Month: March 2019

A Writer’s View

A Writer’s View

When sitting at the computer I have only to look slightly left to see a substantial part of my rural kingdom. The view is through a window original to the house, double-hung, a single pane below and the top with two mullions, a three-over-one, one […]

Soil mineralization beyond NPK

Soil mineralization beyond NPK

Organic gardeners know about soil replenishment beyond nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. Plants may well grow with a shortage of micronutrients but their food quality will be diminished. For optimal human health, optimal soil health comes first. Unless we adhere to the closed-loop paradigms of permaculture […]

Monsters among us

Monsters among us

The modern corporate model is the Mafia. Make the family as large as possible, make the family interests diverse and widespread and kill anyone who offends the family or its interests. Modern corporations do this barely within the law through advertising, mergers, buyouts, lawsuits, payoffs. CEOs are the equivalent to godfathers, whose compensation packages are beyond moral justification, indeed are tied directly to increasing stock value through any means.

Size begets power, power is corrupting and that corollary never changes. Whether Microsoft, Monsanto or Dow Chemical, successful corporations gain their initial power through sales of essential products. They then buy other companies to kill competition and gain market share and power through marketing channels. They buy political power through campaign contributions and by placing their people in high places and by recruiting people in high places to work for them, as Monsanto has most successfully done. Monsanto is the second-largest purveyor of pesticides in the world. According to the St. Louis Post, a Monsanto vice-president is “a top candidate” to become Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Don’t think fox in the henhouse—think fox in charge of all henhouses. Researchers and lawyers from Monsanto reportedly already occupy important posts in the FDA. The administration has approved some of the company’s most controversial products, including the artificial sweetener aspartame and the controversial cattle growth hormone rBGH. Only the New York Attorney General’s office has taken the company to task, forcing it to withdraw advertisements claiming that Roundup, its flagship product, is biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

What follows is an example of current corporate tactics. Using taxpayer funds, the United States Department of Agriculture recently invented with Delta and Pine Land Company—the country’s largest producer of cotton seeds—a new genetic technology to create seeds that only work for one growing season. If seeds from this year’s crop are saved and planted next year, they will not grow. The technology was quickly dubbed the Terminator by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). The Terminator has only been tested on cotton and tobacco but its developers believe it will work on all crops. A 1970 law allows farmers to save seeds and replant them, which seed companies do not like. Hence the Terminator technology. Zap the seeds with the Terminator and farmers have no choice but to buy new seeds each year.

The process was patented in March of this year [1998]. Such patents are granted to protect seed company research and development, much as copyright law protects this written material. Unlike copyrighted writings, patented Terminator seeds are intended to feed and clothe the world. Concern immediately arose that plants grown from Terminator seeds might send their death message through pollen to the fields of non-cooperating farmers and natural areas alike, potentially destroying the viability of seeds from all nearby competing annuals. Resistance by RAFI grew.

Enter the monster. On May 11th, Monsanto Corporation bought Delta and Pine Land Company and with it the Terminator. Monsanto has suggested that within a few years all the major staple crops on Earth should be genetically engineered. As noted earlier, Monsanto is the company that makes recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), the genetically engineered hormone injected into cows to increase milk production. The hormone is used extensively in the USA while Europe has put a moratorium on rBGH until 2000. Believe it or not, until recently, food producers were precluded by a judge’s ruling to label their products as free of rBGH. Ben & Jerry have finally prevailed in another court to have the right to label their ice cream as made from milk and cream that is rBGH-free. Imagine that—we consumers have a partial right to know what’s in or not in our food.

Monsanto produces glyphosate, brand-named Roundup, the world’s biggest-selling herbicide. In 1996 Roundup earned Monsanto nearly $1.5 billion. Now here’s the insidious part. For the past 10 years Monsanto has been developing new crops genetically engineered to resist glyphosate. This allows farmers to inundate their fields with Roundup, killing everything that grows except the patented crop. The first glyphosate tolerant plant Monsanto released was Roundup Ready soybean. It is estimated that between 50 and 60 per cent of processed foods contain soy. You eat products made with Roundup Ready soybeans and, yes, those soybeans are sprayed with Roundup, an herbicides that kills all that it touches—unless protected by Roundup Readiness.

Roundup Ready soybeans have sold like crazy and Monsanto has used the money to buy shares in seed and biotechnology companies worth several billion dollars. Among its purchases is the company that produces the infamous bioengineered “Flavr-savr” tomato. Others control 35 percent of the germlines of American corn. Monsanto is now experimenting with bioengineered rice, corn, potato, sugarbeet, rape and cotton varieties.

Monsanto announced in late June that it will buy the international seed products division of Cargill International for $1.4 billion in cash. The purchase gives Monsanto testing, research and production facilities in 24 countries and sales and distribution facilities in 51 countries. “The potential for our existing biotechnology traits outside North America is roughly double the acreage potential within North America,” said Hendrik Verfaillie, Monsanto’s president. “The Cargill international seed businesses give us quicker access to these global markets.”

Monsanto seems to be on the same track as Novartis, the largest agribusiness in the world. Novartis comprises three distinct divisions: agribusiness, which contributes 30 percent to total sales; healthcare, which contributes 50 percent; and nutrition, which contributes 20 percent. Novartis operates in over 100 countries. Chemicals, seeds, food products, healthcare. What a combination. A true cradle-to-the-grave company.

The price of healthful food today is knowledge and action. Our elected representatives have become so deeply influenced by campaign contributions and sophisticated lobbyists of huge corporations that we have largely lost control of them. With the electoral process undermined, all we have left is revolution or voting with our buying decisions. Let’s try consumer power first. Make the checkout lane your voting booth. Read labels but know that the apparent ingredient or the apparent manufacturer may in fact be something or someone hidden. Pay attention to what consumer advocates are saying, people like Ralph Nader, Jeremy Rifkin, Jim Hightower. Immoral and moral corporations alike gain their power through sales. Educate yourself and vote your morality—with your wallet.

Finding home with the first move

Finding home with the first move

There can be no vulnerability without risk;there can be no community without vulnerability;there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.M. Scott Peck Since moving from California to the Ozarks many years ago I have talked to and read about hundreds of urban […]

Spouses working together

Spouses working together

Can these marriages survive? There’s a new rumble in the land. It’s the sound of men and women working at home, 41 million of us, according to At Home Professional magazine. A substantial part of this group is spouses doing the entrepreneurial two-step in dining […]

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden

“Find the shortest, simplest way between the earth, the hands, and the mouth.”
Lanza Del Vasto 

Nobody enjoys fresher food or a more satisfying vision from the kitchen window than those who keep a kitchen garden. Yes, the kitchen window, for no window in the house is so well attended, with the possible exception of the writer’s window when seeking the muse.

The many great pleasures of gardening include eating tasty and nutritious groceries only moments from picking or pulling, fresher by hours than from those urban restaurants that receive produce from farmers each morning and then charge wow prices to those who eat it at lunch.

The kitchen garden is ideally situated directly outside the window above the kitchen sink. This allows the gardening cook to easily observe opportunity and challenges throughout the day. A critter, dog, bird, or child bent on mischief is quickly dissuaded from blemishing lettuce or bruising tomatoes. Better yet, menu inspiration comes easily with a quick glance that reveals what is sumptuously ready for the plate.

Some say the term “kitchen garden” refers to a spot that produces only stuff for the, um, kitchen. Nah. The kitchen garden contains plants that feed both mouth and eyes. A row or three of sunflowers, perhaps with peas, beans or squash climbing upon them, provides a backdrop as well as a perch for birds looking for hornworms or squash bugs. Coreopsis or your favorite annuals sprinkled here and there make the picture perfect.

But the main reason, the raison d’etre, is the groceries. So, what to plant? The answer is easy: whatever you eat. Seriously. Plant tomatoes, basil, fines herbes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, and parsley—those ingredients you wish for your summer meals. If you like to eat it—plant it!

What does not belong in the kitchen garden? Those things that require a lot of space, like potatoes, corn, garlic, and the tomatoes that will make the ketchup replacement, the pasta sauce, the salsa, the pizza sauce, all of which will become winter provender in either canned or frozen state. A few fun potatoes, purple or yellow, a few early tomatoes, five or ten plants of garlic, all these are fine, but plant hundreds in the main garden.

The Heartwood kitchen garden began as a tribute to an exceptional wife. It is fronted with a low stone wall, eighty-five feet in full, curving length, that serves to retain the sloping earth behind. The slope angle makes views extra pretty and ensures drainage. Yes, it is directly behind the kitchen sink window.

By the way, the French, who call their kitchen gardens “potagers,” are way ahead of we Americans. Someone has concluded that nearly a fourth of the fruit and vegetables eaten by the French are home-grown.

That’s just not right. I have a French name but I am proud to be at least fourth-generation American. Let’s get digging! Make a kitchen garden!

Finding old-fashioned community

Finding old-fashioned community

“The common complaints of our time—loneliness, loss of values and meaning, lack of personal fulfillment, emptiness, disillusionment, powerlessness, and fear—are all symptoms that reflect our loss of community.”Kathleen Smith, Rebuilding Community in America If you seek traditional community then flee the city, escape the suburb. […]

Country neighbors are more important than city neighbors

Country neighbors are more important than city neighbors

“If you can’t use your neighbors, what’re they good for?”Farrell Berry, 92-year-old, self-described “hillbilly dirt farmer” I bought my first house in Concord, California, in 1963. I was the stereotypical proud new homeowner. The first Saturday morning, as I caressed trees, admired shrubs, delighted in […]