Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gardening is calmer than politics or activism

Hello everyone,

I hope you are fine and dandy.  

I've been watching garlic growing up through the straw-covered vegetable beds, and there's a lot of dead nettle blooming to feed the early pollinating insects.  It will go to compost or be dug in later when I need the space.  I hope your own gardens and lives are interesting too!

Gardening is a sensible, easy, calming thing to do.  All I have to do is watch things happen, and make a few choices about what to put where and when.  To a great extent, the plants give me hints.  The conversations with the plants are easy.

Political stuff ... that's hard.  

When I'm involved in an organization or activist undertaking, I usually try to use teacher training basics: acknowledge the good points everyone has made and go on from there. 

That's easy to do with individuals and small groups. These days, however, I am not satisfied with any of the three levels of government, and find it hard to start with good points anywhere.

I've got several thoughts that seem at odds, but have to have a way to be reconciled.

1.  As small groups in a community get together for change, we need to more purposefully communicate with and learn the procedures of the "higher ups." We need to learn the most effective advertising manipulation techniques, and all the rules of corporate war. (yes, functionally, this is a "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" strategy)

2.  We small groups need to be kinder to each other, acknowledge our peopleness, have some fun, plan for the victory (as Elizabeth May says in How to Save the World in Your Spare Time).  We'll also have to find ways to acknowledge the peopleness of and to be kind to the political electees.

3. People I talk to in community, environment and special interest groups are all energy-sapped from having to fight the "higher ups" on policy and for funds ...  we aren't taking the time to do the small kindnesses. 

4. I'm leaning - practically parallel to the floor! - toward saying that everything needs to come from people and small organizations first ... do-able project by do-able project ... then challenge the higher ups (government levels) to participate in what's right.

The question is: how to step completely aside from the systems that put all the barriers on progress, while keeping an eye on them to know how they're plotting to stop what you do outside the system?

It's even difficult to phrase.  

I think I'll go and weed grass out of the front gardens for a while.

Very best regards!

Why's Woman

Friday, April 19, 2013

Some thoughts on genetically modified alfalfa, and beyond

Hello everyone,

A week or so ago I took part in one of the 38 cross-Canada protests against the introduction of Genetically Modified Alfalfa into Canada.  I don't usually go out to rallies because I am crowd-phobic.  This crowd of about 90 people was friendly, didn't have a lot of loud chanting (or boring speeches), and didn't put me into a panic attack. I had a lot of good conversations.  Genetic modification of crops is a topic I've been reading on for over twelve ears ... the general "what it's all about" and implications for Canadian and international agriculture, and - most importantly - for the people who farm. The notes below are just some thoughts ... and you'll notice I've not gotten into health issues. Not because I don't have concerns or because I think the GMO'd products are safe!  It's just that that side of things is too big for me.  For me, just from the concerns to food and land sovereignty, concerns about corporatization of food and agriculture, and patenting of life .... well, I think all the agri-chemical companies are evil.  Yes, I've said it: evil.  And this will get trolls making comments, for sure.  Oh well.  Here's the text I actually printed out and wore as a sign.  Wow, a rally and a big sign.  Not my usual behaviour.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Some thoughts on genetically modified alfalfa, and beyond

Roundup Ready alfalfa seed is seed that has been altered so that, when glyphosate herbicide is sprayed on a field to kill weeds, growing alfalfa plants won't die from the glyphosate.  It is a Monsanto product; Monsanto is one of the 5 largest agri-chemical companies, worldwide.

Destruction of organics markets / job loss:  Genetically modified alfalfa will spread the modification to (will contaminate) non-genetically modified crops, either through pollen that drifts onto receptive alfalfa plants in other fields or when GM seeds get into another field and grow out. There's potential for Canadian domestic and (especially) export alfalfa markets to disappear. Farmers - organic farmers in particular - will lose money; workers will lose jobs.  This has already happened with canola and with flax.

That's just the visible tip of the deeply poisoned cyst that is genetic modification of seeds.

Patents and costs: All GM seeds are patented and cost more than non-GM seeds. Farmers have to sign agreements to buy the seeds. These say basically that the farmers will not save seeds from the resulting crop, and they won't have GM crops on their property unless they've paid for them. There are penalty clauses. Agri-chemical actually take plants from farmers' fields to test them for the GM trait, and sue the farmers if the GM trait has crossed into a next crop.  Keep in mind that  pollen and seed contamination happens between GM and non-GM crops.  The agri-chemical companies accept "settlement" money, or waste a farmer's time and money in court. 

Financially costly herbicide use cycle established: To grow to optimal yield these GM seeds have to be planted and grown on a schedule of herbicide use that kills basically everything in a field but the GM plant.  So farmers have to pay for herbicides as well as seeds.  The herbicides are made by the same companies that own the GM seeds. These companies make far more of their money from chemical sales than from seed sales.

Glyphosate responsible for herbicide resistant weeds:  Over the last 10/15/20 years, weeds resistant to glyphosate have been surviving and maturing to set seed. Their offspring have grown out more resistant weed plants - dubbed "superweeds" by media and science. Now, glyphosate as a general herbicide is less effective on one application (kills fewer weeds) and more applications are needed or combination herbicides are needed. (This is analogous to overuse of antibiotic drugs and resistant forms of diseases becoming the norm: stronger drugs needed).

Glyphosate kills soil life: Glyphosate herbicide damages soil micro-organisms. Right down at the plant root / soil interface (the rhizosphere) the glyphosate is changing all sorts of chemical/physiological happenings.  Damaged soil doesn't "get better" if you just leave it fallow the next year; glyphosate is persistent in the soil.  Glyphosate also kills earthworms, those amazing critters that aerate the soil and digest organic material so nutrient is available for plants.

Farmers' skills are ignored.  Farmers traditionally learn both the practical and science of growing our food. They know how to care for their land, develop seed suited to their area and that grows out well. It should remain their RIGHT to save the best seed from these best plants that they breed.

Is Canada food secure if it cannot feed itself without poisons embedded in its seeds?
Is Canada food sovereign if giant chemical companies own its seeds?
written by an uncompromising organic home gardener, London, Ont.  April 9, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Frugality, quality, artistry - in books and everything else

Good morning everyone,

I hope you are well.  We've had a lot of rain! Things are greening up. I hope your garden is doing well too.

I've just finished reading an Agatha Christie mystery titled The Seven Dials Mystery.

I'm a great fan of Agatha Christie. She understood people, there's a lot of humour and social insight in her characters, and as for plots, well, there are a lot of story lines that she wrote first. The Seven Dials Mystery  is a whacking good story!

It is the actual, physical copy of the book that I want to comment on here, however.

The edition I have is Penguin's 1948 edition of her 1929 work.  The paper looks like newsprint.  The pages are thin; when I turn them and two stick together I can see the print from the next page ghosting through. The page cuts are imperfect: the text is printed so close to the outside margins of the page that sometimes a cut has sliced through the outermost letters. The print on the page is not exactly square to the cut pages; I'll attribute that to the cutting, not the typesetter. 

The paper is low quality, probably because in 1949 England was still under "restrictions" as to how materials were used, and how much was used.  This was a carry over from World War II; restrictions on goods continued into 1953 or 1954.

My 1949 Seven Dials Mystery may have continued intact because the book hasn't had hard use.  Beyond that, its pages are intact because the pages were sewn in, not glued.  There was a quality production method used.  I'll choose to think that it was because the publisher knew its readers wanted a product that would last. 

Further - and to my complete delight - this book must be part of a special edition series.  The cover is a marbled green and black paper, with coordinating green binding tape.  The title and author's name are in embossed gold print - all capitals - on the spine.  I don't know if the series was just Agatha Christie's stories, or if it was a series of Penguin favorites. 

I do know why I'm writing about this pocket book.

It's because it's an example of using resources available as frugally as possible, and including artistry in the work.  It's making something to last, putting in quality.  Penguin books have a long history of bringing a wide range of topics to readers at a price they could afford.  

I think that, now and even more in future, we are going to have to combine frugality, quality, and artistry in products ... because we won't be having as many of them, as easily and ubiquitously available and we will need to craft our opportunities for delight.

There's my little speech for the day.  And if you haven't read any Agatha Christie mysteries, put her on your reading list. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was her first, of 85!

Best regards!

Why's Woman

Saturday, April 6, 2013

TED Talk - Reversing desertification by using wholistic, planned grazing

Hello everyone,

I hope you are well.

Since my last post, and quite by coincidence, I've run across more condemnations of Canada's being ordered to pull out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and I've listened to a terrific TED Talk by Allan Savory in which he discusses a livestock grazing technique that heals the land, encourages plant growth, and must surely have a lot of positive effects on water retention in the soil.

The talk, How Holistic Mob Grazing Can Green Desertified Grasslands and Reverse Global Warming, is found at 

In this presentation, ecologist Allan Savory explains how planned, wholistic grazing of livestock - with its mix of dung, urine and trampling grasses into a more easily decomposed mass by the next growing season - works to speed up decomposition of vegetation and ultimately makes for better soil that grows more plants which have more roots to hold soil. Basically, the wholistic, planned grazing is a way of having less bare soil; bare soil is much more prone to losing water, which leads to erosion.  Savory also points out how the system is tied to carbon and water, so becomes a way of retaining carbon in the soil; this could help lower the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Overgrazing by livestock had been thought to be a main cause of desertification, as well as a source of environmental methane.  But examples from US national parks - where by one means or another large  herds of grazers and their predators were removed - show large areas of increasing desert conditions, and  rising temperatures in the microclimates.  Examples from other countries too show that we need to understand an entire ecosystem to reverse desertification ...including the cycles of humid and dry seasons.  Plants grow differently under those circumstances. Particularly, there's not enough plant growth during a dry season to keep soil covered; covered soil holds moisture in.

Argh!  Me trying to explain this!  Well, check out Savory's talk.  He gets all the technical points in more easily than I can. And you get to see the changes brought about by the planned grazing. The photos are really exciting

As I listened to Savory I wondered whether two people dedicated to wholistic land management knew about Savory: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and a dedicated livestock shifter; and Prince Charles, who is an organics advocate and concerned with rainforest and natural area conservation.  Both did.  No surprise.

There are a few more things I want to write about - like David Suzuki's column on Canada pulling out of the UNCCD effort,  but I've got to get at making dinner.. 

Ah, realities.

Take care!

Why's Woman

Africa Centre for Holistic Management ( in Zimbabwe, a learning site for people all over Africa. In 2010, the Centre won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for its work in reversing desertification.
In that same year he and his wife, with others, founded the Savory Institute ( in Boulder, Colorado, to promote large-scale restoration of the world's grasslands.