Friday, January 1, 2010

Strangers in the Valley

Ellen Bromfield Geld, daughter of Malabar Farm founder Louis Bromfield, writes beautifully in Strangers in the Valley—The Story of Malabar in Brazil (1957, now out of print) about her and her husband's search for, and finding, an old farm on which to begin their farming life in Brazil:
In the midst of it all an old house stood, almost hidden by an ancient crumbling stone wall and a grove of orange and lemon trees, bittersweet and half wild with time. Sunlight sifted through the dark feathery leaves of the lemon grove and fell soft against the house's aged yellow walls. In some places the walls had been washed away by spring rains, in others eaten through by termites; but there remained sturdy beams and dark wooden floors, tremendous rooms with high ceilings and wide stone hearths. For many years it had sheltered nothing but herds of wandering cattle, who had bumped and scratched and covered with dung everything but the most distant and ghostly of memories. How beautiful it must have been when the first Brazilian family lived there, tending the garden and the orchards and the fertile land beyond! A beautiful garden could be fashioned again back along the flat stretch of land into the very mountains and forests themselves. And the house could be rebuilt with a wide veranda all the way around and perhaps a new wing with a kitchen and spring house. Someday, if we grow old in this valley, we shall do all this.

We went often to Barreiros [the farm]. We picnicked under an old, sinuous, jabuticaba tree, which sprinkled its sweet fruit all over the ground, and ate mangoes from a tree which bore them large, soft and true yellow.

Sometimes we climbed to the summits of those mountains and looked out over mile upon mile of forest and granite-covered hills. From there we could see the dark, tortuously curving line of the River Atibaia, the green groves of eucalyptus which marched up the rim of every mountain and spread themselves in waves over every summit. And in the far distance we could see the white church steeple of the town of Itatiba. The rest of the world was wide open, so that a man could look as far as he liked without having his vision hindered by highways and signboards and ugly towns and all the clutter of a fast-growing civilization. The nearest highway could not be seen from Barreiros, and in this we discovered a host of new reasons for our coming to Brazil. [pp. 61-62]
The Gelds' own reasons for moving to Brazil were put succinctly by another Brazilian they met who gave up a lucrative career to become a farmer: "We wanted to live and not just spend our lives." [p. 152]

Vegan Outreach

Vegan Outreach is a non-profit advocacy group that uses volunteers to pass out literature in a non-confrontational way on college campuses about the abuses to animals inherent in the factory farming of animals for consumption. Since the fall of 2003, just under four million college students have been handed a pamphlet, and millions more at other events (concerts, festivals, etc.)—11 million total since 2001.

You can watch a brief slide show of this year's leafleting activity on college campuses here. You can view a .pdf of the booklet ("Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating") or order a paper copy, here.

The Source of Soy

The Cornucopia Institute is a watchdog group "promoting economic justice for family scale farming." They do in-depth research on the status of issues effecting small farmers and consumers with special attention given to the "organic industry" (which, by the way, is gradually losing more and more of its luster and integrity since being "bureaucratized" by the Federal government).

One of Cornucopia's most recent in-depth projects was to determine the quality of the soy going into the hundreds of organic soy-based products now on the market. That is, are soy products that claim to be organic verifiably organic? Are the companies producing or selling them transparent about their processes? Is the soy GMO? Has it been produced with hexane, an EPA-listed contaminant used in much commercial soil processing? Etc?
Cornucopia developed a thorough screening process for ranking companies producing organic-labeled soy products and assigned a rating based on the company's practices and their transparency in providing information.

Here is the page that details the study, provides an executive summary, and provides a very detailed scorecard for the scores of companies rated. It's easy to see how your favorite organic soy companies or product lines fared using the scorecard (by ranking or alphabetically by company/product name).

The rankings go from zero to five "soy beans," five being the best. Here are how a few well-known brands ranked:

Eden Foods (5 out of 5)
Tofurky (4 out of 5)
Nasoya (4 out of 5)
Vitasoy (3 out of 5)
Harris Teeter Private Label (3 out of 5)
Trader Joe's Private Label (2 out of 5)
Boca Burgers (0 out of 5)
Pacific Foods (0 out of 5)
Silk (0 out of 5)
365 by Whole Foods Market (0 out of 5)
Kirkland by Costco (0 out of 5)
Wegmans (0 out of 5)

The above represents a small sampling of the scores of companies profiled. Two things to bear in mind:

1. A company might have scored poorly for their unwillingness to divulge information about the sourcing of their soy as well as for the actual sourcing itself.

2. Almost all private-label brands (TJ's, 365 by Whole Foods, Kirkland by Costco, et al) scored poorly because they have no idea where their "organic" soy comes from because the production is handled by multiple layers of "middle men" who prepare soy products for private label brands.

This research is another example of just how complicated "food" has become in our modern system—even "organic" food. I'm especially bummed about the amount of hexane my liver has probably struggled to process after polishing off several quarts of Silk Nog over the holidays. :-)

There remains no substitute for growing one's own food and eating it in as pure (unprocessed) form as possible with one's personal "beyond organic" standards of integrity.

[Two other helpful resources for understanding the "organic" food industry on the Cornucopia web site are these: a graphic showing who really owns the organic food sector (increasingly, the large agribusinesses) and an animated graphic showing the consolidations that took place in the organic food industry between 1995 and 2007. Both graphics were prepared by Dr. Phil Howard at Michigan State University.]

(Thanks to the Cornucopia Institute for the unauthorized use of the image above from their web site.)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Catching Up

Some recent pictures from here and there:

Avocado trees moved inside for the winter . . .


along with pineapple plants:


I run humidifiers in the house during the winter to keep the humidity levels up. This one has a thermostat so it cycles on and off creating a great environment for the plants. This mist is so fine that it doesn't get things damp unless it runs for a couple hours or more:

The largest aloe vera has sent up a single tall bloom stalk, something I've never seen before:


The winter broccoli is producing beautifully—the leaves take a hit when it gets down in the 20's at night, but the heads remain firm:




Tools of the earth: garden tools hanging on the outside of Daniel and Jennifer's garden shed.


Everybody got cashmere scarves for Christmas. (Daniel was especially excited.)


Ellen decided hers would make a good head-wrap for Granddaddy. (Shades of the 'Sixties.)


Ellen and Arianna did a couple duets on their recorders:

Caught the low winter light streaming through the living room windows. The secretary in the corner was the "control center" in my parents' home—where Daddy sat to pay bills; where Mama filed away her annual calendars filled in with scribbled notes of daily happenings; where I found my English maternal grandfather's leather-bound diary he kept as he walked and sang his way from Kentucky to New Orleans to win a bet that he could start with nothing in his pocket and arrive in New Orleans fed and clothed—which he apparently did. (The diary stopped somewhere near Marion, Alabama where he was distracted by a young school teacher named Fleming Cocke—whom he married in New Orleans. So I presume he made it, fed as well as wed.) The secretary shelves are filled with books not deserving of dust, the desk holds a growing collection of family pictures. The old family pictures at the lower right fill the wooden trunk that my paternal great-grandfather brought with him when he made the voyage from Holland to America to begin a new life in the land of opportunity, settling in Pella, Iowa. The picture on the wall above them—an aerial shot of the Old City of Jerusalem which I visited in 1982; found the photo rolled up in a dusty shop in the Old City; brought it home in-hand and it survived the next 20+ years until I could get it framed. Not all the corners in my world are worth contemplating, but this one is (for me).


Guess What's Missing From Your Food (and Thus from You)?

Ocean Grown is a Florida company that harvests ocean water far off the eastern coast of Florida and concentrates it for dilution (1:100) as a soil amendment and plant/grass/tree fertilizer. I visited their offices in Naples several years ago when they first began work and almost joined up I was so excited about what they were doing. I've been using Ocean Grown Solution to water my wheatgrass and garden ever since.

Why ocean water? Because it contains the perfect balance of the 90+ chemical elements found in nature, all of which should (in a perfect world) appear in the earth's crust (soil) and in the foods grown in that soil. (Different plants need and select different minerals from the soil.) Dr. Maynard Murray, the "father" of the ocean-water-as-nutrient idea, in his book Sea Energy Agriculture, described plants and their fruit as nothing more than conduits for getting minerals out of the soil into the human body (which gives new insight to Genesis 1:19: "for dust you are and to dust you will return").

The demineralization of the earth's soil, through wind and water erosion, poor agriculture practices, and failure to replenish, has led to nutrient-poor foods which has contributed to the lack of vitality and health in those who feed upon them. This is one of the main reasons to eat organically-grown foods as opposed to conventionally-grown—organic farmers (generally) make an effort to add back to the soil more than they take from it through composting, deep-root cover cropping (some grasses and legumes can send roots as deep as 20 feet below the surface, bringing fresh supplies of minerals to a plant's foliage which is then plowed back into the top few inches of the soil ready to be taken up new crops), remineralization, and proper tillage.

In one of their recent magazine ads, Ocean Grown produced the following color-coded periodic table of the elements, the headline stating that earth's soil used to contain every chemical element in this chart (except the two yellow ones). They then ask, "See the BLACK ones? Those are the ones listed on your fertilizer bag."

Everyone who has fertilized their yard or garden is familiar with the three numbers on the bag of fertilizer, e.g., 10-10-10. Those are the three chemicals represent by the black boxes on the chart: nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K). A nineteenth-century German scientist, Justus von Liebig, the "father of modern fertilizer," set in motion the discoveries that led to the realization that plants could grow with adequate N, P, and K alone—especially N. But what about the other 87 elements? Plants will grow without all the elements they ideally need, but not robustly. And neither will humans and other animals who feed on mineral-deficient plants. (Obviously, all soil contains some minerals. The point is that most/all soils today are unbalanced and deficient in mineral content.)

This post isn't an advertisement for Ocean Grown. But the three black boxes in the periodic table from their ad point out the deficiency of most modern fertilizers that are lacking the majority of chemical elements that are needed for healthy soil, healthy plants, and health beings. Fortunately, companies like Ocean Grown (and now others) are providing remineralizing products via ocean water, and other companies have been providing remineralizing amendments (trace minerals harvested from dried sea beds) for gardeners and farmers to add back to their soil (products like Azomite, Planters II trace minerals, and others). The more complete the mineral balance in our soil the more resources our bodies have to work with in maintaining health via the foods grown in those soils.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Makes a Good Song?

Old Crow Medicine Show's signature song, Wagon Wheel, is a GREAT song. Okay, give 'em a pass on a few of the lyrics and then watch the audience tell you whether they think this is a great song or not—singable, memorable, unique, with a high harmony line to die for, and just plain FUN. This is from their live concert DVD filmed in Asheville and Knoxville where they are revered by a loyal fan base. Not hard to see why:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Parenting Today for Tomorrow

I'd like to commend two blog posts written by a friend of my daughter-in-law on the topic of parenting young children -- developing biblical convictions and practices today that will guide and protect children in the future.

Kelly and her husband, Jason, are the parents of twin girls and a boy, all very young. Kelly is a gifted writer (as is Jason on his blog), but these two posts of hers deserve a wide reading. If you go to Kelly's blog today you'll find they are the two most recent posts at the top of the blog. If you come across this reference in the future (when the two posts have been shuffled into the archives), here are the individual links to the two posts: Part One ("My Two-Year-Olds Are Dating") and Part Two ("Part 2: Our Two-Year-Olds Are Dating").

There are many young parents investing significantly in their children's future who may not have time or inclination to write about their priorities and practices. But when good parenting and good writing surface in the same place, it's worth taking note.

Kennedy Center Honors

The current class of five Kennedy Center honorees were celebrated earlier this fall and the ceremony will be broadcast tonight on CBS at 9:00 p.m. If you are not familiar with the Kennedy Center awards, they are a genuine education in the history of the arts in America. Every class of five represents a cross-section as exemplified by the current honorees: Bruce Springsteen, Mel Brooks, Robert de Niro, Dave Brubeck, and Grace Bumbry.

There is a wonderful retrospective with clips from previous awards ceremonies here -- it is terrific (it's a bit slow to load, but worth the wait). I got tears in my eyes just watching some of these clips. I especially loved seeing again the clip from the night Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys, was honored -- seeing Washington's, Broadway's, and Hollywood's elite in their tuxes and gowns on their feet dancing to "California Girls," honoring this musical genius who fought his way back from the darkness of depression and breakdowns to write music once again. Unfortunately, they didn't show the finale when scores of beach balls were dropped into the audience from the ceiling. It was amazing. The older one is, the more cherished these memories become.

If you've never seen the Kennedy Center Awards shows, tonight's promises to be a good one.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dave Barry's 2009 "Year in Review"

Read Dave Barry's summary of 2009, in typically hilarious fashion, here.