Two Girls Fight Produce Stand Closure

Several readers sent me a link to a ridiculous story about two young girls busted for selling homegrown produce in front of their house (watch the video via KGO-TV San Francisco). You should check it out if just to see the amazing garden this family seems to have. Their struggle reminds me of the equally ridiculous taco truck war raging here in Los Angeles. Funny how this allegedly capitalist country seems to stamp down the entrepreneurial spirit when it emanates from the hoi polloi.

Bar Codes on Veggies


Via the trade journal Wireless Watch Japan comes a story on Japanese cell phone users with built in QR bar code readers using their phones to check food safety,

“Forget any assumptions about Hicksville. Japanese farmers have little fear of technology. Rural Ibaraki Prefecture has turbo charged their QR coding for agricultural products tagging a wide variety of vegetables grown in that prefecture. Ibaraki Prefectural authorities and the JA Ibaraki Prefecture Central Union of Agricultural Cooperative cooperating with other farming and agricultural associations are adding QR code labels right at the point of origin. In the supermarket, consumers use camera equipped cell phones to scan the QR code on the label. The code links to a mobile website detailing origin, soil composition, organic fertilizer content percentage (as opposed to chemical), use of pesticides and herbicides and even the name of the farm it was grown on. Consumers can also access the same information over the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net website by inputting a numbered code on each label.”

Though we’re not Luddites, we have mixed feelings about this idea. On the one hand, it would be a great way to figure out where our food comes from, who grows it and how it was produced. The Japanese system even let’s you see pictures of the farmers who grew your produce. On the other hand, its application in the United States would also be a way for large agribusiness concerns and their friends in government to further marginalize small scale farmers unable to afford the technology, or unwilling to subject themselves to Byzantine regulatory schemes biased towards the big guys (see Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal for more on how food safety regulations, like these, are often just a ruse to put small organic farmers out of business by making them adhere to rules to expensive to follow). This bar code scheme also raises privacy concerns. Will cell phone companies and supermarkets conspire together to gather marketing information on individuals? If I buy a Twinkie will my health insurance rates go up?

Even if you don’t speak Japanese you can kind of figure out how the system works by visiting the Ibaraki Agricultural Produce Net.

The High Cost of Golf

Though I’m partial to my Xtracycle cargo bike, once in a while I’ll rent a pickup truck to haul some big items. Yesterday it was time to get a bunch of straw bales to use as bedding for the chickens. While driving by a public golf course on the way to the feed store, the windshield suddenly shattered startling me and my passenger, Ari of Islands of LA, who had come along to help out. Instictively, we ducked thinking that someone was shooting at us. Though my heart was racing, I soon realized the culprit: a errent golf ball sent hurdling over the fence by some anonymous, impossible to trace Tiger Woods wannabe. We circled back to the club house to file a report with the manager of the course and begin the long tedious process of settling the insurance claims.

So what does this have to do with urban homesteading? A lot. It’s time for another anti-golf rant. Here are my problems with golf (especially municipal golf courses):

1. The colossal mis-allocation of land. Wouldn’t a lot more people benefit from a large community garden instead of a golf course? Most people in Los Angeles and many other big cities live in apartments and don’t have any space to grow their own food. Meanwhile, waiting lists for plots in community gardens grow longer for lack of space. Most neighborhoods, of course, have no community garden at all. According to the City of Los Angeles’ 2006-07 budget, city run golf courses account for 1,500 acres of LA’s meager 8,520 acres of developed park land, meaning that 17% of park land is devoted to wealthy, middle-aged men with a taste for polo shirts and plaid pants.

2. Unfair subsidies. That errant ball came from a course owned, paid for and maintained by the City of Los Angeles. I’m sure the municipal courses bring in revenue (the city budget reports $18,000,000 from golf course use fees), but I doubt this offsets their costs (I was unable to find the cost of golf facilities in the same budget–coincidence?). I suspect we all pay for these city golf courses through our taxes. The city of Los Angeles operates the largest municipal golf course system in the United States according to the Mayor’s 2008-2009 budget. I love sports, participate in a few and believe that recreational facilities should be subsidized. But I also believe in a return on that investment. We should subsidize recreational facilities that encouraging physical activity, health and well being. Investing in initiatives and facilities that get people to exercise pay for themselves in the long run in reduced health care costs and a healthier, happier population. But is golf the kind of exercise we should subsidize? No way. Especially since on many courses, including some municipal courses in Los Angeles, players are required to drive a golf cart to speed play and increase the number of people who can use the course at any given time. I also believe in democracy. I say let’s put it to a vote: should the city fund golf courses or soccer fields? I suspect, in Los Angeles, soccer fields would win by a landslide.

3. Water. We’ve got a many year long draught here in the southwestern U.S. that shows no signs of letting up soon. Modest water rationing requirements are in effect, but that municipal golf course green I was forced to visit looked, well, very green. The amount of water used to irrigate the world’s golf courses could support 4.7 billion people at the U.N.’s daily minimum according to the Worldwatch Institute. Let’s not even get into the deleterious effect of herbicides. And while we’re on the topic of water I’ll point out that the two city running paths I use have no drinking fountains.

4. Golf kills. If I had been on my bike or going for a run I could have been killed by that ball. The supreme irony is that the stretch of road on which my rented pickup truck’s windshield was shattered is the same spot where the Department of Water and Power puts on a lame, drive-through Christmas light show that is, in effect, a city sponsored multi-month traffic jam. They ban bikes during this period because they say it isn’t safe. My friends Stephen and Enci have pointed out to our city officials that banning bikes on a city street is a violation of the state vehicle code that defines bicycles as vehicles. So far the light show, despite opposition from neighbors and the Sierra Club is poised to continue this winter. But I digress. Let’s just say that I’ll think twice before I ride down this street on a bike again, and it won’t be because of the light show.

The Griffith Park municipal course, from whence that windshield smashing golf ball originated, is the birthplace of the municipal golf course system in the U.S. It’s well past time for government subsidized golf to end. Let’s tear up those courses and go for a run, play some soccer, create wildlife habitat and plant some food.

A White House Vegetable Garden

Via a post by Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing, one man’s plea to turn the White House lawn into a kitchen garden:

I’ll note that the last person to try to convince a president to plant veggies was the always forward thinking Alice Waters, the proprietor of Berkeley California’s Chez Panisse. Waters asked then president Bill Clinton to grow some vegetables at the White House. Clinton responded, “send me the seeds Alice” only to renege on the idea, claiming that it would interfere with the historic and formal White House garden plans. But what about that White House putting green?

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom broke ground this summer on a kitchen garden at city hall. Former mayor “slick” Willie Brown responded lamely, “You start having cows and chickens and goats and other things at Civic Center and I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” We’ll see if the next president, whoever he is, has the courage to plant veggies. I would love to see a goat interrupt a press conference.

Yet Another Lawn Rant

As if there weren’t enough reasons not to have a lawn, especially in the dry parts of the world where we live, let’s add another: gruesome accidents. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that over 117,000 folks in the United States made trips to the emergency room in 2007 because of lawn mowers.

We’ve witnessed first hand the power of lawn mowers. A neighbor of ours had his windshield shattered by a rock propelled by a mower blade. As the Orthopedic Surgeons note, “The energy transferred by a typical lawn mower blade is equivalent to being shot in the hand with a .357 Magnum pistol. A lawn mower can eject a piece of metal or wood up to 100 miles per hour.”

And manual push mowers? Surprisingly they resulted in 7,159 emergency room visits.

So remove the lawn. How? Two words for ya: sheet mulch.

June: National Bathroom Reading Month

By bikin’ friend Colin informed me last week that he had heard a report on National Public Radio about June being, “National Bathroom Reading Month”. Doing a little digging revealed that, sadly, it was just a publicity stunt for a series of un-funny bathroom humor books and did not have the backing of our congress, senate or president. Nevertheless we thought we’d celebrate bathroom reading month anyways with a look at what journals, catalogs and books grace the Homegrown Evolution throne room reading stack.

Water Quality Report ’07 from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Every year we get this and pledge we’ll study up on the science behind water quality. Another year has passed and all we can critique about this report is the fact that LA DWP doesn’t seem to know that Silver Lake is two words not one. We could also point out the odd choice of Echo Park Lake for the cover. It’s both heavily polluted and, thankfully, not a source of drinking water. While we proudly drink our L.A. tap water, we use bottled water for our home brewing projects due to the chlorine. Here’s a link to how you can compare a water quality report like this one to what kind of water is good for making beer.

Performance Bicycle Catalog. We get a lot of these catalogs since every few months we break a bike tail light and have to order a new one. They just don’t build bicycle accessories to last! These bike catalogs, aimed at recreational cyclists who drive somewhere to ride their bikes (note the cover) feature lots of god-awful candy-colored spandex outfits, $5,000 mountain bikes and nutritional supplements. Precisely the items you don’t want for getting around urban Los Angeles. This particular catalog featured something new, however, his and hers matching bikes from Schwinn called, we kid you not, “Sid and Nancy“. Sid and Nancy feature automatic shifting since either bike gears are too complicated for Americans to figure out, or folks want to do what they do while driving: talk on cell phones. But why do Sid and Nancy have gears at all? Wouldn’t brake-less fixed gear bikes be more appropriate given the punk rock (not to mention murder/suicide) reference?

Arthur Magazine. Homegrown Evolution, being cheap, can never pass up a free publication when we see one though we usually skip stooping to pick up the senior citizen rag Not Born Yesterday. Arthur is always worth picking up. Lot’s of great articles here from The Center for Tactical Magic, Erik Davis and our favorite media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. The May issue has a column by Chicago’s master forager and occasional resident in our humble casa, Nancy Klehm. Nancy explains how to make dandelion wine and extols the virtues of urine in your compost pile.

Real Goods Catalog. This is sort of a Sky Mall for environmentalists. Produced by the same folks who put out the worthwhile Solar Living Source Book, most of the items in this catalog are beyond our modest writing-derived income level. Some things look useful, but there’s a lot of dubious stuff such as solar hat fans and electric scooters. And we suspect you can get many of the items in the catalog cheaper elsewhere, though we’re intrigued with the solar attic fans.

Backwoods Home Magazine. We love Backwoods Home for its informative articles, unedited and rambling letters to the editor and for the outsider artist who does all the illustrations. Imagine Martha Stewart Living with columns on both vegetable gardening and tips on disassembling your AR15. We’re not libertarians ourselves but with both mainstream presidential candidates supporting warrantless wiretapping we’re beginning to see their points. Best of all, most of Backwoods Home is available free online.

Backyard Poultry Magazine. Poultry porn for small scale chicken, duck, guinea and quail enthusiasts. As most books about poultry are for big poultry farms, this magazine is a very useful resource for those of us with small backyard flocks. Backyard Poultry has everything from showing birds to eating them. This is where we learned how to build the portable run that is in our back yard that we’ll blog about soon. Plans for that run can be seen here.

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply Catalog. A great source for seeds, bare root trees and many other items. We ordered our fig and pomegranate trees, our grape vines and our cover crop seeds from Peaceful Valley and have been happy with all of these items.

Of course, here’s a book that should be in every bathroom, the Humanure Handbook.

Urban Homestead Book Signing and Lecture


We’ll be delivering a lecture and and book-signing on the theme of “Low-tech is the new high-tech” at the Eco-Village Thursday the 26th of June. Here’s the 411:

Los Angeles Eco-Village
CRSP Institute for Urban Eco-Villages
and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition
present

THE URBAN HOMESTEAD
Talk, Slide Show and Book-Signing
with Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
Thursday June 26th 2008 7:30pm
at Los Angeles Eco-Village
117 Bimini Place, LA 90004
Directions at www.laecovillage.org
Suggested donation $5, no one turned away for lack of funds
Books sold separately for $15

Come hear the authors of the Homegrown Evolution blog and get yourself a copy of their brand-new book ‘The Urban Homestead,’ which covers various topics from raising chickens, to carrying cargo on your bicycle, to canning produce from your garden, to harvesting rainwater, and much more! All very inexpensive and step-by-step instructions. The book is an important addition to the shelf of every Angeleno concerned about sustainability, self-sufficiency, and living a high-quality low-impact lifestyle.

For more information, email [email protected] or call 213.738.1254

Admission proceeds will benefit both the Eco-village and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

I don’t hear you singing in the wire . . .

AT&T has yet to restore our phone and Internet service. To those who have ordered books I apologize for the delay (we’re also waiting for a new shipment from our publisher). It looks like it will be Monday before we will have anything other than smoke signals to communicate with, unless we shift to HAM or pirate radio (perhaps a good idea considering AT&T’s repair service–I’d hate to see what they’d be like in an earthquake).

In the meantime we leave you with a song that seems appropriate under our circumstances, Wichita Lineman, often described as the “first existential country song”:

Dookie in the Tomatoes

Our first tomatoes of the season are just beginning to ripen, coinciding nicely with the multi-state cow poo in the roma scare. Allow me to speculate wildly about the cause of the current epidemic, tracing the cause step by step from the beginning:

1. We begin not with the tomato farm, but instead with manure from that wonder of industrialized agriculture, the concentrated feed lot, where thousands of cattle stew in their own filth. Immunosuppressed cattle on these feed lots act as ideal Petri dishes for all kinds of diseases including salmonella. At these massive operations, cattle feed on corn even though, biologically, they were meant to eat grass. To counter the deleterious effects of feeding them the wrong food, they are pumped full of antibiotics which, due to the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, creates new generations of antibiotic resistant infections. Concentrating them so close together further facilitates the spread of exotic strains of all manor of nasty things including salmonella.

2. Manure from the feed lot either runs off accidentally onto a neighboring tomato farm or is exported as fertilizer intentionally. At some point, manure gets on a tomato, either on the farm or after being shipped.

3. A salmonella infected tomato arrives at a centralized packing facility where it is loaded into a massive water bath by underpaid workers to mingle with thousands of other tomatoes. The water bath acts as our second salmonella Petri dish along the tomato’s path to our table. Alternately, a blade used to automatically slice tomatoes gets infected with salmonella, thereby spreading the bug to all the other pre-sliced tomatoes headed to the food assemblers (a more accurate term than “chef”) at America’s fast food establishments.

4. After leaving the packing facility, Salmonella infected tomatoes get shipped all over the country and perhaps the world, thereby sentencing thousands of people to multi-day commode-sitting hell. Some immunosuppressed folks, sadly, die.

5. The government announces, acting in the interest of the big agricultural players, “our food system is actually safer than ever”, and congratulates themselves for their quick diagnoses of the exact strain of salmonella and its source–in this case, tomatoes processed by careless workers at a packing facility. Hearings ensue, and a few months later they announce a new series of bizarre regulations. Tomato packing facility washing equipment must now be maintained at the precise temperature of 163ยบ F for 5.375 minutes minimum. Problem solved. Mainstream journalists move on to the next hot topic.

Now I could be completely incorrect in my assumptions about this month’s tomato scare–it’s just a guess. But let me offer a few solutions that would take care of the problem no matter what caused this most recent outbreak:

1. If you can, grow your own tomatoes and make your own fertilizer. Yes, it’s possible (but a lot less likely) to get salmonella from your own home grown produce, but at least you and your family will be the only one infected.

2. Support small family farms. Again, a small family farm could cause a salmonella outbreak, but it would effect far fewer people. Decentralization at all points in the agricultural supply chain is the solution to greater food security, not further concentration. Unfortunately our government is on the take from the big players and promulgates regulations that make it impossible for small family farmers to make a living. Read Joel Salatin’s book, “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal” for more on how agricultural regulations are at the heart of our food safety problems.

3. Don’t wash produce until just before it is prepared. At it turns out, washing upsets the natural balance of harmful and beneficial bacteria present on fresh produce. Food microbiologist Keith Warriner has found that a beneficial bacteria called Enterobacter keeps salmonella in check. Wash off the Enterobacter and salmonella thrives (read more on this theory at New Scientist). The same holds for washing eggs–bad idea.

I count myself very fortunate to have a bit of land to grow some tomatoes and feel sorry for those who don’t have this luxury. I wish more journalists would spin this story as a reason to build more community gardens and allow apartment dwellers to grow some food on the roof. It leaves me eating that big juicy roma tomato, pictured above, with all the smugness of a Prius driver in the HOV lane.

Staycationing

Due to some sloppy utility work (thanks for the outsourcing DWP!), our phone and internet service are out for the next few days. Mrs. Homegrown Evolution is in San Francisco with our only cell phone.

To those of you who have ordered books I apologize for the delay.