Louisa Enright's Blog

Mainely Tipping Points

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Turkey Tracks: My Bowl Runneth Over

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Turkey Tracks:  June 29, 2014

My Bowl Runneth Over

My strawberries are coming in!

Here’s the first day’s pick–Friday.  Something over two quarts.  The bowl is large.

These berries are, if I remember right, called “Sparkle” and are renowned for their taste.

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The second day was even bigger.  I took a bigger bowl out to the garden.  Got around three quarts.

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Today, Sunday, a smaller pick, but the berries are still large, and the bushes are loaded with developing strawberries that are still green.

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I also cut the garlic scapes (delicious!) and will make a soup with them.  I made a chicken bone broth over the past two days.  And, I picked the heads off of each of the broccoli plants–now they will bush out and grow more heads.  Or so I hope.

Our first CSA pickup out at Hope’s Edge was last Friday.  We got the loveliest sack full of lettuce, greens, herbs, green onions AND three pounds of wintered-over potatoes–a tasty treat.  Get out the duck fat for frying some up!

It’s swimming HOT today.  But not so humid.  It’s the first solid summer heat we’ve had.

Yeah Summer!

Written by louisaenright

June 29, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Turkey Tracks: First Strawberries

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Turkey Tracks:  June 23, 2013

First Strawberries

Well, they’re the second picking actually.

Sister-in-law Maryann Enright got the first bowl as I assured her I would be picking more later in the afternoon as they ripened in the sun and that she MUST eat some before she had to leave for her drive back to Boston.

Strawberries, June 2013

This strawberry is “Sparkle,” and it is known for its delicious taste.  It does not always keep its rich color if you freeze berries–and I do–but it always keeps its delicious taste.  These are as sweet, sweet as can be–though they are a bit larger than normal.  That would be an effect of all the rain I suspect.

Still…

Delicious!

And no comparison to those sour store-bought babes.

Written by louisaenright

June 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Mainely Tipping Points 26: Strawberries in Winter

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Mainely Tipping Points 26:  Strawberries in Winter

STRAWBERRIES IN WINTER

 It’s February, and in Maine, it’s bitter cold more often than not. We seek out heat and the warmth of the fiery color red.  Not surprisingly, along comes St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th—a day set by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD to honor the martyred Roman Valentine, killed in 269 AD.  This once-Christian holiday was likely overlaid onto a Roman mid-February pagan fertility celebration marking the beginning of spring and of the year’s agricultural calendar.  The associative color red possibly derived from the use of sacrificial blood during the festivities.   

Many of us are longing for spring, and in these mid-February days, along come red, luscious looking strawberries.  These early heralds of “come spring” fruit are shipped to us here in the frozen north mostly from California, which grows “roughly 90 percent of all strawberries sold in the United States” (“Death by Strawberries,” change.org weekly, Nov. 29-December 6, 2010, http://www.askdepkewellness.com/2010/12/death-by-strawberries.html). 

The idea of chocolate-covered strawberries makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?  They’re the ultimate dessert for lovers in February.  But, before you eat them or feed them to your loved ones, consider some cautions.

First, industrially raised strawberries come to you drenched with toxic chemical residues.  Second, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes in its “dirty dozen” handout that rinsing “reduces but does not eliminate pesticides” (http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf).  And, third, the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the ,President’s Cancer Panel links exposure to pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) and fertilizers with the formation of cancer in humans.  The report notes that parental exposure to pesticides can impact children prior to conception, in utero, and during childhood (43). 

Strawberries are ranked third on the EWG’s 2010 Dirty Dozen list, which is formed after residue testing is completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  EWG’s rankings reflect at least six factors, including the total amount of pesticide residues found  and the total amount of different pesticides used. 

Will Allen, in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), notes that between 2000 and 2005, 97.3 percent of nectarines had pesticide residues, followed by 96.6 percent of peaches and 93.6 percent of apples.  Strawberries ranked fourth.  Peaches and apples, writes Allen, had up to 9 pesticides on a single fruit, and strawberries had up to 8 pesticides on single berries.  Apples had the most residues of all with up to 50 pesticides found on samples.  Strawberries had up to 38 pesticides (242). 

Allen also cautions that very few states have mandatory pesticide use reporting, so there is massive underreporting of the amount of pesticides on our food.  Because California does have a reporting requirement, Allen was able to determine that in 2004, California strawberry growers used just over 11 million pounds of pesticides on an estimated 33,200 acres, or 335.40 pounds per acre (243-244).

In 2004, notes Allen, strawberry growers in California used 184 different pesticides.  But, 80.6 percent of these pesticides were confined to six chemicals.  Four of these six chemicals accounted for 74.1 percent of use and are fumigants “designed to kill all soil life and are among the most dangerous pesticides.”  These four fumigants amounted to about 249 pounds per acre of use. 

Among these four fumigants is methyl bromide, or bromomethane, which was banned in 1987 by the Montreal Protocol because it depletes the ozone layer around earth.  In total, 196 states have ratified this international treaty; President Reagan signed it in 1987.

Yet, twenty-four years later, our government is still allowing strawberry growers, principally in California and Florida, to use methyl bromide under “critical use” exemptions.   According to Wikipedia, in 2004, over 7 million pounds of bromomethane were applied in California on tomatoes and strawberries, in ornamental shrub nurseries, and for the fumigation of ham/pork products” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromomethane).  The EPA is now accepting 2011 applications for 15 crops, to include “tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucurbits, orchard replants, and post-harvest uses (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/mbr/2010_nomination.html). 

According to the EPA, methyl bromide is “highly toxic,” especially for application workers.  Further, the EPA acknowledges that breathing it damages the lungs.  And, once inside the body, it can have a devastating neurological impact and can impact the thyroid and the male testes, which affects reproduction.  And guess what?  Though methyl bromide has been used agriculturally since the 1930s and though it has always been recognized as being highly toxic, the EPA doesn’t know whether or not it causes cancer (http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/methylbr.html). 

Indeed, the President’s Cancer Panel notes that “approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probably, or possible human carcinogens, are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market” (45). 

Allen notes the following:  “Methyl bromide…causes mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects.  It is incredibly lethal in very small doses:  consequently very few of its victims survive.  Unlike the case for many other chemicals, pest resistance to methyl bromide has been low, with only a dozen or so organisms that have shown any tolerance to it after almost seventy years of continuous exposure.  This lack of resistance is clearly due to the fact that the chemical kills almost all of the members of a population and leaves few if any resistant survivors” (234). 

Allen demonstrates in THE WAR ON BUGS how the chemical industry replaces a discredited chemical with a new, largely untested chemical.  The EPA approved the fumigant methyl iodide, or iodomethane, in 2007 at 193 parts per billion (ppb).  At the time, fifty-four academic scientists and physicians, among them six Nobel laureates, wrote the EPA and asked for the chemical to be banned ((Jill U. Adams, “A Closer Look:  Pesticides in strawberry fields,” June 28, 2010, The Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/28/health/la-he-closer-strawberries-pesticide-20100628; and “Death by Strawberries”).    

On December 20, 2010, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved methyl iodide for use in strawberry fields, despite the fact that the eight-person independent scientific review panel the DPR appointed to review the chemical declared that it is highly toxic, that its use would expose large numbers of the public, and that it would be difficult to control” (Pesticide Action Network Action Alert, “Because PR can’t trump science, if you speak up,”   http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DeathofCommonSense/message/1351).  Additionally, methyl iodide is listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a carcinogen ((Julie Cart, “Farmworkers challenge approval of methyl iodide on strawberry fields,” The Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/11/methyl-iodide-pesticide-cancer-california.html?cid=6a00d8341c630a53ef013489abc225970c).  The panel noted that methyl iodide can alter DNA and can contaminate groundwater.  And, the panel cautioned that the lack of research on the chemical should give the DPR pause and that tests on animals link methyl iodide to miscarriages, cognitive impairment and thyroid toxicity (Cart).   

The California DPR mandated 96 ppb, which is more than either the risk assessment scientists within the DPR or the panel recommended.  The DPR scientists settled on 0.8 ppb, and panel member Edward Loechler, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Boston, said “we all thought, if anything, it should be lower.”  Panel member Dr. Paul Blanc, head of the occupational and environmental medicine division at UC San Francisco said, “that’s not policy—that’s meddling with the science” (Adams). 

Adams noted that Susan Kegley, who consults for The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), pointed to a study released in June about the air in Sisquoc, California.  Levels of chloropicrine, a soil fumigant, were higher than either the EPA or the California DPR consider safe.  (Treated fields are covered immediately with tarps.) Kegley noted that the same thing could happen with methyl iodide. 

Shortly after the California DPR’s ruling, a group of environmental and community health organizations, representing agricultural workers, challenged the ruling in court on the grounds that it violates, among other laws, the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act (Cart).

Strawberries, like all industrial monocrop cultures, are grown in sterile, toxic soil; are lacking nutrients; and will continue to require increasingly heavier toxic chemical loads. It is becoming abundantly clear that commerce has corrupted science and our regulatory mechanisms so that permitted chemical levels are harming humans—which is why the President’s Cancer Panel Report recommends reducing exposure to pesticides by choosing “food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”

Our own, local, organic strawberries, available in June and for most of the summer, seem more than worth the wait.

Tipping Points 4: The Emperor Has No Clothes

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 4

April 7, 2010

The Emperor Has No Clothes

 Will Allen was the keynote speaker at the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) Common Ground Fair in September 2009.  I would have gone to hear him rain or shine.  His 2008 book THE WAR ON BUGS is a history of agricultural and home-use chemicals in the United States.  Allen tells this ugly story to spotlight the Emperor’s nakedness:  our society does not have a mechanism to protect people from the excesses of the market.  Corporations, acting rationally in their own best interests, are making irrational decisions that adversely affect everyone.   

The historical process Allen describes is present in the development of most American industries, but if we look at just the agricultural and home-use chemical industry, we can see clearly how irrationality has replaced rationality, how we are all, including those making decisions within this industry, being massively poisoned.  Allen exposes how the modern web of players—corporate industry, scientists in academia, media, politicians, and the government organizations whose charters are to protect citizens—cooperate to relentlessly and, so far, successfully push the products of this industry. 

Allen tells how the loss of nourishing soil fertility begins in Europe alongside the birth of the capitalistic paradigm.  The landgrab enclosure movement of 1400-1500 halts the use of the common lands; forces large numbers of peasants to relocate to cities, which makes their labor available for industry; and allows, for a few individuals at the top of the society, the acquisition of both land and cheap labor.  The stage–designed by those with the cultural power to change the laws and to control the policing mechanisms–is set now for agricultural profit taking and the accumulation of capital.  Productivity, however, declines (3-4). 

This process of careless large-scale monocrop farming is duplicated in America, except for a small group of mostly small, northern, self-sufficient yeoman farmers (3-15).  Rich men exhausted land fertility and moved to new land–which was, often, given to land companies for free or for a few cents an acre by the government in charge (21-22).  For instance, in 1749 a land grant from King George II helped organize The Ohio Company.  By 1792, after the Revolution, this land company controlled 6,700,000 acres of land along the Ohio River, making George Washington, one of this land company’s leaders, one of the richest men in America (6).        

By the early 1800s, soil fertility on large-scale farms was devastated (13).  But, the first chemical quick fix was discovered.  Peruvian bird guano, mined by slaves and prisoners, was imported in the late 1820s–until supplies were exhausted in the late 1850s (25-26).  Next, fertilizer merchants created, manufactured, and sold, with relentless, repetitive advertising campaigns, attempted copies of the natural guano (30-31). 

So, writes Allen, the stage is now set for the seemingly benign and cheap chemical fix for ruined land, for pest control on monocrops, and for the promise of the reduction of labor costs.  But, the actual price was and is the continued degradation of the land and of the food since, while these farmers produced cheaper food, this food was of poorer quality and contained poisons (139). 

Also, the developing commercial fertilizer industry allowed the continued acquisition of land by large-scale commercial farms since the process whereby small farmers who could not compete lost their land accelerated (46).  Additionally, large-scale farmers had political power.  They could and did control access to the developing transportation systems bringing food to markets that were becoming increasingly centralized in cities (66-67). 

The next set of fertilizers, continues Allen, are the waste products of industry:  sodium nitrate from salt mining; arsenic and lead pesticides from iron and copper smelting, fabric dyeing, and paint manufacturing; cyanide gas from ammonium-cyanide production; natural gas and hydrogen used to make nitrogen for fertilizers, from gasoline or coke manufacturing; and fluorine from uranium mining.  So, as time passed, our food, more and more, was grown with industrial wastes (xxv-xxvi). 

But, what Allen is able to show by looking so closely at the history of this industry is the pattern that evolves for American industry formation.  What evolves alongside the markets for these waste products—and which still exists–is a top-down imposition of junk science.  Industry endows academic “research” departments and laboratories to support the use of industrial waste products.  Academia ignores actual data from the field that does not support the new message.  Industry organizes relentless advertising campaigns and heavily invests in the media, like farm journals, which promote the claims of the junk science that sells the waste product.  Industry controls politically the government mechanisms that should be protecting citizens.  And, anyone who protests or offers actual scientific proof that the junk science is flawed is ridiculed and/or run out of the arena (35-39, 68-73, 77-79, 82-91).          

This industry knows exactly how dangerous these chemicals are to human health because most of these chemicals (fluorines, carbonates, organophosphates, bromines, pyrethrum powder, and rotenone) were extensively tested during the war years.  The U.S. Army, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the USDA, and the “dominant chemical companies on the American side” tested thousands of old and new chemicals for their toxic potential during the war years” (131).  And, the Nazis and the cartel of companies known as I. G. Farben “experimented with all the known chemicals on concentration-camp victims throughout World War II” (129).  Yet the legal process to ban chemicals in America is limited to fights to ban a single chemical, rather than classes of chemicals, and this industry wages all out war to prevent any chemical, no matter how dangerous, from being banned 235).    

The ugly truth is that these chemicals either do not get regulated or, when regulated, are not policed adequately.  Arsenic, a heavy metal that is acutely toxic, is still in agricultural use today and will have a continued presence in agricultural soils for up to 100 years (124).  Arsenic causes cancer, lung and stomach damage, and serious debilitation to people or animals exposed to application drift (233). 

Methyl bromide has been scheduled for banning for ten years, but politically powerful large-scale strawberry, grape, and fruit farmers in California and Florida successfully obtained special-exemption uses in 2007 and 2008.  This chemical has already caused serious environmental degradation from aquifer to ozone.  In humans it causes “mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects” and is “incredibly lethal in very small doses so that pest resistance does not develop” (233-234, 244).   

Many banned chemicals, like DDT, suspended in 1972, creep back into patented chemical formulas (Kelthane) as part of the secret “inerts” ingredients.  This company was not fined by the government (175). 

Bigger and bigger farms—which grow through the logic of unregulated capitalism–means more and more chemicals are dumped into the environment and onto our food.  Surely we can recognize, thanks to Allen’s work, that the Emperor is naked, that there is a terrible flaw in our society.  Surely we can understand the history Allen charts between these abusive, needless practices and the growth of our own illnesses and deaths.  Surely the tipping point of change must be nearing where we all support our regional networks of small farmers who produce such glorious, healthy, life-sustaining food.