Texas Town Outlaws Common Sense

Lancaster Texas city officials have decided to enforce codes outlawing backyard chickens and Marye Audet a food writer, author and owner of nineteen heritage breed Barred Rocks has been pulled into their poultry dragnet. She ain’t happy about it.

“My dad and my father- in- law were WWII vets. I am a veteran. My husband is a disabled veteran. My oldest son is in Iraq currently, for his second tour of duty. And this afternoon, as I shut the door, in tears, I wondered…This is what we served for?”

To add to the indignities, Audet is not some tight quarters urban chicken enthusiast. She and her family live on 2 1/2 acres. Read more about her dilemma in her article City of Lancaster bans sustainable living…more or less.

How will we know when our country has climbed out of its current morass? A city will cite someone for not having chickens.

Seeds are from Mars

You gotta be a modern day Pythagoras to parse out the moral geometry of our complex food system. Our hasty blog post on growing Dragon Carrots from Seeds of Change prompted a few comments and a phone call alerting us to ethical concerns about the seed company. Knowing the diversity of readers of this blog, we’re simply going to toss out the issues and let you all make up your own minds.

Seeds of Change began as a small New Mexico based company back in 1989, launched a series of organic convenience foods in Europe in 1996 and was purchased by Mars Incorporated, a family owned snack food company in 1997. Last year Mars partnered with Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (check out that retro B-H website!) to buy Wrigley and create a ginormous financial candy bar. Mmmm, cashy nougats!

One of the founders of Seeds of Change, Howard-Yana Shapiro, now serves as director of plant science and external research for Mars Inc. and is vice president of agriculture at Seeds of Change. He’s the well respected author of Gardening for the Future of the Earth, and is currently at work overseeing the sequencing the Cocao genome in a joint project with the US Department of Agriculture, Mars. Inc. and IBM. As for the ultimate outcome of that project, according to the BBC, “Dr Shapiro would not be drawn on whether the research might lead to genetically modified chocolate. “

As for Seeds of Change’s parent company, an article in the Ecologist, criticizes Mars Inc for opposing EU health laws aimed at curing obesity and for failing to offer fair trade chocolate. Others say the company is a model of responsible business practices. Homegrown Evolution reader Jeremy claims that Seeds of Change, “tried to shut down the HDRA’s Heritage Seed Library,” and “registered an ancient Hopi “mandala” as their trade-mark.” I’ve been unable to dig up further information on the internets about either of these issues, so I’m asking Jeremy to leave some links in the comments.

Our friend, author and neighbor Ysanne Spevack has a positive article about her visit to Seeds of Change in New Mexico. The Mars Inc. corporate promotional video, which features Shapiro at the end, can be viewed here. We have to admit that the video gives us the heebie jeebies but, like most readers of this blog, we’re not exactly in the target audience for M&Ms with printed messages.

When a visionary like Shapiro gets involved with a large company you get a bottomless rabbit’s hole discussion about the morality of “change from within” and taking a good concepts, like organics and biodiversity, to the masses. You’re all welcome to debate these issues in the comments, but here at Homegrown Evolution we’re moving on to a soon to be defined new paradigm. All we know is that it will be more local, and the seeds we exchange will be our own.

Of course, if the Skittles folks offer to pay off Homegrown Evolution’s mortgage and dental bills . . .

Looking for Urban Farmers

From the photo archives of the Library of Congress: Oswego, New York. A citizen showing his wife vegetables from his victory garden as she starts on her way to church.
Homegrown Evolution is writing a profile of urban farmers for a new magazine. We’ve got the West covered, but we are still looking for some folks to profile who:

1. Live in one of the five boroughs of New York City and grow edibles and/or keep livestock.

2. Live in Detroit. We hear rumors of folks keeping herds of goats in Motown!

3. Have photos of your activities.

Send us an email or leave a comment if you fit this description, or if you know of someone who does. All efforts, from the modest to the massive, are interesting to us.

Thanks!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and many thanks to all of you for supporting this blog and contributing comments, suggestions and opinions. Thanks to all of you who have bought our book and thanks to our brave and innovative publisher Process Media.

We have one resolution for the new year: to tinker/experiment/garden/problem solve/explore and have fun doing all these things, laughing and learning from our failures as we go.

Compost Outlaws

Yard Trimmings being used as “ADC” at the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley

Our neighborhood comrade Tara Kolla, who grows sweet peas for farmer’s markets in her urban backyard, has been busted for . . . composting! Specifically for composting fruit and vegetable scraps from a local restaurant. From last Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Tara Kolla said she was doing a good thing for her Silver Lake Farms business while doing the right thing for the planet by filling a garbage can each week with produce scraps from a nearby restaurant and dumping them into her compost.

A neighbor did not see it that way and complained about the compost, which Kolla has in two wood boxes covered with black plastic.

“I didn’t put it here to offend anyone. I put it here because it’s a work area,” Kolla said one morning as she showed a visitor her half-acre urban farm, where she grows flowers as well as some other crops to sell at farmers markets in Echo Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake.

In August, Kolla received a letter from the Los Angeles Local Enforcement Agency telling her to “cease and desist” composting food waste that was not generated at her home. The letter was signed by David Thompson, the agency’s program supervisor, who declined to talk on the record. But a city spokeswoman said there would be no additional action taken if there are no more complaints.

It turns out it’s against the law to compost material not generated at your own residence. So when you take back that bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks to put in your compost pile you’re an outlaw. It’s a law that benefits the status quo, where the the city and private contractors haul away all that perfectly good organic matter that could be nourishing our neighborhood gardens, parks, and street trees and stuff it in . . . the dump.

There’s a dirty little secret with what happens to the organic matter we all some of us put in the green bin (a trash can provided by the city some municipalities to separate out yard trimmings) in the city of Los Angeles and many other municipalities. According to a friend of mine who works in the recycling business, 80% of the green bin contents in Los Angeles (county?) [Editors note: see neighborhood colleague, and fellow "trash geek" Jeremy Drake's correction in the comments section. Drake says that LA City does not use green bin contents as ADC. My friend may have been refering to LA County waste practices.] are used as “Alternative Daily Cover” or ADC. ADC, which in addition to yard waste can consist of all kinds of things including broken glass and construction materials are used to cover up trash dumped into landfills. So while our friend Tara gets busted for composting, some cities go about taking the same perfectly good organic matter and toss it into the dump along with the rest of our garbage.

The green bin is a sham, but it gets worse. According to Mayor Sam’s Sister City, classifying waste as ADC “allows dump operators to escape paying State per ton fees which in turn are used for State recycling and enforcement programs.”

There’s a opportunity in this composting kerfuffle for an elegant solution. Anyone who gardens in the city knows how important, and sometimes difficult, it is to get enough organic matter. How about regional composting facilities? Instead of trucking organic matter from restaurants and yards to far-off dumps (and generating tons of diesel particulate matter on those long hauls), how about we compost it closer to home? We’ll need skilled workers for this, perfect in a time of rising unemployment. This is precisely what our friend Nance Klehm does in Chicago, taking the waste from 6,000 daily meals at the Pacific Garden Mission and, with a large worm composting operation, turning that waste into prized worm compost which is sold at a farmer’s market. The operation is staffed with homeless clients from the Mission. Waste is reduced, gardeners get compost, homeless people get work and everyone benefits.

Now let’s change these silly composting laws and get to work . . .

[Editors note--Tara had a correction to the LA Times story--she does not "dump" stuff in her compost pile, but skillfully and responsibly layers green and brown materials. You can take a compost class from her at the Norman Harrington / Franklin Hills Community Garden. More information at Silver Lake Farms.]

3D Greetings

Homegrown Evolution’s holiday gift to our readers is a headache. Well, to be precise, we offer you three dimensional images of two of our favorite garden plants. Above, the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) and, below, spearmint (Mentha Spicata). To view these two images in three dimensions follow these instructions, specifically the bit about “parallel viewing”. Be persistent, like all good things it might take some practice.

We taught ourselves how to free view three dimensional images a long time ago and, in additional to it being good for your eye muscles, it opens up a whole world of fun with old stereoscopic images such as these.

To make your own stereographs all you need to do is take two pictures slightly spaced apart. As long as your subject doesn’t move you can do it with just one camera. Full instructions here.

For those of you who, after an hour of reviewing those parallel viewing instructions, now have a headache can’t uncross your eyes, we suggest downing a few cups of eggnog to make things just fine in the new year.

Bikin’ in LA

LA Bike path with billboard courtesy of SoapBoxLA

When riding a bike in a city like Los Angeles I’ve come to the realization that it’s best to cultivate a stoic, ninjaesque calm while squeezing betwixt the masses of cell phone wielding Neanderthals piloting their four ton land yachts. Unfortunately, I sometimes lose my temper. But over the past few years since I climbed back on a bike, I’ve discovered that it’s best to brush off the inevitable indignities and pretend all those Neanderthals are rushing off somewhere important like, say, to save a drowning puppy or sing Christmas Carols at a nursing home.

The ethos I try to live by is: on the bike stay calm and enjoy the craziness of it all (it’s like skiing with SUVs, after all), off the bike raise hell. And, as the bike path photo above from ├╝ber bike activist Stephen Box’s SoapBoxLA blog demonstrates, there’s plenty to raise hell about with Los Angeles’ terminal car-centric design. For me the issue ain’t about bikes–I actually enjoy hauling ass through congested rush hour traffic on two wheels. Instead my off bike ire is more about two questions that, I hope, everyone will care about whether you ride a bike or not:

1. Can children safely walk or ride their bikes to school and thus avoiding becoming fat, Xbox addicted idiots. Or, do they have to go everywhere tethered to mommy and daddy in steel and glass bubbles never learning anything about independence.

2. Can elderly folks safely walk to a market, church, bingo hall without having to get behind the wheel of a car.

In Los Angeles and most of the rest of the country the answer to both of these questions is a big fat, obese NO! However, we’re at a turning point here in L.A. The testifying and lobbying that we in the bike community have been working on has begun to pay off and, I hope, make life for everyone here better.

When folks talk to me about national politics I say, sure you should vote but it’s the local that really matters. It’s by speaking at city council meetings or just writing letters to local officials that we can make the changes to our world that need to be made. In the case of transportation, it doesn’t matter whether you are right, left, libertarian or whatever. We all have the right to safe, inexpensive mobility no matter our age, race or income level. Tell your local officials!

To find out more about what’s been going on in Los Angeles read:

Los Angeles Magazine’s account of the local bike community
The recently revived SoapBoxLA
StreetsblogLA

Do Something Day

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, we present a memorable Craigslist ad found by our comrade, neighbor and art blogger Doug Harvey while looking for a refrigerator to replace the one that got fried in a freak electric storm the other night,

“Never used, brand new 2008 GE Energystar fridge in original box. Blessed by his Holiness the Dalai Lama upon his last visit to Los Angeles, this fridge is sure to maintain the temperature and spiritual balance of all food. Due to health and dietary restrictions and my strict belief in the tenets of Mahayana Buddhist teachings, I asked his holiness Tenzing Norbu to bless the fridge upon his last visit. He guaranteed blessings and long life would be bestowed upon the fridge and the contents it protects. We have not used the fridge yet and unfortunately we need to move and can not bring the fridge with us. It is sad, but we are happy to give this spiritual appliance to another.”

At $1,500 Harvey passed over the Dalai Lama blessed “spiritual appliance” due to budget constraints and, no doubt, queasiness attributing supernatural qualities to an refrigerator. An ad for BMW takes this animist notion of consumer objects to the next level, simultaneously making fun of our obsession with consumerism and, in a kind of post-modern mental judo, using that perceived obsession to sell cars (a healthy dose of sex doesn’t hurt).

It’s this type of hyper-consumerism that provokes a backlash from organizations such as Adbusters, the folks behind Buy Nothing Day. Yet, I wish that Buy Nothing Day was, instead, Do Something Day or, perhaps, Build Something Day. In our book and presentations we’ve distanced ourselves from the dourness of the environmental movement, preferring ideas to be presented in the positive rather than the negative, in the form of actions rather than protests. So rather than head to the mall today we propose learning an odd and useless task, say the feat of balancing on chairs.

From Practical Projects for the Handy Man published in 1913,

Among the numerous physical exercises is the feat of balancing on the two rear legs of a chair while one foot rests on the front part of the seat and the other on the back of the chair. This may appear to be a hard thing to do, yet with a little practice it may be accomplished. This exercise is one of many practiced by the boys of a boys’ home for an annual display given by them. A dozen of the boys will mount chairs at the same time and keep them in balance at the word of a commanding officer.

So on this first Do Something Day, the crashing sound heard around the Homegrown Evolution compound this weekend will be the sound of a middle-aged eco-blogger falling over backwards . . . Now go out and Do Something!

The New Home Economics

photo above by whiteafrican photo on right by Wayan Vota

So what is this simple, elegantly designed object? It’s a bottle opener from Africa as seen on one of our favorite blogs, AfriGadget. Tough times call for elemental solutions, not to mention popping the cap off a beer.

And speaking of tough times and ingenuity, with our economy continuing to meltdown and unemployment on the rise (check out this youtube interview with author Nasim Nicholas Taleb and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot for a real scare), we’ve begun to see sudden interest in the long forgotten topic of home economics. A good example of this new home economics is 30 bucks a week, the recipes and strategies of a couple in Brooklyn attempting to limit their grocery bills to, yes, just $30 a week.

But back to that African beer bottle opener pictured above. Yes, it exists in the context of poverty, but it’s also a symbol of hope, of facing adversity with resourcefulness, a sense of style and play.

Vote Yes on 2 (if you’re in Cali)

Homegrown Evolution ain’t making any political endorsements regarding that little election thingy happening tomorrow, with the exception of California’s Proposition 2, a measure that would, “prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to tum around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” Whether you are left, right, center, libertarian, carnivore, vegetarian or none of the above we think this measure is an important first step in reforming appalling and unsafe agricultural practices that have become all to prevalent since the disappearance of family farms in the 1970s.

Does Proposition 2 address the underlying problems, i.e. bloated farm bills and agricultural policies that subsidize and incentivize large scale industrial farms? Is keeping chickens in big sheds with no sunlight (“cage free” and “free range”) a good idea and will prop 2 take care of this? Sadly, no on both counts. But we’ve gotta start somewhere.

We were especially ticked off to see that University of California veterinarians, supported by our tax dollars (not to mention our past tuition dollars), have lent their support to the anti-prop 2 campaign alleging that removing animals from confinement will lead to disease outbreaks. Since these researchers get their funding from industrial agriculture, one can’t expect anything but biased, junk science. Given the funding situation, it’s also wise to view all extension service advice, even tips directed at home gardeners, with skepticism.

We’ll be voting yes on 2 and, sorry UC, you’ll never see any alumni contributions from us!