Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How NOT to cook a Christmas bird

Happy Festivus!
Except for complaints about the weather (It's Cold!) my 2008 list of grievances is on my cranky blog, so here, in the spirit of holiday fun, is a classic bit of silliness from Mr. Bean to put a smile on your face:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The toad and the cardinal

This morning I heard a biographer interviewed on NPR who mentioned an essay by George Orwell, so I Googled it while drinking my first cup of coffee. And yes, it is worth reading. I'd call it timely - not timely in 'the round of the seasons' sense, but timely in 'the state of the world' sense.
It has a bit of that 'Be of Good Cheer' we should be telling each other right about now, a trace of "Heap on more wood, the wind is chill - we'll keep our Christmas merry still!" (a quote from the past which resurfaces in an economically cyclical manner and often encompasses the Christmas season).

Be of Good Cheer! There were red cardinals in the bare branched burning bush this morning, feeding on those brilliant berries, with deep snow all around.
Appreciate winter now.
Look forward to spring, but like an emergency dollar, keep hope tucked in your pocket and only pull it out to look at it when you really, really need it.

Here is that essay:

Some Thoughts on the Common Toad
Essay by George Orwell

Before the swallow, before the daffodil, and not much later than the snowdrop, the common toad salutes the coming of spring after his own fashion, which is to emerge from a hole in the ground, where he has lain buried since the previous autumn, and crawl as rapidly as possible towards the nearest suitable patch of water. Something--some kind of shudder in the earth, or perhaps merely a rise of a few degrees in the temperature--has told him that it is time to wake up: though a few toads appear to sleep the clock round and miss out a year from time to time--
at any rate, I have more than once dug them up, alive and apparently well, in the middle of the summer.

At this period, after his long fast, the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice, what one might not at another time, that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet-rings, and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

For a few days after getting into the water the toad concentrates on building up his strength by eating small insects. Presently he has swollen to his normal size again, and then he hoes through a phase of intense sexiness. All he knows, at least if he is a male toad, is that he wants to get his arms round something, and if you offer him a stick, or even your finger, he will cling to it with surprising strength and take a long time to discover that it is not a female toad. Frequently one comes upon shapeless masses of ten or twenty toads rolling over and over in the water, one clinging to another without distinction of sex. By degrees, however, they sort themselves out into couples, with the male duly sitting on the female's back. You can now distinguish males from females, because the male is smaller, darker and sits on top, with his arms tightly clasped round the female's neck. After a day or two the spawn is laid in long strings which wind themselves in and out of the reeds and soon become invisible. A few more weeks, and the water is alive with masses of tiny tadpoles which rapidly grow larger, sprout hind-legs, then
forelegs, then shed their tails: and finally, about the middle of the summer, the new generation of toads, smaller than one's thumb-nail but perfect in every particular, crawl out of the water to begin the game anew.

I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets. But I am aware that many people do not like reptiles or amphibians, and I am not suggesting that in order to enjoy the spring you have to take an
interest in toads. There are also the crocus, the missel-thrush, the cuckoo, the blackthorn, etc. The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London. I have seen a kestrel flying over the Deptford gasworks, and I have heard a first-rate performance by a blackbird in the Euston Road. There must be some hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds living inside the four-mile radius, and it is rather a pleasing thought that none of them pays a halfpenny of rent.

As for spring, not even the narrow and gloomy streets round the Bank of England are quite able to exclude it. It comes seeping in everywhere, like one of those new poison gases which pass through all filters. The spring is commonly referred to as "a miracle", and during the past five or six years this worn-out figure of speech has taken on a new lease of life. After the sorts of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous, because it has become gradually harder and harder to believe that it is actually going to happen. Every February since 1940 I have found myself thinking that this time winter is going to be permanent. But Persephone, like the toads, always rises from the dead at about the same moment. Suddenly, towards the end of March, the miracle happens and the decaying slum in which I live is transfigured. Down in the square the sooty privets have turned bright green, the leaves are thickening on the chestnut trees, the daffodils are out, the wallflowers are budding, the policeman's tunic looks positively a pleasant shade of blue, the fishmonger greets his customers with a smile, and even the sparrows are quite a different colour, having felt the balminess of the air and nerved themselves to take a bath, their first since last September.

Is it wicked to take a pleasure in spring and other seasonal changes? To put it more precisely, is it politically reprehensible, while we are all groaning, or at any rate ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle? There is not doubt that many people think so. I know by experience that a favourable reference to "Nature" in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually "sentimental", two ideas seem to be mixed up in them. One is that any pleasure in the actual process of life encourages a sort of political quietism. People, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already. The other idea is that this is the age of machines and that to dislike the machine, or even to want to limit its domination, is backward-looking, reactionary and slightly ridiculous. This is often backed up by the statement that a love of Nature is a foible of urbanized people who have no notion what Nature is really like. Those who really have to deal with the soil, so it is argued, do not love the soil, and do not take the faintest interest in birds or flowers, except from a strictly utilitarian point of view. To love the country one must live in the town, merely taking an occasional week-end ramble at the warmer times of year.

This last idea is demonstrably false. Medieval literature, for instance, including the popular ballads, is full of an almost Georgian enthusiasm for Nature, and the art of agricultural peoples such as the Chinese and Japanese centre always round trees, birds, flowers, rivers, mountains.
The other idea seems to me to be wrong in a subtler way. Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him? I have always suspected that if our economic and political problems are ever really solved, life will become simpler instead of more complex, and that the sort of pleasure one gets from finding the first primrose will loom larger than the sort of pleasure one gets from eating an ice to the tune of a Wurlitzer. I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and--to return to my first instance--toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can't stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the
sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A winter's tale

Victory gardens! The basic sustainable living idea whose time has come again, I'd say. I borrowed this historically relevant video circa 1943 from City Farmer to share with you. Click on the links to see all of City Farmer's videos.

Watch 1943 - You Cannot Eat Lilies - Victory Garden Video in How to Videos  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Sunday, November 23, 2008

a kind of an eco-spirituality ballad

I've been waiting a long time for someone to post this amazingly wonderful song by the late Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer ... and it just occurred to me today while listening to KPFA to search for it again. Enjoy it with me.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Be the change you hope to see

Herbalists for Peace art by Dave Hoffman

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Food for thought

I wish my kids would read this:

Michael Pollan Interview
By Mark Eisen
November 2008 Issue of The Progressive

Michael Pollan has got people talking. His recent books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, have captured the public imagination, setting off countless coffee shop discussions, dinnertime arguments, and oh-so-many blog posts.

Even more impressively, his exploration of modern-day agriculture and the dysfunctional American diet has prompted his readers to look at their own eating habits with a new sense of understanding and often a desire for change.

Pollan has taken Wendell Berry’s memorable phrase “eating is an agricultural act” one step further. “It’s a political act as well,” Pollan advises.

A lot of people agree. The alternative food movement—organic farming, local food systems, sustainable agriculture, and more—is burgeoning today because, one family at a time, consumers are backing away from the global food network. Instead, they patronize farmers’ markets, buy food shares from CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms, and favor grocers who sell local meat and produce.

Pollan’s books are essential reading in this movement. He details the importance of grazing to a sustainable farm’s operation and the problems of corn as the cornerstone of U.S. agribusiness. But most of all he gracefully chronicles his own journey of discovery in a food world where, amidst $32 billion in advertising, baleful health consequences are carefully obscured.

Pollan’s topics include a thorough demolition of “nutritionism,” the reigning health ideology that offers dizzying and ever-changing advice on polyunsaturated this and low-fat that, often in the cause of selling highly processed food products.

A good diet is really pretty simple, Pollan declares: Avoid “edible foodlike substances.” Instead, eat real food. “Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.”

I caught up with Pollan two days after he returned from a book tour in New Zealand and Australia. At fifty-three, he looked fit but tired from the travel. He lives on a leafy avenue in Berkeley with his wife, painter Judith Belzer, and their fifteen-year-old son. He teaches journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, after a ten-year stint as an editor at Harper’s Magazine. We talked over cups of Darjeeling tea in his kitchen. Here is the edited and condensed interview.

Q: You argue that consumer ignorance is essential for maintaining the industrial agriculture system.

Michael Pollan: If people could see how their food is produced, they would change how they eat. My interest in the topic traces to two moments, in 2000, when I learned how our food is produced.

One was driving down Route 5 in California and passing the Harris ranch, which is a huge feedlot right on the highway. It’s a stunning landscape. I had never seen anything quite like that.

Miles of manure-encrusted land teeming with thousands of animals and a giant mountain of corn and a giant mountain of manure. And a stench you can smell two miles before you get there.

Most feedlots are hidden away on the High Plains. This one happens to be very accessible. Then I visited an industrialized potato farm in Idaho and saw how freely pesticides were used. The farmers had little patches of potatoes by their houses that were organic. They couldn’t eat their field potatoes out of the ground because they had so many systemic pesticides. They had to be stored for six months to off-gas the toxins.

These two things changed the way I ate. I don’t buy industrial potatoes, and I don’t eat feedlot meat.

It’s only our ignorance of how our food is grown that permits this to go on. Most people, if they went to the feedlot or to the slaughterhouse and saw how the animals are raised and killed, would lose their appetite for that food.

The industry knows this. It works so hard not to label where the food comes from, how it’s made, and whether or not there are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in it, because they know very well from their own research that people don’t want food grown that way.

Q: The national organic rules, which took effect in 2002, are credited with creating the boom in organic food sales. Yet you seem skeptical.

Pollan: Something was gained and something was lost when the federal government defined what “organic” meant. The rules were drawn in a way to make organic friendly to large corporations looking to do organic as cheaply as possible and on as large a scale as possible.

For example, the fight over whether you should really require pasturing for dairy so the cows can eat grass: They drew those rules so broadly that companies like Aurora and Horizon could slip through with very large industrial feedlots.

An “organic feedlot” should be a contradiction in terms, but it’s not under the rules. They really wanted to make it possible to have a mirrored food supply. So you could take everything in the supermarket and make its organic doppelganger. Is that a bad thing or a good thing? It’s a mixed thing.

The Chinese organic is a real question. First, how organic is it? You hear stories that make you wonder. The other issue is what you can do within the organic rules and still be sending contaminated product. Because the soil is so badly contaminated in China, even if they don’t put chemicals on their fields for three years [as U.S. organic rules require for certification], the heavy metals are still there.

So what the consumer thinks they’re buying—organic food—may not be what they’re really getting from China.

Q: The case is made that Wal-Mart’s entry into organic sales won’t hurt organic farmers, but will help the movement by creating more customers for co-ops and natural food stores.

Pollan: I hope that’s true. But Wal-Mart is one of the reasons we grow beef the way we do in this country, which is to say with brutal efficiency and lots of pharmaceuticals. Wal-Mart’s focus on low price tended to mean squeezing their suppliers very, very hard.

Wal-Mart isn’t doing that yet with organic. But long term, that’s what I would worry about: that they would force organic prices down not by being more efficient in distribution but through pressuring suppliers.

Q: The organic folks I talk with say that Wal-Mart sells only the most popular organic items and doesn’t offer the wide selection that serious organic shoppers want.

Pollan: Wal-Mart feeds the bottom third of the population. So they’re not competing with Whole Foods or the corner co-op. It is bringing more people into organic.

The other virtue of Wal-Mart getting into organic is the education factor. There are lots of people in this country who don’t know what organic is, and they will learn about it from Wal-Mart.

When I first started talking about the industrialization of organics, there really was a sense that “big organic” would crush “little organic.” But I don’t think that’s what is happening.

They are very separate worlds. There is overlap, but “little organic” is like these smart independent bookstores. They figured out a way to be in a different business. They do events and hand-sell books and have a whole conversation about books that Barnes & Noble and Amazon can’t do.

In the same way, you see the really entrepreneurial farmers figuring out they don’t have to compete with Whole Foods and certainly not Wal-Mart. They can offer a higher level of quality and more personal attention through the whole CSA relationship and by selling at farmers’ markets now.

Q: Newsweek ran a story arguing that the organic market was leveling off because it’s just too expensive in an era of higher food prices. Do you agree?

Pollan: No, I think it’s still growing quickly. The demand is still there.

What’s slowing the growth is that there is less incentive for farmers to convert to organic because conventional prices are so high. If you’re a wheat or corn grower you’re getting a real good price. Why would you endure the economic hardship of converting to organic farming?

It takes three years. You have to follow organic practices without getting the benefit of the organic label for your effort. It’s a big investment to make the switch.
That’s what’s slowing down organic growth.

Q: In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you detail the rise of U.S. corn production and the use of high fructose corn syrup as the ubiquitous sweetener in so much processed food. But your discussion of cheap corn gave no sense that corn prices would soon go through the roof.

Pollan: As a journalist, I was describing what was. I don’t think I made any predictions. But the story has changed a lot. How it’s going to play out is very hard to predict.

A good deal of The Omnivore’s Dilemma dealt with how we took making food out of the solar basis and put it on a fossil-fuel basis. This is what the industrialization of food is essentially. It’s introducing cheap fossil fuel in what had been a strictly solar process of using photosynthesis to grow food.

When you do that, suddenly your food economy is dependent on your energy. And that’s why prices have gone up. When oil went up, that was the shock. That, and using corn to produce ethanol.

At this very moment, there are executives sitting around the table at Coca-Cola, saying the price of high fructose corn syrup is spiking and will probably stay there for a while. “Do we shrink the portion size, or do we raise the price? Do we to go back to the days before supersizing and sell eight-ounce Coca-Colas instead of twenty-ounce Coca-Colas?”

I hope they shrink the portion size. That would be good for public health.

Q: Does the world have a food shortage now, or is it more a problem of distribution and changing diets?

Pollan: The spot shortages around the world are really not so much about supply as the price. There are really high prices, and that’s driven by ethanol, high oil prices, and the growing demand for grain in Asia.

The whole free trade regime around grains is trembling right now. Countries are recognizing that you don’t want to lose control of your ability to feed your population. You don’t want the price of food in your country to be dependent on decisions made in Wall Street or the White House.

Trade globalization has forced cheap American and Brazilian grains into all of these countries. As a consequence, they’ve lost the ability to grow their own grain.
Now they wish those farmers were there.

Q: You seemed to struggle with the concept of vegetarianism and arguments against meat eating.

Pollan: I’m a pretty harsh critic of 99 percent of America’s meat system, but there is that 1 percent I think is important to defend, because first there are good environmental reasons to eat meat in a limited way.

If you believe strongly in building up local food economies, there are places where meat is the best way to get protein off of the land. It’s too hilly, too dry. Having animals is very important for sustainable agriculture. If you’re going to have animals on the farm, they’re going to die eventually, and you’re going to eat them.

But I have enormous respect for vegetarians. They’re further ahead than most of us. They’ve gone through the thought process in making their eating choices. They’ve just come out in a different place than I have.

I think we’re going to focus on meat-eaters the way we have on SUV drivers. There will be a lot of pressure and education to show that a heavy meat diet is a big contributor to climate change, and that there are many good reasons to eat less meat.

Q: How is meat consumption tied to climate change?

Pollan: In several ways. First, it’s fossil-fuel intensive. If you are feeding animals grain on feedlots you are growing that grain with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides. You are moving that grain around the country to feedlots. You’re moving the meat around the country.

It’s a very inefficient way to feed ourselves. It takes ten pounds of grain to get one pound of beef, seven pounds of grain to get one pound of pork, and two pounds of grain to get one pound of chicken.

There is an equity issue, too. If we really have a limited amount of grain to feed the world, and we’re feeding 60 percent of it to animals, and another 10 percent to our cars, that’s going to be hard to defend in the future.

Q: To a striking degree, you argue that individuals in their daily lives can make a difference.

Pollan: I really have a lot of faith — and I know that it’s considered naive by some people on the left — that consumers can change things. I have seen too many cases of what happens when consumers decide to inflect their buying decisions with their moral and political values. It brings about change.

The food industry is remarkably skittish. They’re terrified of food scares and food fads, both of which can cost them billions overnight. So they’re actually more responsive than you would think.

It’s just a matter of consumers voting with their forks for things like grass-fed meat and producers hearing that market signal. But I don’t think you can completely reform the food system by just voting with your fork.

There are policy issues, too. The Farm Bill matters greatly. So I’m not naive in thinking all of our answers lie in changes in personal behavior. The same is true of global warming. Individuals have a lot to do, but we also need public solutions. You can’t have one without the other.

Q: How is climate change a crisis of lifestyle and character?

Pollan: Look, 70 percent of economic activity in this country is consumer — it’s our purchasing decisions. That is the economy. We are implicated in these problems, and we have to recognize that. It’s our lifestyles; it’s how we’ve organized our cities and the countryside. It’s the size of our houses and how we heat our houses. It’s all these things. This is global warming.

We can look at supranational institutions to create a new set of rules for this economy. But I don’t think that will happen in the absence of people discovering that they can change their lives.

I really believe in what Wendell Berry said in the ’70s—that the environmental crisis is a crisis of character. It’s really about how we live.

Q: Are people getting it?

Pollan: On food I have a lot of optimism. I see evidence that people are changing the way they consume. I don’t foresee the industrial food system going away. I see it shrinking.

One of the powerful things about the food issue is that people feel empowered by it. There are so many areas of our life where we feel powerless to change things, but your eating issues are really primal. You decide every day what you’re going to put in your body—and what you refuse to put in your body. That’s politics at its most basic.

Mark Eisen writes about food, political, and business topics from Madison, Wisconsin.
Support articles like this by making a tax-deductible donation to The Progressive. We are a non-profit, both legally and literally, and every dollar counts.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

End of the Garden Salsa

I brought in the last of the peppers and tomatoes last week before the heavy frost could permeate through the protective old bedsheets I strew over my plants every fall. Since then I've been busy drying, freezing, pickling and making other foods with the last of the garden.
I must note, the vegetable garden was abundant this year as usual, but our tomatoes and peppers didn't ripen as usual. I believe these fruits require warm summer nights to ripen, and this year our nights were cooler than normal.

Every year is different, and this year we needed recipes featuring green tomatoes and/or under ripe peppers.
I froze diced peppers and whole Roma tomatoes in bags, froze tomato sauce in cartons, dehydrated red paprika peppers for grinding to paprika, red and green poblanos for grinding, and smoked green poblanos to dry for ancho powder.
On the recipe side, I came up with sweet spiced pickled green cherry tomatoes, green tomato vegetarian mincemeat, and green tomato salsa.
All I have left of fresh peppers left are a few beautifully ripe Giant Marconis for the grill, and a half a bag of Fooled You jalapenos for whatever.

Here is my recipe for Green Tomato Salsa that I adapted (quite a bit) from an old Pacific Northwest Extension bulletin. You can make it as hot as you like it by adjusting the peppers. I won't add the canning directions here because I quit canning years ago, and the recipe is not exactly what the Extension did, so the acidity might be different. It's a joy to be able to make something so good from nearly all my own garden. The onions were from the market, but I just imagine if I could only grow my own limes and black pepper...

Green Tomato Salsa

6 cups chopped green tomatoes
4 cups chopped (seeded) green poblano peppers
1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers
4 cups chopped white onions
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
a handful cilantro leaves, stems removed
a handful of chopped parsley leaves, stems removed
3 Tbsp crumbled dried oregano leaves
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 cup bottled lime juice
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or so. Cool and ladle into storage containers.
Refrigerate and use, or freeze.
Makes 6-8 pints.

Options: Tomatillos can be substituted for green tomatoes. Lemon juice for lime juice.
Also, commercial salsa is sweeter, usually sugar is in the list of ingredients. I added some sugar/vinegar syrup I had leftover from pickling, which worked well for sweetening for a dipping salsa.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seize the Day

I finally found a copy to share of the Monsanto Song that I mentioned so long ago. The lyrics must be out there too for a sing along. It begins "Those polar bears, now, Who really cares, now..."
Enjoy(?) :

I'm on this email list serve that sends a newsletter called Toxic Times, and every time I read an issue I get more and more disappointed in my g-g-generation, in my fellow Americans, and in The System. This Herbie, Garden-y blog was originally supposed to reflect the happy happy side of my character, and accordingly, I usually stick to reports on pollution and politics on my cranky blog.
That's why I haven't been around here for a while, not that y'all missed me. But crankiness aside, hasn't this been the longest, dirtiest, most depressing political silly season you've ever survived?
Where was I, oh yes - I'm posting this copy of the latest email newsletter from MNCEH in hopes that more moderate people, the kind who like a happy garden-y read will think about what we are doing here.

Enough is enough.


Toxic Times
A weekly recap of the top stories on toxics in Michigan and beyond
From the Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health

News Highlights from October 19 - 26, 2008

Download the following information as a pdf by visiting:


Lead-poisoning rates high among kids in Kalamazoo Co.
Kalamazoo Gazette, Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lead poisoning, which can result from paint dust stirred up by renovation or remodeling projects, can impair a child's development and at high levels may cause death. Kalamazoo is one of 13 communities identified by the Michigan Department of Community Health as having high rates of childhood lead poisoning.

Food allergies climb in American kids, study says
Detroit Free Press, Thursday, October 22, 2008

Food allergies in American children seem to be on the rise, now affecting about 3 million kids, according to the first federal study of the problem. But experts said that might be because parents are more aware and quicker to have their kids checked out by a doctor.

Residents take up fight over cancer
The Detroit News, Wednesday, October 22, 2008

State asked for health study of industrial area believed to have elevated number of cases. Not more than 10 inches tall, three wooden crosses spray-painted white jut out of the front yard of Martha Allain's 11th Street home.

TEXAS TOWNSHIP CHEMICAL BARRELS Cleanup could finish in December
Kalamazoo Gazette, Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should finish cleanup of dangerous chemicals from property at 10135 West O Ave. in early to mid-December, officials said at a public meeting Tuesday.


EPA weakens new lead rule after White House objects
Detroit Free Press, Thursday, October 23, 2008

After the White House intervened, the Environmental Protection Agency last week weakened a rule on airborne lead standards at the last minute so that fewer known polluters would have their emissions monitored.
The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to the way the EPA would have some facilities, such as lead-emitting battery recycling plants, monitored.

Toys containing banned plastics still on market
Wall Street Journal, Thursday, October 23, 2008

Starting February 10, 2009, children’s toys and childcare products containing three types of phthalates will be banned and those containing a different three phthalates will be placed on a temporary ban. Manufacturers of such products are attempting to liquidate their stock before the ban takes effect, and consumer advocacy groups are complaining that the law has effectively offered a grace period to sell the products rather than requiring their disposal.

Fire retardant costumes pose Halloween danger
NBC, Friday, October 24, 2008

The fire safety label, which was once viewed as a safety seal of approval on Halloween costumes, is now triggering concern as parents weigh the benefits against the potential health risks caused by PBDE used on the costumes.

Dentists back sealants, despite concerns
New York Times, Monday, October 20, 2008

The chemical is bisphenol-A, or BPA, which is widely used in the making of the hard, clear plastic called polycarbonate, and is also found in the linings of food and soft-drink cans. Most human exposure to the chemical clearly comes from the food supply. But traces have also been found in dental sealants. Despite the concerns, the American Dental Association remains strongly in favor of the sealants.

Critics slam chemical report
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Friday, October 24, 2008

Scientists, lawmakers, and advocacy groups criticized a government report stating that bisphenol-A is safe. Scientists have noted serious flaws in the study, and lawmakers have requested a ban on bisphenol-A. Much of the criticism intensified when it was discovered that the plastics industry was responsible for much of the FDA report.

Lead, smoke exposure in kids linked to ADHD
Cincinnati Enquirer, Monday, October 20, 2008
Eliminating childhood exposure to lead and tobacco smoke could cut the incidence of ADHD in the U.S. by more than a third, according to new research from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Individually, each substance increases a child's risk of developing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but children exposed to both environmental toxins are more than eight times more likely to develop ADHD than children who weren't exposed to either substance, the study found.


U.S. company challenges Quebec pesticide ban
Toronto Star, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Opponents are charging that a U.S. company's challenge of a ban on the weed killer 2,4-D in Quebec is undemocratic and based on misconceptions of its safety. Dow Chemical, who produces the herbicide, has filed a $2 million dollar suit against the federal government because of the ban.

Toxic toys, jewelry recalled
Toronto Star, Friday, October 24, 2008

Health Canada has ordered thousands of toys and children's costume jewelry items off store shelves after a Star investigation found they contained dangerously high levels of lead.

Articles were researched and compiled by Grant DeJongh, MNCEH Intern.
Subscribe to Toxic Times – send an email to melissa@ecocenter.org
with SUBSCRIBE TOXIC TIMES in the subject line.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

facing facts

Open Letter to the President-Elect by Michael Pollan: Farmer in Chief
By Michael Pollan

New York Times, October 10, 2008
Straight to the Source

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food.
Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration - the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact - so easy to overlook these past few years - that the health of a nation's food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

Finish reading here

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting near that time of year

The angle of the sun lower, dawn later, sunset sooner, the nights cold, the geese practicing their maneuvers, the colors changing, the school buses on the roads, the children wearing book bags, me in the garden picking the last tomatoes.

The medicinal herbal plants in the photo include goldenrod - Solidago canadensis, boneset - Eupatorium perfoliatum, great blue lobelia - Lobelia siphilitica, and that yellow sunflower which is one of the tallest perennials that grows here, the cup plant - Silphium perfoliatum.
Trees in the meadow-turned-woods are tinting yellow-y now. There used to be a cow pasture there, then a corn field there, and now a scrub woods is beginning. I used to look across that field all the way to the far hedgerow, and in the winter I could see rabbits popping their heads up out of their barrows. Last year three deer leaped out of the thicket of trees while I was putting the garden to bed. Nothing stays the same.

Spring and Fall, to a Young Child
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Friday, September 05, 2008

a walk in the woods

That same weekend I enjoyed a solitary walk in a nearby nature preserve.

I'm a sucker for wildflowers. This is one I didn't know right away, but its common name is so descriptive I won't forget it again: Starflower, of the Primrose Family, Tridentalis borealis. Isn't that Latin name lovely? Go ahead, say it out loud. With an Italian accent is better yet.
... Tridentalis borealis... Ahhh, bene.

(Remember, you can click on the photos to see a better version.)

These pink flowers carpeted the forest floor in some areas. I wasn't familiar with them either.

You wouldn't think anyone could get lost on such a well marked path, now would you?
Note how the paint marker color coordinates with the pink wildflowers. Do you think the trailkeepers did that on purpose? Everything on the Mission Peninsula IS so perfect ...

When I returned to the B&B, we found their wildflower guide wasn't where they'd left it (the house is full of bookshelves, my kind of place) but I showed Bob the photos on my camera (ain't digital grand?) and he recognised it as Fringed Polygala, of the Milkwort Family, Polygala paucifolia.
A rather common Michigan wildflower, I just haven't noticed it before. Another common name in the field guide was Flowering-Wintergreen obviously on account of the leaves, but the flowers are all wrong for that name to stick. Wintergreens flower with little waxy whitish bells.

In his classic wildflower handbook, "Michigan Flora", Dr. Voss wrote: "... the first few flowers and leaves at the summit [provide] a striking touch of color, often abundant in northern damp woods in spring. An old beach ridge carpeted with polygala, calypso, and dwarf lake iris is a feast of beauty not soon forgotten." I was "there".

Well, almost. I didn't see any of the endangered species, Dwarf Lake Iris' but I did find plenty of these, unnoticed at first glance in the leaf duff on the forest floor:

No, not Calypso. I'm still not sure which of the native Ladyslipper Orchids these are, another week along and the blossoms might have bloomed. I was so happy just to discover them. (Sorry for the blurry photo, it was beiginning to sprinkle.)

A peaceful pond. Not another thing to disturb the the sounds of bugs and birds and frogs.

And for a small lagniappe on the way out, a few Jacks waved goodbye.

If you go there, remember ... take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Meadow Labyrinth

Mission Peninsula, Michigan
Memorial Day, 2008
Completely charming. Yes, I had an insight, or made a connection, so to speak, mine having to do with dandelions.
I'd like to thank the owners, the creators of this good place. They weren't home either of the times I stopped there.

The Labyrinth is mowed into the meadow. Obvously no herbicides are used on the weeds. It's a calm and private seeming spot, even though I think you could see the walker if you were in a neighboring house or on the road. The way starts over by the seat and the center is by that round canopied tree. You really don't see it until you walk it.

As I was walking out I was kicking through the dandelions to see their seeds dispersing, it being that time of year when the first bloomed dandelions have matured to white puffs.
Only the week before, back at home, my tiny granddaughter who was sleeping in the car with her waiting parents while I did my little exploration, only the week before this quiet little girl had revealed her fine sense of humor, which I think is the most miraculous thing about witnessing the wonder of a baby meeting the world.
Aubrey was in my arms in the garden while I puffed on a dandelion for her wonder and my memory. "Poofff!" She giggled and we "poofed" on, and laughed together to see the puffy parachuted seeds floating out in the soft early summer air..
As the sign suggested, "Laugh"...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the McKenna bird house

Maybe it isn't to shelter Terance McKenna's next incarnation, but coming out of a labyrinth and seeing it, and the rainbow paint job makes me think otherwise.

I'll post more about the labyrinth later.

recalling a long path

It's more fun for me to play 'six degrees of separation' with the association of ideas instead of celebrities.
Can you tell I was a kid who spent summer afternoons reading the encyclopedia?

Google has made it easy to self educate by 'links ... but I suppose you need the inquiring mind as well. I thought it might be fun to journal my latest wanderings ... so here is a log of the trail of associations I followed yesterday, and what I found there:

Begin here:
Melinda's sunflower photo (yesterday's post)...

(What I love about the photo was) the spiral arrangement of seeds in the sunflower
(which is a ) Fibonacci sequence ...
Also called the Golden Spiral...
Coincidence: Blake's illustration of a golden spiral staircase going up to heaven...
(you can see it in the 'Ah Sunflower' video I just posted)

(The Golden Spiral makes me think of)labyrinths...
(Which made me recall) the second labyrinth I've walked.
Let me digress: It was earlier in the summer when I was in the Traverse City area to attend my nephew's, (yes, the sunflower planter) Melinda's son's wedding.
Earlier in the year I'd found a little newspaper article online with a mention of a private property on the Mission Peninsula where the owners had made a labyrinth and allowed the public to walk it.
I asked the owner of the bed and breakfast inn where I was staying if they knew of this labyrinth, and amazingly enough Bob had heard of it and directed me to where to find it. Just a few miles away.
I would have never found it on my own.

Good to ask for directions.
This must be one of those parts of the trail where it loops back before heading on again. I've been meaning to post some photos of that labyrinth. Which I still promise to do...
Photos including the charming, humorous, sly... rainbow painted 'McKenna' birdhouse positioned near the approach to the labyrinth.

Are we there yet?
No, just a turn on the trail.
Coincidence: Last night while I was making dinner and listening to the podcast of Thom Hartman's program, a caller mentioned... Terance McKenna ...
Spooky, huh? How many times do you think of Terance McKenna in one day? McKenna must be knocking on my door.

So I Googled videos of McKenna. You can too.
One video has him saying: "culture is not your friend." (How true.)
McKenna's answer? Make art.

Are we there yet?
Maybe this is near the 'center', where the trail turns back home.
Sit a minute and gather your thoughts.

There is mention of 'demi-urge' in McKenna's discussion.
Coincidence: I just saw that very word this morning and had meant to look it up.
Now, how many time do you run across the word demiurge? Where in the heck did I see it! That word is knocking at my door along with McKenna.

A Robert Frost poem. I saw the word in Frost.
I had been looking up Blake's 'Ah Sunflower' poem to post with Melinda's sunflower photos. So how did I get from Blake to Frost?
Through Wendell Berry.
Can you believe it.

This must be a side track, but sometimes detours can be fun.
When I was looking up Blake, I saw my copy of Berry's collection of poems, "Farming: a Handbook", and loving Berry, I stopped to read a little Berry before going on to Blake. Berry wrote 'Manifesto: The Mad Farmer's Liberation Front', one of my favorite charming, humorous, sly poems. You should look it up.

Anyway, on the front page of Chapter 2, Berry quotes lines from Robert Frost's 'Build Soil'

"I bid you to a one-man revolution__
The only revolution that is coming.
We're too unseparate.
and going home
From company means coming to our senses."

'One Man Revolution' is a track on one of my favorite albums of recent memory, The Night Watchman, by Tom Morello. I had no idea the phrase came from Robert Frost.

Interesting! So I looked up Frost's 'Build Soil'.
Building soil is a good idea, the very key to gardening and healthy food. But I'm going down another path. Back on the path to rediscovering where I saw the word demiurge.

I had been looking for 'Build Soil' but ran across the poem I posted yesterday with the sunflower photos, 'A Prayer in Spring', from Robert Frost's collection of poems "A Boy's Will". In the same collection, I ran across 'The Demiurge's Laugh'...
now I had to look up the word.

Google: demiurge.

Wikipedia: The Demiurge of Neoplatonism is the Nous (mind of God), and is one of the three ordering principles:
arche (Gr. "beginning") - the source of all things,
logos (Gr. "word") - the underlying order that is hidden beneath appearances,
harmonia (Gr. "harmony") - numerical ratios in mathematics.
(... also related to concepts in... Judaism, gnosticism, Russian philosophy, a Phillip Dick novel, video games.)
And, of course, for me, beginning, words, and harmony relate to some ideas I love to dwell on, manifested in labyrinths and poetry.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
NOUN: The doctrines of certain pre-Christian pagan, Jewish, and early Christian sects that valued the revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in humans and that distinguished the Demiurge from the unknowable Divine Being.

Pretty much, Demiurge is defined as the creative force of the physical universe, the spirit that is blocked by such structured thought process as organized religion. Is that why McKenna said, make art?
Knocking on the door ...

Now I'll go find that Terance McKenna birdhouse photo.

Ah, Sunflower

Here is an nice version of the Blake sunflower poem, set to music, illustration by William Blake. One of the original end of summer songs, one of Blake's Songs of Experience.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ah, Sunflower

...and bee.

I was looking for Blake's appropriate poem to post with Melinda's wonderful sunflower photos above, but ran across this one by Frost that I like as well. It's a spring poem but the message is just as timely right now at the end of another summer.
(Thanks for letting me post your photos, Melinda!)

A Prayer in Spring

by Robert Frost (1915)

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A White House lawn that produces something

Well, a few days ago Herb and I were listening to the Across The Great Divide radio program on KPFA public radio (we listen online, as the local programming is many times so trite and boring). We ended up discussing, as senior citizens will do, the question of whether the younger generations will have any concept of who Woody Guthrie was and the relevance of his times to our own.
Then this week I opened up an e-mail from Kitchen Gardeners International, and there on the Youtube video that Roger Doiron produced as a part of his scheme to promote kitchen gardens in front yards, beginning with The White House (or, shall I say, OUR White House) was the voice from the past, Woody Guthrie singing his most well known folk song, This Land Is Your Land.

How populist.
How did we forget so many sustainable ways of living in such a short time?
But we live in an age when Newt Gingrich says his goal in life is to rescind the New Deal, and Rush Limbaugh says 'Roosevelt is dead and we're getting rid of his programs as well', and our twice "elected" president thinks he won a mandate to end Social Security while Congress guts New Deal financial regulations, and a candidate can run for office while voting against children's health and education programs without risking the slightest blow back from his self-described "moral voters".
The New Deal worked, and any politician worth his salt should look at what some of those programs were, and give We The People an updated new deal. We've been getting a raw deal under Reaganomics.

more caterpillar tale

... or, how dumb could I be?

So the little (but growing) green guy, after a week of feeding on three meals a day and a snack, was suddenly uninterested in his tomato leaf fare. I thought, oh good, he's going to do his metamorphosing thing soon, maybe hang himself from the netting of his cage and spin a cocoon or ooze himself a shiny pupa coat. It was time.
For hours into a day he roamed the walls of his small bug hotel making a distinct chewing noise, so loud that Herb even noticed it from his breakfast table. The cat stood on her hind paws, listening, watching.

I began to worry, thinking maybe his color wasn't looking so healthy green? maybe he was thirsty? Do caterpillars need water? I didn't know...
(duh) So as last resort, or as they say, when all else fails LOOK IT UP.

The photo above is of my very handy Peterson First Guides Caterpillars (by Amy Bartlett Wright) field guide. See the little brown pupa case? Now where have I seen those little brown pupa cases before? Yes, while digging in the garden. The light bulb above my head when on.
I looked in the section on rearing caterpillars, and there was the answer to my caterpillar's unhappy wandering ... if you are rearing a caterpillar that pupates in the soil, you must keep him in something with an inch or so of soil for him to dig down into! Who knew.

My new dilemma: not wanting to be the one responsible for bringing a tomato pest into Herb's garden, I couldn't let the little guy loose in the backyard, could I? So I plopped him out of the bug hotel onto the bedding of my worm bin.

Oh Happy Day! As soon as he hit soil, he started digging and within three minutes he was buried in the worm bedding. You can just see in the photo his green little horned tail sticking up as he worms his way down to finish his transformation in the dark privacy of the underground.
I dug down the next day to see what shape he was in, but I haven't found him yet. I don't know what the timing is for this part of his life cycle and the book didn't say. If he succeeds in pupating to a moth I'll let you know.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Call me Bugs

At the organic gardening class at Pat's CSA farm last Friday I found a tomato hornworm (caterpillar) and brought it home to learn more about. Someone said it would pupate into a "hummingbird moth" (one of the clearwing moths), but she's wrong. The tomato hornworm pupates into one of the Sphinx moths. You can tell the difference by the way the stripes are arranged on the caterpillar.
I put him in Kayla's dollar store bug cage and fed him fresh tomato leaves three or four times a day.
... and he grew like Topsy!

Boy do hornworms poop!

Tony says he detests tomato hornworms, but I think they're kinda cute ... doesn't he look like the hookah smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland?

enough about wasps already

Okay, enough, but one more photo in the wasp saga...

Last week, after treating the yellow jackets' nest in the ground for the third time, and going out to scout it one more time, Herb found what looked like a real mess that only (who else?) I could have made and left in the yard.
The photo above shows what wild animals, skunks and raccoons and so on who apparently don't fear wasp swarms as we humans do, what these animals do when they come upon a nest of killed wasps - dinner!
Sometime during the night some animal had come along and found the nest and eaten all of the dead wasp bodies, and pulled the layered sheets of the nest out of the hole to eat whatever protein was there. Interesting, huh?
(Sorry, not a very good photo, but maybe you can see the mess, and make out the layers of nest.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

the predatory wasp coincidence

Sufjan Stevens performing on a youtube video... I'm posting more of his work on my cranky blog.
I fell asleep on the couch last night watching a lame edition of Michigan 'capital correspondent' Tim Skubik's talking heads news commentary program that I can never recall the name of until three minutes after I need it, and woke up to the ear worm music of Sufjan Stevens and his flock of butterflies playing on Austin City Limits.
I listened and went to bed but this morning woke up with Sufjan's Detroit song repeating in my brain. Now this group played my favorite Christmas song of 2007, and I may have posted it somewhere, so I thought it was time to Google Sufjan Stevens again.
First thing I saw on Youtube was this wasp story and song. The coincidence? I've been mulling whether to post a photo of the dead pile of yellow jackets is the hole we had to "treat". I felt so bad for all of that little community's sacrifice to my safety. I wish Geeorge and Dick had one tenth of a conscience in their destruction of communities, animal, vegetable, and human, here and abroad, in my name but without my permission.
But I digress, here's the music, suitable for a late summer morning in Michigan.
En joy.

Live performance, amateur video, but it must be a trip to be there in person for a Sufjan Stevens performance. More polished stuff is on the cranky michigan greenie blog, but you can link in and find more professional videos on Youtube by clicking on the video.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

GTS - setting the painted lady free

Part two of my painted lady butterfly saga began this morning. It had hatched overnight. In one of these photos you can see the spent chrysalis hanging on the netting.

I thought about keeping it for Kayla and Aubrey to see late this afternoon, but would it be weakened by the wait? I don't know.... so I let it go.

I opened the door of my little hatching box and placed it near the African Blue Basil, wouldn't you think a butterfly would be attracted to that fragrance? I turned my back for a minute and it was gone! I caught a flash of orange in the corner of my eye. Must not have wanted to stick around for the rest of the photo shoot.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Gardeners, Plant and Nature Lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bald faced hornet nest

It really seemed to appear out of nowhere overnight no matter what Howard says! If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see a pretty good view of a bald faced hornet.

Very near the driveway, it has to go. I know, they're pollinators, but they chose the wrong spot for their nest. We also have a yellow jacket nest in the ground that looks exceedingly dangerous. Herb got stung by one, luckily only one, while mowing, and 2 year old Kayla almost ran into it while she was chasing the kitty. Sorry, its gotta go.

I almost hated to post this picture with that chlorotic maple. It is the bane of my gardening existence. I won it in a neighborhood yard and garden contest years ago, and it has never been right. Apparently it is one Maple cultivar that is particularly prone to chlorosis. It looks good in the winter, half the year here, but someday it's firewood.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

QAL Jelly

After last week's post about fragrance-flavored jellies and jam, I went outdoors to weed the flower border. As I was pulling Queen Anne's Lace, which is having a banner year, a lightbulb over my head lit.

Didn't I buy a little jar of QAL jelly from our speaker at the herb symposium this spring? Don't I know how to make jelly, and here was the very flower I'd admired in jelly on its way to the compost pile. Shame!

Nice jelly, made my easy-peasy way (as in last week's post) with apple jelly. But I do think the apple is a little too flavorful for the delicate taste of the QAL.
Next batch I'll have to try the more work method.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

making cement leaves with friends

The ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society met in Joyce's garage for our meeting. Joyce and Diane taught us how to make cement leaves! We also took a tour of Joyce's beautiful gardens and home and shared a salad supper. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
I took photos of the process so I could recall how to make more, but you would have really enjoyed photos of Joyce's home and garden, OMG! But somehow I would have felt strange blogging about someone else's stuff, maybe a little intrusive with the camera. I wouldn't make a good paparazzi.

We took our mud pies home to let them dry for 24 hours before finishing them, and here is what I ended up with: