or in the increased cost of goods and services.

By identifying the needs of groups of people in a system of guilds and cooperatives it is possible to have a much more honest discussion about how to meet the needs of individuals and to concentrate on the quality of enterprise as opposed to the cost or profit. We waste hundreds of billions of dollars a year regulating enterprise under our current colonial model and the larger the systems get the less able regulation is able to solve problems like the spread of infectious organisms in a highly distributed food supply. These complex systems are not just prone to failure. Failure is predictable and a sure thing as we have seen repeatedly. One of the things that we have learned from the local food movement that applies to all of our enterprises is the importance of knowing your farmer and the source either directly or through someone else that you trust. That lesson goes far beyond a discussion about the food supply. It is a metaphor about how business can be conducted in general.

When there are no community ties or the ties are known to be unreliable, as is the USDA and all of the schemes that Congress has been foisting on us in an attempt to rationalize a system that by it’s nature will always defy any attempt to bring order, then the means does not exist and cannot be artificially created to replace community and personal communication back and forth and up and down the chain to ensure that the system is not only robust but that communication is timely. Trading between guilds and cooperatives limits the size and complexity to make a more open and safer society.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Training-To Till or Not to Till

I mix batches of COF (complete organic fertilizer) from a list of ingredients including fish meal, seed meals (canola, linseed, alfalfa, etc), lime, dolomite, gypsum, green sand, glacial dust, rock phosphate, azomite, fish bone meal, and kelp meal to use in my garden every time I plant. These ingredients are not usually found in garden centers. I happen to be fortunate to live close to a wholesaler that specializes in supplements for the organics industry. You need 4-6 quarts per 100 sq ft. of bed or 50 feet of 18” wide row with a plant in the middle. Bagged fertilizers don’t have near the mineral and micronutrient content and may contain large amounts of arsenic, especially if it was sourced from commercial poultry operations. I mix two different blends, one for lush green growth and another for fruiting vegetables. Leafy greens like more nitrogen but with tomatoes and other fruiting plants that will just get you a huge plant with little or no fruit. Many soil scientists at land grant colleges like Oregon State University’s chief soil scientist, John Hart, don’t believe anyone should bother with the time and expense to add minerals to their soil and that the only important thing about food is that it should be competitively priced with produce grown by commercial farms in Mexico, Chile, and China. Maybe you understand my unending tirade against the USDA and how land grant colleges are funded (mostly by corporate interests). Since most family farms aren’t a good model for taxation there is no interest at Congress to support them.

For those of you getting your rototillers out, it may be too early to till, especially if you have clay soil. To see if you should be tilling, brush aside the organic matter on the surface to dig out a clump of soil. Squeeze the soil, without any organic matter in it, into a tight ball with both hands. If the ball breaks apart when you drop it on hard ground from waist level then you should be ok to till. If it mostly just goes splat, tilling will compact the soil and join the clay particles together like glue. If there is no soil line visible below the organic matter at the depth you would be tilling, generally 6-8”, then you might not need to till at all. This generally means that your soil is humic and tilling will just kill off most of the living organisms in the soil, the vast majority of which are beneficial to your plants, and you will end up with a net reduction in the amount of organic matter.

Tilling isn’t something that I recommend doing very often and usually only when you are breaking new ground and need to chisel through stuff that hasn’t been maintained well. The one exception is if you are growing green manures that you need to incorporate into the soil. Depending on the green manure you should be doing that at least two weeks ahead of planting and more if you are seeding rows with a row seeder. Once your beds get established and have adequate organic matter, 7-10% by weight, all you want to do is gently aerate the soil every year just before planting. When you till, it generally creates as many problems as it solves.

You might not need to wait weeks or months to be able to get out and till the garden. Sometimes it just means getting a few days in a row of no rain. If you don’t have enough organic matter on the soil or plants to break up the impact of the rain on the ground, then successive rain storms could compact the ground back to the way it was before it was tilled. This might leave you worse off than if you had done nothing because the tiller will break up whatever humus is already in your soil and burn up some of the organic matter by exposing it to oxygen. Even if you have deep organic matter in your soil you should test down as deep as the tiller will go to make sure that you don’t create a hard pan.

It’s best to wait until it is closer to time to plant to till the soil unless you are turning in green manure. That way the soil will still be a nice planting bed. You want to add at least 2” of organic matter to your beds each time you clean off the last crop and that can sit on the ground until you are ready to plant. You can till some organic matter into the soil and then cover it with some more to protect it from the rain. It will feed the soil and increase the biological activity while suppressing weeds. The weeds that do come up will be easier to remove because the organic matter will help loosen the soil. I get compost for $20 a cubic yard which is the capacity of those little $300 trailers you can buy as a kit in most large hardware stores. Instead of buying bags of compost for $3-5 a bag, maybe you know a couple of people that would like to split some yards of compost/soil mix for the same price you would pay if you were buying it by the bag? You would get a lot more bang for your buck and maybe get a little needed exercise will mean that you use less water and have a nicer garden with fewer weeds and you can relax more this summer when it gets really hot.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Researching Nothing

OSU sponsored a Small Farms Conference last weekend. Nobody’s farm is smaller than mine so I felt right at home. I went to the first session on alternative poultry feeds. It was very surreal. The small producers were talking about having smaller but great tasting birds but looking for ways to cut the cost of supplemental feeds and Jim Hermes from OSU was explaining how it wasn’t economically viable to feed anything but corn and soy if you are raising birds (that he got donated for the “research”, as if this was something new, from Foster Farms) bred for commercial meat production.

Great tasting means a lot more to me than what it does in my mouth. We evolved to recognize the difference between nutritious foods and garbage. Garbage can kill you, good food-not so much. Things that don’t taste so good either have some kind of toxin or depleted nutritional value. Fortunately Naomi Montacre of Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply was in my session and blurted out that she has organic non-soy/corn feed that people seem to be doing well with at a reasonable price. Carol Miles, a WSU extension agent that used to be located in Clark County but was transferred to Mt. Vernon when WSU gave up on agriculture in SW Washington, reported on how her fava bean experiment failed because they were winter killed-which happens about 50 percent of the time in many parts of the PNW according to the Extension bulletins I read after the conference. Most people in this area plant favas in February because it isn’t a reliable winter crop. That would be especially true in Skagit/Whatcom County where Carol does most of her work. Miles and Hermes are very talented people but it seems like they are being turned into weapons of mass destruction against the democratization of food instead of agents of change to help rebuild our country.

I need to point out that this isn’t the research that these folks wanted to do. This is the only thing they were allowed to do by WSU and OSU because the university's internal rules for what and how research has to be done excludes doing anything of intelligence. That reminds me of the Samuel Clemens line about not letting schooling get in the way of your education. When the land grant colleges can’t even get their act together to do research based on what is of interest to the vast majority of the producers because of their institutional incompetence, maybe we should count our blessings. If it ever got out that family farms were economically viable, corporate agriculture would probably press even harder than they are now to make them illegal.

I also went to the Small Scale Grain Production session and was astonished to learn that people were getting $2.50-4.50 a pound in the farmer’s markets for unmilled grain and beans. The normal price when sold by the bushel on the commodity market is closer to $.03 a pound. I don’t think that is a huge market but I don’t think you can have real food security in any county or region without local grain and pulse production. Unfortunately, there is no land anywhere in the area that would be suitable for research or agriculture ;-) as evidenced by ceding the 80 acres of our local research station back to those soon to be world famous agricultural historians-Clark County Parks and Recreation. Or, is it that the real mission of the Extension service is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of cheap food and corporate agriculture?

Probably the best thing about the conference was hearing Mas Masumoto (Epitaph for a Peach) give the keynote address and then to attend the “Farmers as Writers” session which he led. A third generation farmer of Japanese descent he has an easy charm that comes from having days at a time to spend playing with his mind while alone going back and forth up and down the rows working the fields on your tractor. I have been a Josh Volk fan and took a class he taught on managing cropping systems with spreadsheets and read several articles by him and several more that I sent you. He writes some of the best technical articles on small to medium scale vegetable processing and farm equipment published anywhere. But to also have Zoe Bradbury there who has been writing “Diary of a Young Farmer” in Edible Portland magazine all talking about how and why they write I was in writer’s heaven. It is so interesting to me to hear these particular people talk about their craft. I couldn’t figure out if so many people attended that last session because they wanted to hear Mas some more or if there were that many budding literary talents in the young farming community. We had to move out of the little session room back into the main hall because so many people wanted to hear this discussion. Masumoto is a lyrical writer and speaker. It looks like I will have to find time to read a couple of books for pleasure, a former passion of mine that I haven't done in quite a while.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black Salt, Bread and Other Treats

Many of my friends know that I have been experimenting with off label uses for supplements for plants and animals. Many of the things we take for granted, bread for instance, was surely an accident where some cereal grains started to ferment before being cooked over a fire. I can’t even imagine the excitement the very first time it turned out really good. Then there is my friend whose religious beliefs include the idea that it is a sin to eat anything that can be turned into a fermented malted beverage. I am guessing that it was bread that transformed herds of man beast hunters into villagers but it may have been the beer. I imagine that a lot of our early ancestors didn’t have to think too hard about whether they really wanted to go track down a dangerous wild animal when there was good bread to be had.

This week I decided to dry some of the SEA-90 that has become a part of our regular diet as it seemed like it was getting a little damp. I noticed of a jar of Celtic sea salt crystals I was given to sample was also starting to get water drops in the bottle so I put both of them with their little glass jars into the oven with a nice pork roast I was finishing up and left them for about an hour at 425 degrees. I couldn’t have been more surprised when I took them out. The SEA-90 turned a medium charcoal grey whereas the Celtic salt turned only slightly darker. The SEA-90 also glued itself together so I had to chip it back into crystals which were now slightly smaller, harder and crunchier. It grinds much better now, maybe because it is just drier. Black salt is the best tasting salt that I have ever tasted and clearly is far more than just salt. It also is much saltier tasting than SEA-90 and when I grind it onto eggs in the morning it is clearly visible because of it’s color so I say goodbye to white salt at least to put on my food. It’s kind of like white bread, not so good unless it is fermented.

The natural soy and corn free pork roast was fabulous. Braised on all sides with a little salt and pepper in a frying pan with just enough oil and butter to keep it from sticking to the pan until it was nice and crispy all over and then into the hot oven in a cast iron roasting pan with a lid where it could continue to develop it’s color with a little garlic and a little more salt and pepper until it is done all the way through. We cooked potatoes, onions, carrots, and garlic in a Pyrex roasting pan with a lid for the last hour until they were steaming. A quick roux gravy made with the juice from the roast and there was one of the simplest meals to make and one of my favorites. Searing then roasting the pork seals in the juices and makes for a very tender meat. Roasting it in a lidded roaster helps it cook without the outside becoming too dry as well.

I had been brought up to slow cook roasts but when I added “Roasting, A Simple Art” by Barbara Kafka to my collection of cookbooks I reversed that permanently. Kafka calls for 500 degree ovens which is doable but even with an exhaust fan going continuously it was just too smoky inside a house. I found that my personal limit was about 450 degrees and that 425 did just fine, although it takes longer and not quite as crispy. You get almost the same effect by braising. Kafka doesn’t just roast meat, however. One page shows Red Plums with Spiced Syrup, Pears with Asian Glaze, and Whole Roasted Peaches with Ginger Syrup. Another non-meat page shows Roasted Bread (gourmet toast basically) topped with Roast Shiitakes with Soy, Roasted Garlic Puree, and whole head of roasted garlic (all on the same plate). Maybe we can do a “roasted” tea party and get a consensus of what a few people can bring or help make that are all roasted to try some of these strange and wonderful looking things. The nicest thing about roasting is that it is so simple. The only downside I can see to this plan is portion control. That may be a problem.
On another note, I checked out “Hungarian Cookbook, Old World Recipes for New World Cooks” from the Ft. Vancouver Library and was really pleased to find a number of traditional European recipes. Although I question the use of tomatoes in some of Yolanda Nagy Fintor’s recipes, like some of the cabbage dishes, many of the recipes were similar to a lot of the food I enjoyed while visiting with friends in a village near Munich. Cabbage was always on the menu there and I developed a deep appreciation for that vegetable which is mostly abused and not served nearly often enough in this country. Probably the biggest abuse is that most of the cabbage you can find is trucked in so it has to be a variety that is suitable for mechanically packing and trucking thousands of miles then sitting someplace without rotting for several weeks. Thanks to this group I now drink tea that has more nutrition than the cabbage you can buy in a supermarket. I know because I left a couple of jars of tea on the counter for a week and they got moldy. I have never seen that happen with a supermarket cabbage. If you end up getting cabbage from someone you don’t know then look for a savoy cabbage and see how you like that. Savoy’s have really crinkly skin and as a rule are among the sweetest tasting. Sweet enough to add to a salad or just eat a leaf of it. It is luscious and tasty. I would also recommend planting savoy versions of most vegetables for another reason. I found that they are much more resistant to predation by insects and are just more interesting looking to boot. If you are looking to add something to your repertoire by adding some traditional healthy meals then this book is worthwhile checking out.

You can see what is going on in our food forest at
Tom Gibson
Ask your Congressman and Senators why the US Department of Agriculture subsidizes toxic industrial chemicals like HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) but not fresh vegetables!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Let's see if we can get this passed in all 50 states. In states that have an initiative process then let's get this on the ballot. In other states, if necessary, work to get this accomplised one piece at a time This is just a rough draft but I think you will get the idea.

WHEREAS, The health and safety of the people of the State of (your state) is the State’s highest priority and is of paramount importance; and

WHEREAS, The food supply is the basic cause of poor health in this country and it is important to our good health and the security of this nation to create a healthy and stable food supply; and

WHEREAS, Most chronic illnesses and many outbreaks of illness in the United States today are caused by use of and our reliance on factory farmed and factory produced foods; and

WHEREAS, Factory processed food and food that has traveled long distances has been shown to have lower nutrition and further exacerbate the problems of contamination by pollution and disease; and

WHEREAS, Local farmers that produce and distribute fresh food provide a unique and important resource that is irreplaceable within the community; and

WHEREAS, Agricultural land under an organic or sustainable management regime takes years to develop and might take generations to achieve its full potential and so requires protection not currently found under the law; and

WHEREAS, Financial assistance is needed to stabilize and grow the fresh food market and cure many of the ills listed above;

NOW, THEREFORE, THE FOLLOWING ACT IF PASSED BY THE VOTERS AS ALLOWED BY LAW SHALL BECOME A PART OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION. Where it is found to be in conflict with other law, this act shall replace existing law.

Agriculture shall be defined as growing food for the direct use of people.

Any crop whose nature is substantially changed or is used to create another substance that is substantially different and or not recognizable as the original ingredient does not qualify as agricultural use and that percentage of the land used to produce such chemical extractions shall not qualify for protections provided by this act. Producing chemical extractions using agricultural methods shall be managed as any other mineral extraction operation under special license only as absolutely necessary for the health and well being of the surrounding community and be administered by the Department of Interior with oversight provided over both by the Department of Ecology.

Agricultural use of land shall be deemed to be the highest use of land. Agricultural land shall not be subverted or diverted from that use by any government agency.

Any agricultural land owner that can demonstrate that they are actively striving to maximize production may at their discretion enroll their land in an agricultural land trust. This trust will exist in perpetuity at the discretion of the trustee, beneficiary, or heirs of the trust.

No local, regional, or state agency shall make use of eminent domain, condemn, change the tax status for the purpose of increasing the revenue of their jurisdiction, impede or impair any land that is currently in agricultural use for any reason if it can be shown that it is earning at least $2000 in revenues, goods, or services from agriculture.

The land trust shall not be subject to liens or any other taking by any government agency while it is occupied for agricultural use.

Land shall be deemed agricultural by the end of the first year it is used as such.

Agricultural land shall be charged the lowest tax rate in the state every year that it is in productive agricultural use.

Any governmental agency may bring suit against a trustee for any issue related to the existence of the land trust but only if it bears the full cost of the suit and immediately places a bond to cover the cost of the suit.

A classification that accurately describes the agricultural activities being engaged in shall be created by any state agency or private company that uses classification to delineate risk, charge fees, or excise any kind of levy based on the revenues or business activity description. If a new class is created then it shall be charged the lowest rate in it’s general class until loss ratios or some other actuarial indicator indicate a need to change the rate.

Buildings on agricultural land shall be exempt from local building codes and inspections as long as all state licensed contractors engaged to complete the project agree that the project is fit for the purpose for which it was built and meets all applicable energy efficiency codes.

In addition to any other sales or excise taxes applicable in the jurisdiction, a Value Added Tax (VAT) of no less than 5.0 % and up to 7.5% shall be charged on all food like substances that are chemically or heat processed. For each ingredient added in addition to the largest single ingredient, a surcharge of at least $.00075 shall be made for every mile that each chemical, material, or commodity used to create food like substances travels before it’s sale to the end consumer. An exception will be made for any foods that are simply processed by natural fermentation and are not heat pasteurized.

A fund will be created to subsidize the cost of fresh, local food. This will be applied at the point of purchase and each resident of the state will be entitled to a weekly grant to purchase such items. The state is required to immediately reimburse any agricultural producer that directly provides food any money due them for goods delivered. The value of the goods shall be based on the regional average cost for a weekly share available through Community Supported Agriculture cooperatives.

Foods must be clearly labeled. Terms such as “Natural Flavoring” shall not be allowed. Any substance that has been shown to cause an adverse health reaction must be identified and prominently displayed next to, and in larger-all capital text, the other ingredients.

Any substance sold for human or animal consumption that contains, or that included in any part of the production genetically modified organisms shall have a prominent label next to the name of the product with the term GM PRODUCT in all capitals and at least an 18 point font with a colored background that is different than the color of the label.

Foods containing phytic acid or any other enzyme inhibitor or any other kind anti-nutrient shall contain a health warning in a font size at 2 points larger than the ingredient list prominently displayed next to the ingredients about the presence of such chemicals including a recommendation limiting consumption.

No state agency shall cooperate or coordinate in any activities relating to deportation, apprehension, documentation, confinement, or identification of any worker otherwise legitimately employed in agriculture if the only complaint against him/her is that she/he has not attained legal status to be in or work in this country. The Sheriff of any County shall assist any farmer whose agricultural work is being impeded by removing anyone from his land and may detain them indefinitely if their intent is interfere in the production of a food crop for immigration reasons.

Water rights shall be conferred to anyone that participates in agriculture if it is necessary for them to produce agricultural goods, and water is available from another right such as resource extraction. Water is not a perpetual right but must be transferred and shared for the greatest good of the community, not hoarded for a single interest or individual.

If any portion of this act shall be found to be invalid by a court then all other parts shall remain in force.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Goods

I just packed up some fermented parsnip that I started in a crock 10 days ago. I was fully prepared to throw this stuff out, sticky, oozing, puss like, but instead I am in love. Parsnips don’t taste sweet to me when they are raw or cooked but there is a lot of sweetness after they have fermented. There is sweetness and a very pleasant sour taste and combined make parsnips taste better than I ever could have imagined. One recipe of three pounds, as called for in “Wild Fermentation”, was almost the exact size of a quart jar after it finished it’s warm fermentation and I really packed it in. It now goes into the refrigerator to age and become even more beautiful.

I started 4 pounds of organic cabbage at the same time so I will have to eat some of that fermentation young. It is by far the best sauerkraut I have ever tasted but I expect that it will just keep getting better and better. I filled one of the empty crocks with Wan Shen Chinese broccoli to ferment and the other went back to it’s normal task of making chili. It was worth not having chili for a week but I might have chili for breakfast just to make up for lost time. Wan Shen is like raab except it has long spears of broccoli stem with just a little flower on top and a lot of leaves. The inch thick spears snap easily and loudly when picked fresh and the whole plant is dark green. Great in salads and stir fries, it is grown locally all year round except the hottest part of summer.

Then it was time to clean up some other things I had growing in the kitchen. I keep trying raw foods but find I don’t have much taste for them. I made fenugreek, buckwheat, and broccoli sprouts in my new Geo terra cotta sprouter that made sprouts better and with less effort on my part than any other sprouting method I have tried. So, into a canning jar they went with a little salt and left over fluid from the parsnip and cabbage packing. I smashed them down until all the air was out of the jar and then put a little more fluid from the fermented cabbage on top. Now to finish my cup of Honeybush tea and find a recipe for little seedy crunchy things to serve some of these wild things on.