Saturday, August 8, 2015

No Chemicals Need Apply

Two zucchinis harvested from my hugelkultur garden bed, proving that
you can have a very productive garden without any chemical inputs .

As most of you reading this post already know, our food system is in a mess today.  It seems like every single day I receive an email message asking me to sign a petition to stop corporate interests that are seeking to take over our food system, and I can't help but become increasingly frustrated with efforts to reduce our God-given right to determine for ourselves how and what we eat.

The issue of genetically modifying the very foods that we eat especially bothers me, because the pride in believing that human beings can just trump the wisdom of our Creator completely goes against the natural order of things.  Unlike traditional plant breeding, genetic engineering inherently changes the very fabric and foundations of life, and the consequences of those changes are often dire and end up out of control.  And even worse, it's all in the name of profits, environment and human beings be darned...

The very idea that we should spray poisons all over the food that we eat goes against the natural order of the world.  To me, such efforts are just more examples of where humans have sought control over something that they don't completely understand.  Nature, soil ecosystems, plants, and animals all have a complexity that does not conform to our simplified utilitarian view of how the world works.

Instead of seeking to understand how natural complex systems work and learning how to work with nature, we continue our command and control view that we must dominate over nature and fight and kill anything that seems to be harmful.  Never mind if that "harmful" thing (like a weed) is actually an adaptation to a changing environment or actually serves a purpose.  Never mind if they are actually taking advantage of a niche (such as unhealthy soil) and can work to heal it and bring up nutrients.

Now, I'm not saying that in some cases, drastic measures should not be taken, such as selectively using a (hopefully) minimally-harmful chemical treatment, to save a beloved tree from an invading pest.  However, when we do choose such chemical-based treatments, we need to weigh the pros and cons and the impacts of using such a method and perhaps consider how we got ourselves into such a predicament in the first place.  We should also consider whether we need to entirely change how we grow things.

I believe that, generally, when we find ourselves in need of controlling something or another, it is because something was out of balance in the first place.  In a healthy ecosystem (just as with a healthy body) where everything is in balance, there are many fewer opportunities for anything invasive to come in and take over, since all available niches are already in balance.

Quite often, when we have invasive species that come into an area, it is because there has been some disturbance and a niche has been opened up, allowing for something new to come in and become invasive.  For instance, in ecosystems, invasive plants often start out at roadside locations, where there have been issues of compacted soil and native plants are no longer thriving in that spot.  In other cases, human beings have purposely brought something new to an area, and then, Surprise! it escapes and now it's taking over everything.

In the case of agriculture, our obsession with growing large amounts of a single thing after a great deal of soil disturbances (tillage), absolutely leaves such a system vulnerable to attacks from pests who love to eat that particular thing.  You find yourself having to continually increase your level of toxicity to try to keep up with insect populations that continually become resistant to any of the chemical advancements on the market.  Since you have killed off nearly all of the beneficial soil microbes through the application of agricultural chemicals, and you now have soil that is nearly bankrupt of nutrition in the soil because your "fertilizers" only focus on a few select "nutrients" to "feed" the plants, you are left with crops that are dependent upon constant protection from pests through chemicals.

You also have "food" that is bankrupt of nutrition, and a boring monoculture of a landscape that no longer provides habitat for living things.  And, since such industrial conventional agricultural methods use certain chemicals that don't discriminate between the "harmful" and the beneficial insects, the pollinators that much of the food system is dependent upon are threatened and their numbers are plummeting.

Not to mention the fact that more and more of this global industrialized agriculture system is becoming centralized into just a handful of powerful multinational corporations, and does not respect the global environment that humanity and every other living creature on Earth depend upon to live.  Such as system certainly does not respect the power of people to have choice over what they eat and feed their families.

Man, what a circus that industrial agriculture has become!  For many reasons, we must stop this madness of control and monocultures that is threatening biodiversity and has greatly failed us in so many ways.

There is a Better Way
Much of this industrialized agriculture system evolved when we stopped growing and producing our own food and gave that responsibility over to someone else.  When we abdicate the production of our food over to other parties, we have many fewer opportunities to know how that food was produced.

With Big Food and Big Agriculture having such corporate control over the food system, we have two options to ensure a healthy and equitable food system: buy food from only producers that produce food with true sustainability in mind or to produce it ourselves.  By buying food from companies that we have no idea how it is being produced, we continue to feed the Big Food "monster" that makes profit from the destruction of the environment, destruction of our God-given right to healthy organic food, and the destruction of communities and lives around the world.

The truth is that if the majority of people in the world stopped giving money to these less-than-savory corporations in the first place, they would go out of business virtually over night.  What keeps those companies going (besides the bribery of our government officials) is that enough people are still buying their stuff.  While our powers to influence corrupted politicians that are deeply involved with special interests seem to be eroding today, we can help to stop them by how we spend and invest our money. If we instead support those companies and individual producers that are doing the right things for people and the environment, we are helping to steer the global food system in the right direction.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for awhile now knows that I believe firmly in producing as much food as you can yourself, including growing your own fruits and vegetables.  Every single thing that you produce yourself is one less thing that feeds the corporatocracy that is aiming to control what we eat and use in our daily lives.  Just be sure that whatever seeds you plant also have come from reputable companies that truly have ecology and sustainability at heart.

In my own garden, I have never used any garden chemicals, and I have only ever employed organic pest control methods.  I have had few weed issues, since I employ permaculture growing techniques such as mulching and the use of cardboard to reduce the opportunity for weeds to take ahold.  The weeds that I have had are much easier to pull out than a traditionally tilled garden because of the mulching that I employ.

I have a very productive home garden (as you can see in the picture above, the zucchinis that I have been harvesting from my new hugelkultur garden bed are huge!) with reduced work and reduced need for water.  I try to employ gardening techniques that work with nature and not against it, and I do not grow things in long rows of the same thing that would attract pests that love to eat that specific thing.

I understand that growing crops on a much larger scale is probably more of a challenge than a home-scale garden.  However, I know that many growers are now producing crops and other products using ecological methods such as biodynamic agriculture, organics, and large-scale permaculture, and finding a lot of success.  The idea that we must grow industrial farms to "feed the world" is utter nonsense, and a cultural belief that must be changed.

Perhaps we also need to change our view that we need just a few main food commodities to a view that supports a much more diversified diet that is more seasonally-based.  It really wasn't that long ago that traditional farming incorporated a variety of crops, and it was much more friendly to existing alongside local wildlife and other parts of nature.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

You Can Have Your Flowers and Eat Them Too!

Calendula blossoms in a salad.  Edible flowers are a great way to add some extra nutrition and vibrant color to your recipes.

Flowers can be very beautiful and help to attract pollinators, but to actually eat them?  This is indeed uncharted territory for many of us.  The idea of eating flowers was new to me until I started a garden three seasons ago. After all, how often do you see edible flowers for sale at the supermarket?  Never, really...

As it turns out, many flowers are quite edible, and many of those colorful blooms even have health benefits such as providing vitamins, minerals, and healing phytonutrients.

While the idea of eating flowers may sound a little strange, their consumption may not actually be that foreign to us, as many of us have enjoyed the benefits of herbal flower blossoms like lavender and chamomile that can be used in herbal teas and are very healing to the body.  Dandelion blossoms are also a well-known edible flower with many healing benefits.

My latest experiment with edible flowers has been to eat some of the calendula blossoms growing in my garden in salads.  After growing calendula for a couple of seasons and then using the flowers to make homemade lotions and salves, I decided to try eating them recently after learning how they can help to reduce inflammation in the body, help to heal the digestive tract, and have a number of other health benefits. 

Other ways to consume calendula blossoms are in teas and added to soups and stews.  They can be eaten both fresh and dried.  I found that the best way to eat them fresh has been to eat them with homemade raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing, but you may find your own favorite way to consume them. 

Be aware that although many flowers are edible and healthy for you, some of them are not edible and can actually be toxic, so it’s important to do some research to learn which ones you can consume and which ones to stay away from. 

It’s also very important to eat only those flowers that have not been sprayed with chemicals, are not harvested growing along roadsides, and to start out slowly to ensure that you do not have any adverse reactions to consuming flowers before consuming them in larger quantities.

For more information about edible flowers and which ones are safe to eat, this is a great resource to start with.