Thursday, October 29, 2009

Censorship by the food industry

What's So Scary About Michael Pollan? Why Corporate Agriculture Tried to Censor His University Speech

Agribusiness is trying to combat Pollan's message of sustainable, healthy eating.

By Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet. Posted October 28, 2009.

Even if agribusiness could shut Michael Pollan up, the outspoken author of Omnivore's Dilemma and a journalism professor at University of California, Berkeley, it still has the Los Angeles Times to contend with.

Last week, the Times blasted California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo for downgrading a scheduled Pollan lecture because it received pressure from David E. Wood, a university donor who happens to be chairman of the Harris Ranch Beef Co.

"Agribusiness gets plenty of opportunities to preach its point of view at agriculture schools such as Cal Poly, where the likes of Monsanto and Cargill fund research," the Times wrote, calling the 800-acre Harris Ranch, near Coalinga, whose "smell assaults passersby long before the panorama of thousands of cattle packed atop layers of their own manure,"--"Cowschwitz." Ouch.

And agribusiness has the University of Wisconsin-Madison to deal with.

The land grant, ag-based university, in the middle of dairyland, clearly doesn't remember its roots. It gave Pollan's In Defense of Food, another anti-agbiz screed according to industry, free to all incoming freshmen as part of its common book read program where everyone reads the same book, Go Big Read, in August.

"I have not seen the students this excited about something in years," Irwin Goodman, horticulture professor and vice dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences told the Associated Press as the James Beard Award-winning book was discussed in French and political science classes and included in an exhibit on the history of food.

Protesting farmers who came to hear Pollan speak at the university's 17,000-seat Kohl Center in September wearing matching green T-shirts which said "In Defense of Farming: Eat Food. Be Healthy. Thank Farmers" were clearly outnumbered. So were bumper stickers reading No Food; No Farms and Don't Criticize Farmers With Your Mouth Full in the parking lot.

Students get all their facts from writers like Pollan, the farmers, who were bussed in by Madison-based feed company Vita Plus, told the Capital Times. They have never visited a farm for first-hand knowledge of food production and don't know what they're talking about.

But efforts to open farms to the public are not always successful.

This month United Egg Producers' "Opening the Barn Doors" media tour at Morning Fresh Farms in northern Colorado, for example, only confirmed the size of today's egg farm that make humane conditions impossible (36 barns; 23,000 birds each, 23 million dozen eggs a year) and raised further questions about environmental blight by showing the press wearing white HazMat suits to enter the barns. (See: You want us to eat WHAT?)

Last month the American Egg Board rolled out a kid-focused "The Good Egg" campaign which includes sponsorship of Sesame Street, a Cookie Monster product placement and a feel good virtual tour to soften public opinion about egg farms. But nowhere does the campaign address the daily grinding up of newborn males even as they hatch at the hatcheries which supply egg farms to provide the industry with only females--a practice that United Egg Producers confirms is routine. Does the Cookie Monster know about that?

Nor can all that crowding and all those chemicals be good for you, Pollan has written and many studies suggest.

But agribusiness is also combating last year's American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund study that found the link between processed meats and colon cancer so strong, the organizations advised consumers to change their eating habits.

Trent Loos, an outspoken columnist with the agbiz weekly, Feedstuffs, says nitrosamines, found in processed or cured meat and widely believed carcinogenic, may actually be good for you, preventing and treating "cardiovascular and other diseases associated with nitric oxide insufficiency in the diet."

"Nitric oxide is an important signaling molecule in the human body to regulate numerous physiological functions including blood flow to tissues and organs," write Loos of research conducted by Dr. Nathan Bryan at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Texas, Houston. "The regular intake of nitrite-containing food appears to ensure that blood and tissue levels of nitrite and nitric oxide pools in the body are maintained at adequate levels."

Some of the ag press has even picked up the theory--but don't expect a Pollan book called In Defense of Nitrites anytime soon.

Link here

Why Grow Food?

The past week I've been reflecting on why I undertook this project in the first place. What's so important about growing your own food when we can just drive to the supermarket and get all the goodies and fresh produce that our hearts (and bellies) desire...and at all times of the year? If I grew my own food and in combination ate only locally, I would not be able to buy really anything from a big-chain supermarket. Why go through all this trouble when the easy thing to do is continue with the business as usual approach?

Meet Michael Pollan. He is a journalism professor at agricultural school Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University) and author of many recently famous books, including 'The Omnivores Dilemma', 'Botany of Desire', and 'In Defense of Food'. The one I'm reading now is Omnivores Dilemma... and just 80 pages deep I've already been shocked by the images described.

What a disgusting and unnatural food system we have. Corn being fed (the main diet) to animals that never ate corn in their entire evolutionary existence... only being given this because it's cheaper, faster and gets them fatter than grass alone would (for cows). Chickens, hogs and now even fish are being forced to eat this diet of grains. But who cares, corn is good for you, right?

Let's toss in some antibiotics while we're at it. That will help the numerous sick animals that are sick because of the diet we're feeding them and the conditions they are living in. The mass production of meat is a horrible sight to see...

And then we eat these animals which ate the antibiotics we fed them. What's bad about that? Well, the diseases that we (humans) get are sometimes so powerful that we need antibiotics to help heal ourselves. Michael Pollan forecasts a frightening future where today's diseases are actually developing immunities to these antibiotics. And since we're ingesting the animals that eat these antibiotics regularly, there will come a time when the antibiotics will no longer work effectively. The common cold could end up killing us somewhere down the road...

Now, I'm not telling everyone to become vegetarians, but if you want to eat meat, I urge you to buy locally and buy organic. The other shit that's out there is so horrible for your body and for the planet... and don't get me started about the greedy corporate interests.

I've only given you a glimpse of the current system. I haven't even talked about Monsanto patenting seeds and sue-ing farmers for saving any to plant the following year (which is exactly what farmers did for the previous ten thousand years.)

I've gotten really fired up about this and I don't even remember the last time I really got angry. Greedy, greedy people have a frightening control over the food distribution system and the world as we know it. I urge everyone to go out there and plant their own garden, support your local economy, eat healthy, and to read one of Michael Pollan's books.

If you don't have time to read or are a movie person, go to the following link and watch the movie "FOOD INC." for free!

I hope that some of you will begin to do a little research on where your food comes from, or at least think twice about it. Honestly, I don't see how anyone could eat the same way after watching this video and reading Michael Pollan's words. Be prepared to be shocked...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Almost done with sheet mulching

I haven't gotten a chance to post pictures of last weekend. Here they are. We are almost completely finished with the beds... just 2 to go (hopefully finishing before I leave Sunday). Right now I'm just waiting on some wood chips to arrive, and also taking out a few shrubs.

That was the rhododendrin last spring. Looks nice, but it was not very beneficial (shades most of that bed, is overgrown with prickers, and takes up lots of space)

We removed it (Scotty!) and put a "V" path in the middle, for easier harvesting.

With mulch, along with the rest of our yard...

The 9 large beds, which were just grass only a month ago.

A picture of the house from the start of the main path. It will look more aesthetically pleasing come spring, but for now it's just trying to get everything done before the ground becomes solid (frozen!)

That's probably all the pictures I'll post for awhile. But stay tuned! The best part has yet to come...

Master Healer & Shapeshifter Apprenticeship: Sacred Ground Part I

I'm going away... again. Another week-long course has come up that will fill my head with an assortment of knowledge. This one may seem strange to some of you, but to others it won't seem strange at all. I honestly cannot give you a very lengthy description, because I don't know much about this course. A good friend of mine got me into the course last minute. Again, I cannot say thank you enough to everyone who is helping guide me on this path.

Website description:

This intensive, experiential shapeshifter training combines modern methods with ancient wisdom from cultures around the world—the Amazon basin, Asian steppe, the Himalayas, sacred Mayalands, deserts of Iran and Egypt, islands of Indonesia, and the high Andes—offering a comprehensive training unavailable anywhere else.

During the apprenticeship, those of all skill levels in shamanic work are initiated into powerful shapeshifting and transformational approaches, practice centuries-old healing forms and rituals from original cultures, and join a world-encompassing family of healers committed to individual and global balance.

In this unprecedented period of personal and global change, we are being urged to recognize that we and our planet are one living organism. This training cultivates the spiritual support, consciousness, and skills we need to help us navigate these times with clarity and compassion. Join with like-minded others as we heal, evolve, and manifest a new world dream.

Sacred Ground - Part 1

Shamans are the spiritual mediators for their communities, those who maintain the balance between spirit, humans, and the natural world. All of life is founded on these primary relationships, as well as the notions that everything is sacred and that our natural world is alive, sentient, and can be communicated with.

In Part 1 of the apprenticeship, we establish our shamanic connection to sacred ground, and are introduced to the foundations of the intensive healing forms and rituals that we learn in Part 2 of this training. As we open to sacred forces, we:

  • Practice energetic exercises that heighten awareness and evoke sacred space
  • Draw upon “clan wisdom” in a powerful community setting
  • Walk the shamanic “path of light,” initiated by ancient ceremonies and rites
  • Retrieve and receive huacas (sacred items) and spirit guides
  • Work intimately with the elements, helper spirits, and local guardians
  • Read “karmic winds” and the energy history of the lands, waters, locations, and events
  • Read the human energy profile utilizing candles, stone, and tobacco divination
  • Extract heavy, or disharmonious, energies from the body using eggs and plants
  • Cleanse shamanically with plants, tobacco, and water camaying (breath of spirit)
  • Get initiated and trained to channel fire into the Shapeshifter’s “breath of fire"
I feel extremely fortunate to be attending this course. Instructor, John Perkins wrote the book "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" and has an extensive knowledge about Shamanism. Llyn Roberts has also been studying Shamanism for many years. I have a good feeling that in this particular course, I will experience things unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Who knows what people I'm going to meet and how this next week will change me. I leave Sunday, Oct. 18 and return on Oct. 25. The course is at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.

If you're interested in what was just explained, feel free to contact me and I'm sure we can have some very interesting conversations. Love and healing,


Monday, October 5, 2009

Sharing knowledge

I spoke with a few people about how to make this project more known... in hopes of increasing awareness and inspiring people to undertake similar projects themselves. Because that is the most important thing with all of this permaculturing - getting more people interested and involved.

I always think about my ego when undertaking projects of this magnitude. I want to share this knowledge with others but I don't want to come off looking superior in any way - there's no point in that. But it's selfish not to bring forth this information to the public. As long as my heart is in the right place and I know deep down inside that I'm not doing promoting the project to boost my own ego, it's fine to make signs, fliers, and contact media outlets.

So that's what we did. Here's the sign that Kenzie and I made yesterday night.

Lot's of posing this morning in the yard - thanks Sean for taking pictures when you were in a rush for class!

Lots of love for the tree that's holding our sign.

And me being goofy, of course. I put up stand that has an information sheet about the project. Neighbors have been walking by and staring curiously at what we are doing. Now they can read a one-page handout about what's happening and why our yard looks the way it does. Below is a copy of the information sheet that neighbors have been reading (some of it is repeated what has already been said in past blog entries, so skim those parts if you want.) Happy reading!

Project description:

To all those who are concerned for our planet's future, who want to help heal the Earth in some way or another, here is an opportunity. My name is Ryan Harb I am 23 years old and I am a graduate student at UMass Amherst. The degree that I will be obtaining is in "green building," but more specifically, I am now focusing all of my energy toward the land.

To graduate with a M.S. in green building from UMass, one must complete a 6-credit practicum (internship) related to the field. I have always been a self-motivated person and decided from the start that I would create a project to serve as my practicum.

It had to be something big. It had to be something that would get people talking. Most of all it had to be educational; something that people would actually want to learn about which would benefit both the individual personal and the planet as a whole. The goals were clear and the project developed after months of consultation and exploration. 3 Willow Lane, will soon become model permaculture edible forest garden.

You might be wondering, "what is permaculture?" Originally the term was coined by an Australian named Bill Mollison (he merged the words permanent and agriculture). It involves "fixing" the soil, planting edible perennials (fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes, and vegetables), utilizing the symbiotic relationships between certain plants, increasing the biodiversity and being low maintenance.

The process:

Currently we are in the process of sheet mulching, otherwise known as "lasagna gardening." Although it may look like we tilled (turned) the soil, we instead aerated the soil with digging forks (similar to pitch forks). On top of this is a 2-3 inch layer of compost which adds organic matter to the soil. The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard. The cardboard prevents light from getting through and this prevents weed growth. Soon it decomposes which adds to the soil and attracts beneficial insects (worms especially love cardboard.) Wood chips are placed on the very top to hold in moisture and to weight down the cardboard.


Over the next few weeks, the remaining portion of the yard will be completed using the method described above. This yard will look like a bunch of wood chips for the next few months (or snow…) but when spring comes, the soil will be ready for planting. By late spring, the yard will be in full swing, with harvests coming as soon as next summer.

Want to help / learn?

Throughout October, myself and other students will be working diligently in the yard, making this transportation happen. If you would like to help, please join us! We have plenty of tools and work to be done. Call ahead if you would like, or if you have questions.


Please contact Ryan Harb for any questions you might have.


Cell: (978) 314-1176

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Perma best day ever...

Accomplishment is a great feeling. I had the goal of completing three more beds this weekend... which may seem like a manageable task but it's much more work than it sounds. Each bed takes about 15-20 wheel barrels full of compost and 15-20 pounds of mulch.

However, it's the cardboard that takes the most time: collecting it from dumpsters, peeling off all the tape / staples, and then laying it over the compost so that there are no holes showing (overlapping by 6 inches). It takes A LOT of cardboard to do one bed, and it has to be wet before the mulch is put on top. Since it was raining all of yesterday, I put out all of the cardboard so that the rain would do some of the work for me.

Here's some pictures from the day:

After all the cardboard had been laid...

...And then after the mulch was spread

Of the whole yard:

6 hours spent being productive...

My friend Kenzie, who I met in the permaculture course this summer stopped by and helped me finish.

Thank you, Kenzie!

...And pushups in the garden.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Progress being made!

After a great initial work-day last Saturday, there was (is) still plenty of work to be done. As mentioned before, we ran completely out of compost. Therefore, we hired a dumptruck to grab 15 additional yards and deliver it to our driveway (the picture doesn't do it justice for how much it really is.) That's 30,000 pounds worth compost... in addition to the 10,000 pounds we already spread.

Rather than covering the entire yard with compost, a basic design (bed layout) for the yard was sketched out and marked with sticks.

Next, the soil-fixing minerals were placed directly onto the mowed-grass and compost was placed on top. The beds are complete when wet cardboard is placed over the compost and mulch on top of that.

7:30am on Friday before work - going at it.

The compost is so warm in the middle of the pile from the decomposition that's occurring. You can literally see the steam coming off of it and mixing with the cool morning air!

We're getting there... by October 10 we should have most or all of the yard complete, depending on how many people show for sheet-mulching part II.

I'm going to say this multiple times throughout these blog postings, but I cannot say thank you enough to all those who have helped me so far:
  • All my roommates for being out there with us last Saturday, and helping with the tedious tasks like removing the tape from all of the cardboard boxes.
  • The countless others who joined us for 4+ hours on a Saturday morning / afternoon.
  • Steve at Amherst Recycling for being so great and giving us heaps and heaps of free mulch, and delivering it, too!
  • Snowball for saving my butt when I was faced with shoveling the 10,000 pounds of compost into a Uhaul in under an hour.
  • UMass Waste Management for providing us with all of the compost and GardenShare for the tools
  • Sarah for helping get the mulch - so key!
  • Leah for coming by and keeping my spirits high - doing sheet mulching with others is highly preferable to doing it alone.
Ya'll are great - many more thank you's coming.

Thanks, James!