Politics and policy

Maybe there is hope for the honeybee. Despite all the benefits it provides modern agriculture, it has been devasted by Colony Collapse Disorder. While multiple possible causes have been implicated, and it is likely due to a combination of them, the standout problem was identified several years ago. It is (more…)

Every year at least one local jurisdiction decides that growing tomatoes in your front yard violates someone’s sensibilities.  The year has just started and we already have a new contender in the My Lawn is Prettier than Your Tomatoes nonsense. Mark Bittman of the New York Times has a column discussing some of the bigger issues, highlighting a town in Florida that is harassing gardeners for growing food in their front yard. I’m so glad I live in Oakland where so many people have taken out lawns and replaced them with drought tolerant and food producing plants.

I hate bad science. It’s hard to do good science, but science is only effective when it is good science. This isn’t a rant about the bad science of genetically engineered foods (which certainly deserves a post of its own) but about a recent study published by Stanford scientists about organic food. (more…)

I’ve been a supporter of labeling genetically engineered foods ever since I heard of them. I don’t have time to go into all the reasons here, but read the following press release of good news for California:


I’ll be talking more to my friends about this in the near future, as I am committed to collecting signatures and placing this before the voters of California.

Nicholas Kristof has a nice summary of one of the major problems we face as a culture, antibiotic resistance of dangerous bacteria, due to massive overuse of antibiotics in agriculture. Read his NY Times column on the topic. If you don’t know about this problem, or, even if you do, this is a must-read article. Our Federal government (we won’t get into state government problems here) no longer watches out for public health, but focuses instead on the health of large corporations. This is the tragedy of modern American politics and governance. His article describes just one instance of this in agriculture, which is just one industry where this is true.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about using greywater. In that post, I said that one of the problems facing homeowners was building codes that were outdated and did not allow for greywater systems. I’ll point out problems when I see them, but I’ll also give credit when it is due. I’m happy to report that the California Legislature has seen the light and modified state law to allow greywater systems. I offer a big thank you to the City of Santa Barbara for pushing this issue in Sacramento. Now California is catching up with a few other western state like Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Personally, I’m happy that the greywater system I’m thinking of putting in can now be put in legally. I’ll be able to save and use more greywater and it will be much easier, also. No more five-gallon buckets from the laundry room!

For more information on the legislation in California, visit this site. There are very helpful descriptions of what is allowed under the law and what is not. This is important, because there are a few safety precautions to take when designing and using greywater systems. For an introduction on greywater,  go to the Wikipedia article. An excellent resource for greywater is the Greywater Guerillas. Their website has loads of information and photographs on greywater systems and also includes information on other cutting edge water conservation technologies such as rainwater catchment and composting toilets. For more information on greywater systems, go here. (You’ll notice this last site is in Australia. As is often the case, other countries, particularly Australia and many Europeans countries, are far ahead  of the United States on environmental issues.)

In the U.S., Art Ludwig is the Godfather of Greywater and author of The New Create an Oasis with Greywater and Builder’s Greywater Guide. Art’s environmental design company, Oasis Design, includes plans for a Laundry to Landscape greywater system. For a laundry detergent developed by Art to be suitable for greywater use in irrigation, go to Bio Pac. If you’re in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Ecology Center in Berkeley sells it by the gallon.

In yesterday’s mail I received a flier with an attention getting headline, “Don’t let Sacramento Politicians Remove Products From Your Grocery Bag”. Inside, another headline read “Banning Materials That Keep Our Food Fresh And Safe Is A Terrible Idea”, followed by “Soon, many common everyday products could disappear from grocery store shelves all across California.” The back page had a final fear-mongering headline “Your Favorite Products May Soon Disappear”. The flier had no indication on it of who it was from, except a small box that said “Paid for by BPAfacts.org”. It urged me to call a local California State Assembly member to urge him to vote no on a specific legislative bill. The text inside had no substantive information about what was at stake, other than that a substance, BPA, has been used as a coating to line canned food and beverages, “…a material that’s been safely used for 50 years in food packaging and a wide variety of plastic products like reusable water and baby bottles.”


I just returned from a five-day canoe trip. I had some camp clothes, and others waiting in the hamper, that needed laundered, so I ran a couple loads of wash. Due to last winter’s low rainfall, we are now under drought restrictions for water usage and the water district wants to cut back usage 20%. Although I’ve experimented with this before, because of the new drought guidelines I stuck a five-gallon bucket in the laundry tub and ran the washer outlet into the bucket. While this isn’t efficient, it did give me the last five gallons of rinse water from each load. I used this grey water to irrigate the sad looking plants in my front yard. (Although I planted drought tolerant plants two years ago when I re-landscaped my front yard, the low winter rainfall is clearly having an effect. These guys will need some water to keep them going, and it’s not even July yet.) (more…)

Given that logic wasn’t working, thank gawd politics did. Today the State of California and the Federal government announced that aerial spraying of urban areas to “eradicate” the light brown apple moth (LBAM) would not be conducted as planned. This is a victory for those activists who let their elected representatives know that they didn’t want to be sprayed with untested chemicals for a questionable purpose with failure the likely result. I thank all those who took a more active role than I did. Given my concerns with asthma and the fact that the sprayed particles were small enough to be breathed into lungs, it’s no wonder there were earlier reports of problems from people with asthma. I was not looking forward to having to deal with the spraying.

In addition, as an ecological urban gardener, I had a “down to earth” concern. (more…)

[WARNING: Long post. It’s long because it’s important. The myths surrounding industrial agriculture’s “cheap food” are widespread, and this post addresses those myths by responding to a “cheap food” blog post at Freakonomics.]

Stephen Dubner, co-author of the book Freakonomics, recently wrote in his blog about trying to make orange sherbet with his children (Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores?). Apparently, he wasn’t very good at it, spending far more than is reasonable for ingredients and making a product that wasn’t very good. This isn’t surprising, of course, for a first effort. What is surprising is that he used his first-time-effort failure to introduce an argument that eating locally produced food is inefficient due to lack of scale and specialization. In the process he exhibits an appalling ignorance of the locavore (local food) movement and industrial agriculture, plus he makes egregious rhetorical leaps. Let’s take a look. (more…)

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