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.

Homegrown Evolution Visits the Los Angeles County Fair

There’s a guy I sometimes see on my morning jogs commuting to work on what looks like a kid’s scooter outfitted with an electric motor. The high price of gas has, in fact, driven folks here in L.A. to increasingly bizarre forms of transportation: barely functional 1980s Mercedes Benzes running on deep fryer fat, scooters, golf cart like electric cars etc. I’m waiting for folks to adopt the glorious, 19th century bicycle, and while many have, I’m not holding my breath until gas prices get much higher. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know the “pain at the pump” has gotten really bad when we start to see the return of draft horses to Los Angeles. To preview that possibility and experience the fading agricultural glory of Los Angeles County we headed to the Los Angeles County Fair this past week. Here’s a pictorial tour:

It was a real pleasure to view the elegant moves of the draft horses and their handlers. The competition we watched involved maneuvering a carriage around obstacles, backing up into a tight space, stopping at a mail box and weaving around some cones. Good training for pulling that carriage into L.A.’s many mini-malls. All that was missing from the competition was text messaging while driving.

The big highlight of the fair for us was visiting the beekeeping booth, viewing a display hive and talking with a knowledgeable beekeeper (didn’t get a decent picture). Best of all we made contact with our local beekeeping club, and we’ll have information next month for those of you in the L.A. area who are interested in keeping bees.

From beekeeping we jumped on over to the home economics competitions and marveled at the preserved foods display. With the recent success of Pickle Fest 2008, we predict a new batch of competitors in next year’s competition.


Mrs. Homegrown Evolution got obsessed with determining the judging criteria of the bizarre “tablescaping” competition. Mr. Homegrown Evolution marveled at a tablescaping entry that managed to incorporate LA subway maps.

Sadly, there was a lot of lame stuff at the fair as well. Los Angeles was once the wealthiest agricultural county in the United States. Now, as one local agricultural official put it to me, “we grow houses” and our county fair that reflects that fact. Out went the 4-H clubs and in comes the corporate sponsors.

Taking the place of what used to be livestock competitions was a farm animal exhibition called “Fair View Farms” sponsored by McDonald’s. Do I need to comment on the irony of that bit of branding? Fair View Farms featured bleak panoramas, such as this large pen of pigs with, oddly, a bunch of ordinary roosters pecking around.

What happened to all the different animal breeds I remember from the San Diego Fair?

McDonald’s also sponsored a revisionist nutrition re-education compound, the educational content of which would make papa Stalin proud. When I dropped by, a bunch of bored school kids, sitting amongst straw bales, were being taught how to make a fruit smoothie by Monica Montes, R.D., who was sporting one of those wearable microphones just like the drive-through cashiers at McDonald’s use. I fled, fearing that I might ask something snarky during the question and answer session. I guess every R.D. has their price. Who knows, with the high cost of Mr. Homegrown Evolution’s recent root canal, you may soon see our backyard chicken flock hit the road sponsored by, say, Carls Jr.

And speaking of Stalinist re-education, the dairy council entertained us with a heavily pixelated web video transferred to DVD all about the wonders of industrial milk production. They carefully glossed over the way cows are kept in massive pens with no access to pasture and, instead, wisely decided to focus, in great detail, on how they manufacture plastic milk bottles. They even showed us how the bottles are shrink wrapped and placed on pallets. And what says “fun day at the fair” more than watching “palletizing” on a TV placed in a vintage 1980s entertainment cabinet while sitting in 100º heat?

To end on a less cranky note, we’ll leave you with these lovely vintage diagrams done in a classic early 20th century sign making style, one below and one at the top of this post. It’s really hard to say when they were made.

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.