Thursday, November 21, 2013

Post Industrial Agriculture - Balance

                To continue with the theme of Post Industrial Agriculture, a main part of this “new” manner of farming is balance. As I have asserted on numerous occasions, nature loves balance. But what does “balance” mean in regard to agriculture?
                Life on planet earth is a symbiotic process. As one species of life is food for another species, so too, that species is food for another. To take an example, lettuce is food for groundhogs… No, no, that is a bad example… How about… Grass is food for rabbits, which in turn are food for, say, foxes. When the foxes eventually die, they become food for carrion devouring creatures, and at some point, organisms in the soil that decompose the deceased, which in turn becomes fertilizer for the soil, which feeds the grass. For certain, that is a simplistic description of what is ultimately an incredibly complex process. There are many, many, many life forms involved in the process, countless bacteria, fungi and microscopic organisms, each of which plays a vital part in… life. This is what I mean by “balance”. In order for life to sustain itself… healthfully… it requires the process to remain in “balance”.
                Now, humans are a particularly stupid species of creatures on the planet. I guess that might have sounded rather harsh in judgment. I’ll try again. Some human beings are particularly stupid in their approach to the life process… I can’t get away from the term “stupid”… How about “idiotic”, “imbecilic”… Allow me to start this part over…
                For countless generations, human beings were aware of the “balance” required of nature. No issue arose over the process, and life flourished on the planet. Hunting and gathering groups used enough, but did not despoil the landscape, thus allowing other life forms to flourish… and humans to eat on another day. When it came to agriculture, the practices were “organic” in that garden waste was composted and fed back to the garden, thus becoming food for the next season’s crops. Again, there is a lot more involved here, but the point is, up until the last few centuries or so, “balance” in nature was the key to survival.
                Industrial Agriculture treats nature in quite the opposite direction. There are two main components at work here. One is technology, which allows ingenuity to create much faster and larger means by which to produce agriculture. The second is money… which inspires immense greed. Oh, and there is a third. Human audacity/idiocy that believes humans can improve upon nature by changing nature’s processes. There are many aspects involved here, far too many to enumerate and investigate in this entry. Nonetheless, some main aspects are synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, etc. and genetically modified organisms(GMOs). All of these are human creations NOT found in nature that have been forcefully inserted into life processes for the purpose of faster production and ultimately to make large amounts of money.
                It is during this stage of human interaction with the world that nature is forced out of “balance”. Human audacity/idiocy does not admit the possibility that this approach may greatly harm the life processes. Human audacity/idiocy only can “improve” upon nature… which is dead wrong, and why the need to turn the page on industrial agriculture is so imminent. Synthetic fertilizers, chemical killers and GMOs are greatly damaging to the health of humans. Instead of improving human health (as is often claimed), humans in general are a medical nightmare, with epidemic proportions of sicknesses, diseases, cancers, etc. That this is not readily understood, that is, that the human insertion of poisons and GMOs into the life processes of nature is the cause of our unhealthy age, is a perfect example of human audacity/idiocy.
                The vast majority of “food” available is not real food. This system is completely out of balance. Because of the need to make incredible amounts of money fast, the vast cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, etc., has in large part been diminished to a few crops, and two in particular, corn and soy beans. These last two crops make up the great majority of any food you can buy in a box. The corn is NOT the sweet variety you can eat off the cob, and soy beans are not only NOT part of our natural diet, when eaten raw they are actually toxic. Yet, through many chemical processes, these two crops make up a great deal of our diet. This is the cause of many of our current health issues.
                But to keep the focus only on human health is woefully myopic. With the transference of land from natural terrain, i.e. woodlands in the East, prairies in the Midwest, to pre-industrial agriculture, i.e. farms with cattle, pigs, chickens, grain fields and vegetable gardens, to industrial agriculture, i.e. GMO soybean and corn fields, much of the “balance” that used to exist in nature has been changed drastically. Many animals, birds and reptiles, if they still exist, do so in far fewer numbers than in the past. Particularly in industrial agriculture, the processes are directly harmful to the natural “balance”. One quick example is the process of poisoning the ground to kill everything except GMO plants. Millions of microscopic organisms as well as earthworms, etc. are killed during the process, resulting in their symbiosis participation being destroyed. What is lost here? Industrial agriculture will laugh off that question with “absolutely nothing.” A more complex understanding of nature will realize that imbalance will not result in an “improvement” on nature.
                The point here is that through industrial agriculture the “balance” of nature has been greatly distorted. I will present an example of this imbalance as it affects my organic farm. The neighboring farm now grows GMO soy beans. While the spraying of such, etc. of that unnatural crop does not affect my farm directly, the fact that the great majority of crops are either soy bean or corn does. The number of pests of these two crops is astronomical, and when an organic farm attempts to grow another plant in the legume family shared by soy beans, such as green beans, those pests will descend upon the organic plants in voracious fashion. This is one brief example. Again, if the farming practices were not so imbalanced, the pests would not be as much of a problem.
                That is the state of industrial agriculture now. Organic farmers, like me, across the country, and the globe, farm in a “balanced” fashion. Instead of synthetic fertilizers, we feed the soil with rich organic matter, and every year, steadily, the soil health improves. We grow a wide variety of crops to provide much diversity to our diets, realizing that a mixture of fruits and vegetables, etc. is important. We do not use GMOs. And the more years we experience, the more we invest in helping to nurture the “balance”, so that all parts of the life process thrive. It is the witnessing of the improving health of the farm which is absolutely humbling. Given only the ability to act as it pleases, nature thrives when in “balance”.
                Post industrial agriculture will be based on this “balance”. The notion of squeezing every last penny out of nature is a thing of the past. The audacity/idiocy that thinks that nature can be manipulated without harming ourselves or the planet needs to be a thing of the past too. Greed is an expressly human weakness. The future needs to approach the economics of agriculture in a “balanced” way as well. When a few corporations dictate the industrial agriculture model, the great majority of humans suffer. By creating a symbiotic relation between humans in a post industrial agriculture model, ALL will benefit.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Emotional vs. Scientific

                Earlier this year, the question arose about whether potato chips, and in particular, nearby Utz potato chips were made from Genetically Modified potatoes. Since Utz potato chips are so incredibly delicious, it seemed important to find out if that product was in actuality “tainted”. I realize that some people do not view Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) as anything harmful, and indeed many believe such biotechnology is a great advancement for the human species. And that is pretty much the point of this entry. Allow me to explain…
                The first point of investigation for me was to google “utz potato chip gmo”. That seemed to be the easiest place to start, and what do you know? The subsequent Google listing had a link that was perfect. It was a link to the “Utz” webpage with an explanation of the company’s approach to the use of GMOs in some of their products. Here is the link:
                So I started to read through the explanation and was struck very early on by the statement, “However, in trying to be completely objective about this emotional issue, all foods that are currently marketed in the United States, that have been derived from agricultural crops improved through biotechnology, have been subjected to extensive testing and scrutiny before the FDA allowed them to be commercialized.” What struck me in particular was the term “emotional issue”.  I will come back to the rest of that sentence later, but to proceed with the explanation, toward the end appears, “The consumer issues involved here are ideological and emotional, and not scientific.”
                Wow. The thought that concern over GMOs is “ideological and emotion, and not scientific” truly shows how convoluted our modern approach to biotechnology in agriculture has become. Indeed, by the end of this entry, just the opposite will be revealed, that it is industrialized agriculture that is emotional and not scientific. So here we go…
                In the first statement that I quoted above, it is put forth that all crops “improved” by biotechnology have been thoroughly tested by the FDA. “Improved”? Egads, but human audacity can be alarmingly idiotic at times. To imagine that humans can “improve” what has evolved naturally for countless years requires quite a simplistic and naïve approach to reality. Alas, what I just wrote must appear “emotional” and not scientific. But that’s okay. There is science to counter the “improved” approach.
                My next thought was to investigate the testing that convinced the FDA to approve of the GMOs. I did not find the actual data that convinced the FDA to approve GMOs, but I did find plenty of data that contends that the FDA decision on GMOs is superficial at the very best. The process by which the FDA decides on whether to allow certain products into the marketplace is absolutely political and has little or nothing to do with public health. There is an enormous amount of pressure that industrial agriculture corporations push in the process and to withstand those efforts appears to be impossible. Nonetheless, self-awareness is important to understanding the true issues here, and a great book that reveals the political process in all of this is “Food Politics” by Marion Nestle. GMOs are not taken up by Marion Nestle in the book, but with great detail she relays the tediousness and absurdity behind such things as food labeling.
                While the Utz site asserted that concern over GMOs is an ideological and emotional issue, it most assuredly is also scientific. Dr. Arpad Pusztai of the United Kingdom studied the feeding of what he thought at the time were harmless GMO potatoes to rats in the 1990s. In only ten days, many abnormalities appeared in the rats from their livers to brains to their immune systems and pre-cancerous cells were also present. Study after study reveals such abnormalities such as tumors and early death in rats. If one is even slightly aware of such studies, that SCIENCE is enough to raise concern over human consumption of the same GMOs.
                The problem really arises over the assertion that these GMO crops “have been subjected to extensive testing and scrutiny before the FDA allowed them to be commercialized.” That is simply a false statement. And here is where the politics enters the scene. The industry of GMOs comes up with the studies, and they are so limited in scope or focus that when taken as a “scientific” study, they are worthless. Those studies’ mission is not to prove any negative effects of GMOs. Beyond this, honest studies would last over elongated periods of time, which is not done. Instead of the onus of proof being required of the GMO industry, it changes to the general populace to prove that GMOs are harmful. And again, it takes long periods of time to prove the damage, even though the harmful aspects are present from the start. Not only are GMO crops not subjected to extensive testing and scrutiny, the opposite is the case.
                There are studies, as mentioned above, that show damage from ingesting GMOs in laboratory animals. These studies are vilified by those in the GMO corner of the arena. This group includes a wide spectrum of supposed experts, all of whom are greatly influenced, if not controlled by the GMO industry. When true scientists release such damaging studies, they are publicly ridiculed regardless of the actual data in the studies. The attacks are not scientific in response… but emotional.
                To take a step back, what has developed is nothing short of absurd. The GMO industry developed genetically modified crops, that is, non-natural crops. Never before has such organisms existed. In order to sway the final FDA decision, the GMO industry comes up with their own distorted and limited studies in order to be allowed to sell those products in the marketplace. Despite the data that suggests harmful results from ingesting GMO crops, any contrarian point of view or study is attacked as ideological or emotional. Indeed, it is often asserted by other “experts” that GMOs are necessary to feed the world. That is simply not true, and yet, to go against that assertion is to be ideological and emotional. Nonsense.
                The saddest part of all of this is the lack of honest care about fellow human beings. Ultimately what is most important is the end result of selling GMO crops. And that is not cancer, tumors or malfunctioning organs, or any other temporary ailments of mortal humanity… but MONEY. Instead of concern over products that may be devastating to the health of humans, every mean possible are used to force GMOs into the marketplace as quick and as thoroughly as possible. I personally find it very difficult to come to grips with such callousness… and short-sightedness. Once the realization sets in that MONEY is all important to these people, all, that is, ALL of their activities are called into question. But I will leave that at this point.
                To read on the Utz website, “the consumer issues involved here are ideological and emotional, and not scientific,” is absolutely belittling. And as much as I love those potato chips, that statement makes me wary over what exactly is in those chips, no use of GMO potato assertion aside. If we could only get the government to force such companies to label their products that they contain GMOs!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Caterpillar Bites

                Do caterpillars bite? Yes.
                I have been asked that question on numerous occasions over the years. Usually, the inquirer is rather naïve on the ways of nature, so my response is never demeaning in any way. However, many fellow gardeners are not even aware of this fact. It seems for most, it takes an actual “bite” to realize that caterpillars do indeed… bite. I am one of this group, although before being bitten, I merely had my suspicions. I will start with my suspicions…
                Most of my… I’ll say “concern”… over whether caterpillars bite or not arose over the nasty creature known as the tomato hornworm. Tomato hornworms can grow to be six inches long and are one of the largest caterpillars in our region, if not the largest. They devour tomato foliage… and tomatoes quite rapidly. Having witnessed the damage countless times… and even heard the sound of their chewing on tomato plants in a greenhouse, I often wondered whether such voracious creatures would actually bite a human. I have not allowed myself the chance to find out that answer. However, as I hunt with my Tomato De-Hornwormer, their aggressive reaction is answer enough for me. I have pictures to prove this. And by the way, a Tomato De-Hornwormer is also known as garden clippers. You’ll see in the pictures below…

Here is a tomato hornworm rapidly devouring tomato foliage.

Here, the tomato hornworm curls up as the Tomato De-Hornwormer approaches. This is a common reaction of caterpillars when touched. Perhaps it is a “play dead” reaction.

However, when the Tomato De-Hornwormer begins to actually harm the hornworm, it aggressively bites at the harming blade. While the hornworm’s defensive reaction is never successful, the aggressiveness of that reaction makes me glad that my fingers weren’t in the midst of that struggle.
                So much for the tomato hornworm. That story is the same every year, but this year on two separate occasions, I experienced a situation that definitively confirmed my suspicion that caterpillars do indeed bite. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures for these two situations.
                The first situation involved cutworms. Cutworms are nasty, tough skinned caterpillars that chew plants such as lettuce and spinach close to ground level, thus “cutting” the plant which also kills the plant. In one particular garden, I always have significant cutworm damage on my summer planting of lettuce. My organic approach to control this pest is first, “know thy enemy”, that is, to recognize its damage, then, seek and destroy. Cutworms usually burrow into the soil a couple inches or so, and a pencil eraser-sized hole can be spotted on the surface. Then, I dig down with my fingers until I find the nasty critter. Once the cutworm has been captured, at this point it usually curls up into a ball of sorts, I squish the culprit until it pops. I have learned to squish directionally so that none of the critter’s green innards ends up on me.
                Earlier this year, I found a full-sized cutworm specimen about two inches in length, which I wanted to show Lori, who works with me and is not familiar with what many of the pests of the farm actually look like. She was at the cleaning station, so I walked toward that area cupping the curled up critter in my left hand. Then, just as I reached my destination, I felt a sharp, yet slight, pain in my left hand, which startled me enough to fling the critter… somewhere. That dang thing bit me!!! It must have gotten over the “play dead” stage and decided to be more aggressive to its captor. As for the bite… after all, they can eat through lettuce stems, I’m just hoping human flesh does not taste as good…
                The second situation really startled me. After sorting salad mix, I picked up the sweatshirt I had laid down on some crates to head home for the day. My house was rather cold upon entering, so I put on the sweatshirt. A minute or so later, I felt something crawling in the left sleeve of the shirt. Thinking it was a spider, I jostled that portion of sweatshirt. About a minute later, I felt what I can only describe as a mild electric shock in my left arm. It was like nothing I have ever felt before and I immediately knew that something bit me… but what? Without hesitation, I aggressively squeezed that portion of the shirt sleeve, then ripped off the shirt and turned it inside out. Yes, I had been bitten by another caterpillar. Laying on the ground was the deflated carcass of a long-haired yellow caterpillar that I have as yet not been able to identify. And on the white t-shirt I was wearing under the sweat shirt there was a rather large dark green stain. Damned caterpillar! Who knew they could be so aggressive?
                Well, I now do know that caterpillars can definitely bite. And so now do you! You’re welcome!