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 Grand Tour

Say howdy to Wendy and Mikey, intrepid homesteaders from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Thanks to the wonders of internet video we can all see what they’ve been up to: a long list of activities that includes, papercrete, oyster mushroom cultivation, DIY drip irrigation, vegetable gardening, rainwater harvesting, dome building and more.


The Grand Tour from Mikey Sklar on Vimeo.

Wendy and Mickey blog about their activities at blog.holyscraphotsprings.com.

Here at Homegrown Evolution we’d like to start featuring more profiles of what you, our readers, have been up to. Please drop us a line, a link, a video or some photos–we’re interested in any effort, from the simple to the grand.

Say . . . Smart Gals Speakeasy

Homegrown Evolution will be making a special appearance on Sunday August 17th courtesy of the Smart Gals. We’ll be doing a hands-on apartment homesteading demo and delivering a crazed Powerpoint (hint: more info on the Texas Centaur). Here’s the 411:

Sunday, August 17th, 2008
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Mt. Hollywood Underground
4607 Prospect Avenue, Los Feliz
Admission $15.00
More information and the passwords: www.smartgals.org (don’t forget to look at the Smart Gals website to get the password!).
323 302-2257
(not just for chicks!)

The image on the right is a bookmark we created for the occasion.

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.

Tomato Review #2 Banana Legs – it don’t look like a banana and it don’t got legs

It’s raining tomatoes here at the Homegrown Evolution compound and time for the second in our series of tomato reviews. Today, Banana Legs, a determinate variety with yellow flesh and light green streaks. It has a mild, low acid flavor and a meaty texture. Not bad, not thrilling, not nearly is as good as a similar looking tomato we grew last year, Power’s Heirloom.

We grew our Banana Legs in a self watering container (SWC) and it produced a respectable amount of fruit. With a sunny balcony, folks in apartments could do the same. For our container we used a repurposed storage bin and we’d recommend the largest container you can find for tomatoes or sticking to tomato varieties specifically bred for containers. As soon as the large root system of a tomato plant gets down into the water reservoir at the bottom of an SWC you can get some leaf curl. This did not seem to reduce the output of our plant, but it was somewhat ugly looking. We also made the dumb, lazy mistake of not caging the plant and it sprawled helplessly over the sides of the planter, probably reducing our yield. Here’s the way we normally cage our tomatoes when we’re not too busy blogging. You can also check out Bruce F’s nice staking system for his rooftop garden in Chicago.

Verdict: we gotta get some of those Power’s Heirloom seeds next season, but I’ll save a few of the Banana Legs seeds for the sake of variety.

An Omnivore’s Dilemma

I’m constantly amazed at the wide spectrum of people interested in the subjects profiled on this blog. Our readers run the gamut from leftists to libertarians, to Republicans, with a sprinkling of hunters, new moms, city dwellers, suburbanites, and more all united in the common goal of manifesting a better world.

Of course such a wide coalition isn’t always going to agree on everything. This week we heard from some animal rights activists amongst our readers who politely took issue with the fact that we keep chickens for eggs. I’ll keep my rebuttal short, hoping that we can stay focused on our common goals. With the animal rights folks I agree that current agribusiness livestock practices are appalling and I suspect most of our readers agree on this point. I don’t agree with animal rights activists on the nature of the relationship between domesticated animals and humans. I see a long historical, symbiotic, beneficial relationship cutting across almost all the peoples of the world (with some exceptions such as Hindus). Farmer Bryan Welch sums up my attitude far more eloquently than I can in an essay in Mother Earth News when he says, “I get a lot of laughs watching my animals figure out their lives and I get pretty sad when it’s time to kill them. I have a lot more death in my life than I did before. And, ironically, that’s part of the reason why I feel like I have a lot more life in my life. That’s why I farm.”

Even though I’m raising hens for eggs not meat (though I don’t have a problem with doing so), there are ethical questions involved in keeping backyard poultry. Is shipping chicks by mail humane? What to do with roosters? Would keeping hens on pasture be better than confined to a run? I believe these concerns are outweighed by the benefits of knowing where my food comes from, but others may disagree and I respect that.

Since I’ve been asked in the past, I’ll let everyone know that I’m a omnivore (though I don’t eat much meat, following Michael Pollan’s admonition, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”). Mrs. Homegrown is a “fishetarian”. And I’m interested in hearing our reader’s opinions on the ethicacy of keeping backyard livestock: please leave comments. I’ve also crafted a poll that you’ll find along the right side of this page to indicate your dietary practices which I’m curious about.

Bird Flu and Industrial Agriculture

While I have not seen this new documentary, Shall We Gather at the River, its website contains three provocative interview clips with Michael Greger M.D., the U.S. Humane Society’s Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture. In these excerpts Dr. Greger asserts that industrial agriculture’s penchant for cramming thousands of animals into sheds is the most likely vector for a host of scary diseases such as bird flu and mad cow disease.

Keeping chickens in our backyard has brought home the debate on biosecurity and bird flu. There’s considerable dispute about how these viruses spread, with the industry trying to make the case that wild birds and backyard poultry keepers such as ourselves are a greater threat. A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Industrial Livestock Production and Global Health Risks (pdf) lends credence to Dr. Greger’s assertion that the hazard of a bird flu outbreak comes not just from backyard flocks but from large scale livestock operations. It seems logical: pack thousands of immunosupressed birds in a shed and spew their waste into the air and waterways and you’re asking for trouble.

And f.y.i. our sickened hen (not by influenza) seems to be on the mend and will hopefully rejoin the flock soon.

Problems Part I


The road to urban homesteading ain’t smooth and involves more than a few potholes along the way. Some of those potholes will swallow a bike tire while others are big enough for a Hummer. But with persistence it becomes easier to deal with the occasional bump, lessons can be learned and future mistakes avoided. With the popularity of our earlier blunders post, I’d like to begin regularly sharing problems as they develop. Here’s problem #1 for this troublesome July:

A Sick Chicken

Our Araucana hen became listless and depressed over the weekend, just sitting around, avoiding food and not engaging in the usual hen chatter. She also stopped laying eggs. At first we thought she might be egg bound, a condition in which an egg becomes stuck on the way out the cloaca. Warm baths and lubricants (I’m going to resist a cheap joke here) ensued with no results. The thought of inserting a finger into the cloaca, or worse, attempting to break an egg seemed foolish for inexperienced chicken owners such as ourselves. As of today we can feel no swelling in the abdomen, or butt dragging, both signs of an egg-bound chicken.

We began to think that our ill tempered Rhode Island Red, who had pecked the Araucana pretty badly last week, may have caused an infection to develop. On Sunday we borrowed some antibiotics from a fellow backyard chicken keeper, specifically a product called Terramycin which we added to her drinking water. As of today she is substantially improved, but not completely back to normal. As a friend of ours who grew up on a farm says, “chickens are either on or off.” Once they get sick they often don’t come back “on”. We’ll hope for the best.

This problem brings to mind two lessons we’ve learned in the past year of backyard chicken keeping:

1. When you build your coop think about creating an isolation ward. A real farmer would just cull a sick bird to keep the flock safe. For those of us with just a few hens this is more difficult and it’s great to have a place to separate, at a distance, a sick bird just in case they have something communicable. It’s better to figure out how to configure this ahead of time rather than at 8 p.m. on a Sunday. Thankfully we’ve got a large dog pen for our Doberman that can double as a small chicken run. We’ve also got a small dog/cat crate that works well for bringing a chicken indoors at night to keep her warm.

2. Have medications on hand before you need them. A chicken first aid kit is a good idea. Here’s an article on what that kit should include. If our hen recovers we’ll have to follow up the Terramycin with a probiotic supplement to restore beneficial gut bacteria killed by the antibiotics. It would have been great to have these medications on hand rather than having to run to a feed store, rely on a friend, or pay to have them shipped overnight.

Stay tuned for July’s problem #2–an old friend–blossom end rot.

UPDATE: The Araucana (actually, probably a “Americana”) made a full recovery.

Bike Porn

As the Bicycle Film Festival wraps up here in Los Angeles I’m reminded of how exciting it is to feel a part of a subculture not yet discovered by the masses. Perhaps $4 a gallon gasoline will bring a few more converts, but I’m not holding my breath. The joy of riding a bike is a far greater incentive than economic necessity. I’d rather crest a steep hill with a sense of accomplishment rather than a winded desperation. The bike film fest is a celebration of an everyday physical virtuosity that will become more important as the crack-like cultural high of fossil fuels proves increasingly expensive and destructive. This is a film fest that sings the body acoustic.

After leaving LA the festival travels to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, Austin, London, Vienna, and beyond. Check the Bike Film Festival calendar to see if it comes to a city near you. Thanks to the wonders of youtube, if you can’t make it to the festival you can watch a lot of the films online. Here’s a few:

Macaframa
“SF’s most talented street track riders.”

Tico Jam 5
BMX bike porn in Costa Rica. I could watch these folks do their thing for hours.

D.I.Y. Emancipation 101
A nice animation about how the bicycle brought freedom to women.

Orange Bikes Take Manhattan
All about a misguided viral marketing campaign from DKNY.

The Way Bobby Sees It
A gripping story about a blind mountain bike rider.

Wolfpack Hustle: The Midnight Drag Race
2nd Street Tunnel single speed and fixed gear drag races in Los Angeles.

Waffle Bike
From the same demented duo who did a nice video about bike thievery in New York a few years ago.

Whiteflies

The upside to garden pests and diseases is getting to do a little amateur backyard science. Any excuse to mix up a martini, pull out the microscope and take a close look at things and we’re all over it. This week’s happy hour entomology comes thanks to a infestation of white flies living on the underside of our tree collards.

I believe the specific culprit pictured above is the greenhouse whitefly, Trialeurodes vaporariorum which, despite the name, does not only inhabit greenhouses. Moving the leaf around under the microscope revealed thousands of tiny eggs pictured on the right. These eggs hatch and pass through several stages on the way to the winged adults seen above. At all stages, whiteflies suck sap from the host plant (brassica family members like collards are a favorite) and exude honeydew. Some whitefly species are tended and protected by ants acting like miniature cattle ranchers in return for the sweet, sticky honeydew–yet another remarkable example of symbiosis among nature’s many cycles of interdependence.

Control of our whitefly interlopers was simple: we washed them off with a hose. If we had a huge row of collards we might have had a bigger problem on our hands, but biodiversity in our tiny backyard means that the whiteflys don’t have many other options for feeding. What we could have done better is to have kept a closer eye on our plants. Daily inspection of more sensitive vegetables is always a good idea, but something we’ve been lax about lately. Keeping intensively planted annual vegetable beds close to places of daily activity means being able to stay on top of pest and disease problems. Raised beds we recently installed by the front door are on the path of our early morning amble down to the street to pick up the newspaper. A quick glance is sometimes all that’s need to spot a problem.

Permaculturalist Bill Mollison and David Holmgren suggest conceiving of our living spaces in a series of concentric zones, numbered one through five, with the first zone being our house and kitchen gardens and the outer zones being less cultivated and more wild spaces. Mollison and Holmgren’s zones are easily miniaturized for small urban yards. Trees that don’t need much attention can go towards the back, the chickens a little closer and the vegetables and herbs can benefit from being close at hand.

For additional information on whiteflys see the Colorado State Extension service’s whitefly quick facts.