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 über 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!

Food Fight

Homegrown Evolution readers in the Los Angeles area can catch a free screening of a new documentary by Chris Taylor called Food Fight on Saturday November 8th at 3:15 p.m. at the Mann Chinese 6 (6801 Hollywood Blvd.). Food Fight centers on the influence of Alice Waters founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley restaurant that pioneered the use of fresh, organically grown foods and what later came to be called “California Cuisine”. In addition to Waters, Food Fight features interviews with food pundits Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Dan Barber and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Homegrown Evolution viewed a preview copy and particularly enjoyed a segment on Chez Panisse’s mercurial chef Jeremiah Tower and the quixotic attempt by congressman Ron Kind to reform the last farm bill. While the California-centric local food movement portrayed in Food Fight can easily be dismissed as an elitist lifestyle for the wealthy, (it ain’t cheap to dine at Chez Panisse, any of Puck’s eateries or shop at farmers markets) Food Fight makes the case that we all pay a hidden cost for cheap processed supermarket food, namely obesity, diabetes and a host of other nutrition related maladies.

For more information and to view a preview go to www.foodfightthedoc.com

Bisphenol-A


Above, the bisphenol-A or BPA molecule, a type of plastic found in all kinds of products including baby bottles, plastic food containers, Nalgene bottles, some wines (from the plastic stoppers and the lining of fermentation tanks) and the lining in metal cans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s safe, a viewpoint contradicted by at least 100 studies. The problem: BPA is a endocrine disruptor linked to a host of problems, according to some researchers, including cancer, obesity, childhood hyperactivity and the early onset of puberty in girls.

We’ve done our best around our little urban homestead to eliminate plastics from our lives, but where we still encounter BPA is in canned foods which we like to have on hand. Next time you pop open a can take a look at the inside–odds are there is a nearly invisible clear plastic lining which is where you’ll find the BPA. So with BPA we have yet another one of those throw up your hands in disgust, anger and desperation moments at the supermarket. What to do?

Canning your own food is one good option. We started doing this last year and it’s surprisingly easy. The Ball company’s website can get you started on that project. Drying and pickling foods are other alternatives. Also, not all processed food manufactures use BPA. Eden Foods, available at health food stores, skips the BPA.

Separating industry sponsored junk science from government policy is another important, though much more difficult step. Within the means of each of us is developing our own scientific literacy as individual citizens. Read the studies, write your government representatives and fire up that hot water canning bath.

Homegrown Evolution at Modern Times San Francisco

Mrs. Homegrown Evolution will be delivering a talk and doing a book signing of our book The Urban Homestead at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco this Wednesday October 15th at 7:30 p.m (Mr. Homegrown will be resting his polyester clad derriere back at the urban homestead in Los Angeles). Modern Times is located at 888 Valencia Street in the beating heart of the Mission District. Come on out and support this indepedent, collectively owned bookstore which has been in business since 1971 and hear Mrs Homegrown talk about vegetables, chickens and much more.

Friday Afternoon Linkages–Some Fun, Some Scary

Life is like a seesaw with a rusty bolt–a good kid on one end and a bad kid on the other and no way to tell whose ass is gonna hit the ground hardest. On the fun side of life’s pesky algebra equation this week:

Mark Frauenfelder is experimenting with a unique way of drying persimmons using a traditional Japanese method as pictured on the left.

Meanwhile, in a busy month of blogging, the intrepid urban homesteaders over at Ramshackle Solid show you how to make depression style candles, sweet potato and yam chips, and acorn flour. All great projects for our world’s ongoing “deleveraging”.

And, speaking of deleveraging, on the oooooh, scary we’re all going to die side of the equation:

David Khan of Edendale Farms has a video from peak oil partisan Matthew Simmons on a run on the gas station scenario that we’ll let you all ponder.

And in the really scary department, Dr. Oerjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University, aboard the Russian research ship Jakob Smirnitskyi in the Arctic Ocean, reports:

“We had a hectic finishing of the sampling program yesterday and this past night. An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface.”

No comment other than . . . yow! Full story here.