130 Farm Unfixed with Jessica Rath

In her work artist Jessica Rath examines, as she puts it, “how human containment of the land effects non-human species from the propagation of agricultural plants to the sensoria of bees.” She is on the faculty of the Art Center College of Design and her previous projects include works about apple breeding, co-evolutionary communication between flowering plants and their pollinators and a long term project called Farm Unfixed that we spend most of this conversation discussing. During the podcast Jessica mentions,

You can look at Jessica’s work on her website at jessicarath.com. Sign up for her newsletter to find out about upcoming projects.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Counterintelligence

After seven years our two cats have finally discovered that they can jump on the kitchen counters. They made this unfortunate discovery just as Kelly and I were preparing food for a dinner party. Kelly chopped some cheese and went to take care of something in another room. When I stepped into the kitchen one of our cats, Buck, was up on the counter and happily noshing down on that cheese.

Few things in nature are as deliberative as a cat making a call on jumping. The assault on our kitchen counters actually came in two parts, somewhat like finding an alternate route up Mt. Everest. The first step came two weeks ago when the cats figured out they could jump on the counter adjacent to the stove. From there they must have spotted the other counter and a week later made the dinner party assault on cheese summit. Perhaps someone will come up with a cat jump rating similar to the climbing grades used by mountaineers?

In a parallel cognitive leap, the cats also figured out how to explore the cabinets and remove lids from Tupperware containers. Looks like we’re going to have to give up cooking and eat all our meals out.

Lead in Backyard Eggs: Don’t Freak Out But Don’t Ignore the Issue

Image: UC Cooperative Extension.

Back in 2018 UC Davis began a study of heavy metal contamination of eggs from backyard chicken flocks. The study analyzed eggs from 344 California residences using Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry to look for arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and and nickel.

The overall results for the study show that the main metal to worry about is lead, though some of the samples showed elevated levels of mercury and cadmium that could be a concern. The maximum lead level found was 27.97 ug/egg which is well over the maximum recommended exposure level of 3 ug for children and 12.5 ug for adults. That said, the average was 1.39 ug of lead.

I was eager to participate in this study since we found elevated lead levels in our soil when we did a series of soil tests back in 2011. Thankfully our egg results came in at 1.02 ug, just under the average level in the study. You’d have to eat a lot of eggs as an adult to go beyond the Federal Drug Administration’s maximum recommended lead intake level, though you could bump up against it if a child ate more than three eggs a day.

I’d suggest that if you live in an older urban location, next to a gas station or other industrial site or a recently burned area you may want to get your eggs tested. Odds are that your backyard eggs are safe to eat but, as the study showed, some of the lead results were well over safe levels.

Here’s what UC Cooperative Extension suggests if you have a lead issue,

Once potentially contaminated areas are identified, it is your job to prevent your chickens from coming in contact with those areas! You may choose to completely remove access to these areas or add clean cover material (soil, mulch, etc.) to reduce contact with or ingestion of contaminated soil. If you choose to use cover material, remember to inspect the cover regularly and add/maintain material as needed.

To further prevent ingestion of contaminated soil, provide chickens’ regular feed in feeders, and avoid scattering feed, including scratch grains and food scraps, on bare ground. Also, avoid feeding chickens unwashed garden scraps from these areas.

Consider providing a calcium supplement, which may help to reduce the amount of lead that gets into chickens’ eggs.

While we got a free test out of the study (thank you UC Davis!), you can have your eggs tested for a fee by contacting the California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) laboratory (phone: 530-752-8700).