Archive for December, 2010

Best of 2010: Food In Uncertain Times

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

by Makenna Goodman
October 21, 2010

Having food resiliency is as much about learning how to store and use food properly as it is about growing it. The key is learning interdependence not independence.

In an age of erratic weather and instability, it’s increasingly important to develop a greater self-reliance when it comes to food. And because of this, more than ever before, farmers are developing new gardening techniques that help achieve a greater resilience. Longtime gardener and scientist Carol Deppe, in her new book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, offers a wealth of unique and expansive information for serious home gardeners and farmers who are seeking optimistic advice. Do you want to know more about the five crops you need to survive through the next thousand years? What about tips for drying summer squash, for your winter soups? Ever thought of keeping ducks on your land? Read on.

Makenna Goodman: Many gardeners (both beginners and more serious growers) come across obstacles they might not have planned for. In your new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, you talk about the need for real gardening techniques for both good times and bad. What is the first step toward achieving this kind of resilience?

Carol Deppe: The basic issues are getting more control over our food, getting lots higher quality and more delicious food, and enhancing the resilience of our food supply. There are three ways to do that. The first is through local buying patterns and trade. A second is through knowing how to store or process food that is available locally, whether we grow it ourselves or not. The third is gardening. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk as much about storing and using food as growing it. I love gardening, but not everyone is in a position to garden every year of their lives.

However the person who has learned to make spectacular applesauce or cider or apple butter or pies can often trade some of the processed products for all the apples needed. Buying local food supports local food resilience. A couple hundred pounds of gourmet-quality potatoes tucked away in the garage — potatoes that you have learned to store optimally — represent serious food security, whether you grew them or bought them from a local farmer right after the harvest. Our buying and trading patterns and our skill at storing and using food as well as gardening are all part of our food resilience. All can serve as the starting point to begin taking greater control over our food.

So the first thing I would say is, garden if you can and if you enjoy it. Whether you garden right now or not, though, learn more about how to store and use the food that is grown locally. Lots of times, it is storing and using that is more of the missing link than gardening. Most gardeners know how to grow field corn. But most don’t have the knowledge to turn corn into gourmet-quality fast-cooking polenta or savory corn gravy or even cornbread (without using wheat or other things they can’t grow), let alone fine-textured cakes. Most gardeners can grow potatoes. But most don’t know how to store their potatoes optimally. Most can grow blue potatoes. But most try to prepare their blue potatoes just like whites or reds. Few know how to turn a blue potato into spectacularly delicious food. In The Resilient Gardener, I spend as much time on how to store and use food as how to grow it.

We humans trade. We enjoy it, and it greases the social wheels. Sometimes we use intermediaries like money, sometimes not. Sometimes the trades are formal. Sometimes we call it gifts. I trade or sell or gift part of the best I have. Part of the best of others comes back to me. My friends, neighbors, and exchange networks are part of my resilience. I aim for greater self-reliance. I like to enjoy doing more for myself. And I love to garden, and to grow food. But I don’t aim at “independence.” Healthy humans are never independent. We are interdependent. What we want is to be self-reliant enough to hold up our end of honorable interdependence. Our skill at growing, storing, processing, using, or trading food can all be part of our contribution to honorable interdependence.

Neanderthal stone tools, interestingly, are all found within a few miles of where the rocks originated. And the tools didn’t change very much over time. But Homo sapiens that lived at the same time had tools made from rocks that were clearly traded over long distances. And H. sapiens tools changed and developed rapidly. We traded our ideas along with all our stuff. Any Neanderthal tribe that met a sapiens tribe was one tribe against an entire species. I’m a Homo sapiens, and I follow Homo sapien traditions. I aim for appropriate self-reliance, not for independence. Independence is for Neanderthals.

MG: It’s kind of a relief, actually, to think about gardening outside the realm of those perfect photos so prevalent in other gardening books. For people who have day jobs taking them away from their farms and gardens, resilient gardening might seem like a miracle. How would you compare resilient gardening to more traditional forms?

CD: Much of our garden writing is about the gardens of rich people who have employees to do the work. Even non-rich people with full-time jobs and no hired help are encouraged to take the gardens of rich people as the model. Beauty and showing off and ornamental plantings and huge high-maintenance inedible lawns have mattered more than food, for example. I’m not rich enough and haven’t the time or inclination for that sort of gardening. I delight in all the knowledge about plants, ecology, and gardening we have today. But I take peasants as my basic model. I aim to be a modern peasant. I focus primarily upon growing food, especially upon staple crops and crops of special nutritional value. And I want lots of delicious food for the least possible work.

In addition, in the real world, things are always going wrong. These can be private or personal, such as an injury or family emergency that removes your labor from the garden for a while. Or they can be financial. Loss of a job can mean you really need to know how to get most of your food from the garden, not just fruits and vegetables. I also look at things over a thousand years. Over that kind of period, humans experience mega-crises of various kinds.

On average, the Pacific Northwest experiences two or three mega-earthquakes per thousand years, for example, which would destroy our roads and bridges and cut us off for years. Many kinds of natural and societal disasters occur over such time frames. Gardeners who know how to grow food can be reservoirs of knowledge, skills, and seeds for their communities. For this, though, the gardeners need to know how to grow staple crops, that is, calories and protein, not just fruits and vegetables. In good times, gardeners don’t necessarily need to grow all their staple crops. But in good times, resilient gardeners learn to grow and use some of their staple crops so that they at least know how.

The resilient gardener knows we have our ups and downs, as individuals, families, societies, and as a species. The resilient garden is designed and managed so that when things go wrong, they have less impact. Most gardens are good-time gardens. They self-destruct rapidly if deprived of our labor. They depend upon constant imports of fertilizer and seeds. They need relatively stable weather. The resilient gardener has learned to operate with minimal external inputs, and in a world where climate is changing and weather is more erratic. The resilient gardener knows how to save seeds. The resilient garden is one that thrives and helps its people and their communities survive and thrive through everything that comes their way, from tomorrow through the next thousand years.

MG: In an era with unpredictable climate conditions — hurricanes, floods, droughts, etc — what, in your opinion, is the most widespread condition today’s gardeners face? Why do you think this is?

CD: The unpredictability itself is the greatest problem. This summer, for example, is the coldest summer I have ever experienced in Oregon in 30 years. By mid-August there had been only one week all summer that had any days above 90°. Many days in June and July didn’t even make it to 80°. Meanwhile, much of the East Coast had a record-breakingly hot summer.

For the last fifty years, the weather patterns have generally been unusually stable. Our modern gardening and agricultural practices actually depend upon that stability. Our farms and gardens have become good-time farms and gardens. They are likely to fail just when we need them most. We now need gardens and farms that survive and thrive in the face of greater unpredictability.

Wild erratic weather is typical of climate change, and is much more important to gardeners and farmers than a fraction of a degree’s change in average global climate. However, humanity has made it through the transition from relative stability to instability in climate before, for example, in our adjustment to the erratic weather of the Little Ice Age. There are agricultural patterns and methods we have developed in the past when we needed them that we can relearn and expand upon today.

MG: Gardening for resilience, as you discuss, also means choosing your crop varieties for optimum self-reliance and hardiness. What’s the most fantastic quality of each of the five crops you talk about in your book — potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs?

CD: Potatoes are a great source of both carbohydrates and protein. They have protein levels comparable to the most protein-rich grains by the time you adjust for water. They yield more carbohydrate per square foot than anything we can grow in temperate climates. They yield more protein per square foot than anything we can grow except beans. They have good levels of vitamin C and significant amounts of calcium and other minerals. They are the easiest of all staple crops to grow. They yield much more carbohydrate and protein than anything else per unit labor. Small grains take fine seed beds, meaning tillers, tractors, or draft animals.

Anyone with a shovel can grow potatoes. And potatoes can be grown on rough land, land just converted from lawn or pasture or patch of weeds. Grains usually require special grinding equipment. Anyone who can build a fire can cook potatoes. Potatoes grow well in places too cold or wet for grains. Potatoes are far more impervious to nasty weather than grains. Cool or cold or wet stormy weather that can harm, delay, or even destroy, corn, squash, and other summer crops are likely to make the potatoes grow more happily than ever. So growing both potatoes and other crops provides a balance that provides resilience. Potatoes yield well on limited fertility, too. And in most areas of the country, they can be grown unirrigated, even where all other summer crops require irrigation.

People these days tend to remember the Irish Potato Famine, when late blight destroyed the entire Irish potato crop. But we should also remember that the potato was one of the major saviors of Europeans during the Little Ice Age, a crop that was central to their adjustment to the erratic weather associated with climate change, a crop that yielded year in year out, decade in decade out before there were any problems. European populations suffered famines and disease epidemics because their grain crops couldn’t handle the colder, wetter, stormier, less predictable weather. After incorporating potatoes into their repertoire, European populations thrived and expanded, erratic weather, Little Ice Age, or no.

Potatoes are delicious. With all the varieties and flavors and cooking methods, we can eat potatoes every day and never get tired of them. Nate and I grow major amounts of potatoes. And with our sophisticated but low-tech storage methods, we have prime potatoes for eight or nine months of the year. Remembering the vulnerability of the potato to disease, though, unlike the Potato-Famine-era Irish, we grow many varieties, we have learned to save potato seed with near-certified-seed level of proficiency, and we use potatoes as only one among several staple crops.

Grains and beans are the ultimate survival crops because they are so long-storing. It is stored grains and beans we would need if a planet-wide disaster such as a comet strike or mega-volcano wiped out agriculture worldwide for an entire year or more. Grains are not as easy to grow as potatoes, though. We grow corn, the easiest of all grains to grow and process on a small scale. Corn is also, in areas where it grows well, by far the highest yielding of the grains. In addition, unlike the small grains, you can grow corn with nothing but a shovel or heavy hoe. You don’t need a finely tilled bed as is needed for the small grains. We grow special people-food grade gourmet-quality corn that is completely unlike anything you can buy commercially. Cornbread and polenta are our major carbohydrate staples during late spring and early summer after the potatoes and winter squash are gone, and they provide variety year round.

Most of our corn is very early varieties that dry down during August instead of needing to be irrigated heavily then. They can make a crop on no irrigation, and a good crop on just two or three irrigations. We also grow a little late flint corn. It has to be watered all August and finishes late, full into the rainy season. We grow our pole beans on the late corn most years. And the pole beans need irrigation all season anyway.

Grain legumes, that is, beans, peas, teparies, garbanzos, cowpeas, lentils, soybeans, and others, keep well and are prime for a little beyond a year. There are many species that are associated with specific regions or growing patterns. So we plant fava beans in fall and overwinter them, for example, garbs in early spring, and common beans and cowpeas and teparies in spring to grow during summer.

We prefer to plant one variety of each of five species rather than five varieties of one species. This helps give us disease resilience. We grow one pole bean (common bean), one fava, one garb, one tepary, and one cowpea. Each is selected for spectacular flavor as well as resilience for its particular growing niche. This gives us five different species, which greatly facilitates saving pure seed; so we never have to buy seed. In addition, with winter, spring, and summer growing niches, a severe weather event is likely to wipe out only some, not all our beans.

We grow a lot of squash. We grow lots of winter squash of gourmet varieties that make spectacular food, and we know how to harvest, cure, and store it optimally. ‘Sweet Meat-Oregon Homestead’ is the line we use for our main winter squash food supply. It gives us prime winter squash through March. We also grow lots of delicatas, especially ‘Sugar Loaf-Hessel’ and ‘Honeyboat’ for fall eating.

We grow lots of summer squash for both fresh eating and drying. The dried summer squash is one of our major long-storing staples. Dried sliced summer squash of the right varieties makes wonderful soups and stews and chips. I have had a soup made mostly from six-year-old dried summer squash that was as delicious as it was the year I dried it.

Many people cannot make long-chain omega-3 fatty acids of the sorts we need from plant omega-3s. Some people can do the conversion reactions. Others cannot. So some people can be vegetarians. Others cannot. I’m one of the people who needs to have my long-chain omega-3s provided to me by eating animal products. Commercial animal products don’t work. The omega-3s have been stripped out of them by the unnatural ways the animals are raised. I need grass-fed meat or milk, or cold-water wild fish, or free-range eggs. Of these, it’s the laying flock that is easiest to keep on a home scale. So to create a full diet, in addition to my garden, I need a home laying flock. So there is a chapter in The Resilient Gardener on keeping the home chicken or duck laying flock, integrating them with your gardening, and feeding them as much as possible on garden produce and home-grown feed.

MG: Talk more about slicing and drying your squash — which is a delicious idea. How did you decide to store your squash this way?

CD: I stole the basic idea from a peasant, naturally. In this case it was Buffalo Bird Woman, the Hidatsa Indian whose expert gardening is described in Gilbert Wilson’s book, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. We grow plenty of delicious gourmet-quality winter squash and use them as one of our main staples. But we also grow lots of zucchinis and other summer squash, eat them as summer squash, and slice and dry the oversized squash to produce an additional long-storing staple. For Buffalo Bird Woman, it was this sliced dried summer squash that was the main product of the squash patch, with fresh summer squash and mature winter squash being delicious but minor components. Buffalo Bird Woman had specially shaped knives, special squash sticks, and big drying racks — an elaborate sophisticated technology — all designed to produce huge amounts of dried summer squash as efficiently as possible.

I studied, tried, and created modern variants of Buffalo Bird Woman’s methods. Then I evaluated dozens of different modern summer squash varieties for flavor and usefulness as dry squash.

Most dried summer squash actually don’t taste like much. Some actually taste bad. However, some varieties have powerful, delicious, unique flavors when dried as summer squash slices, flavors so good that I would be happy to grow the squash just for drying. These varieties can be dried to be the basis for delicious soups and stews in winter. Different varieties give different flavors. In addition, some varieties make great dipping chips. Others make great sweet chips.

Delightfully, the fruits that are best for drying are bigger than those that are optimal for eating as summer squash. This means that with the right varieties, you can have all the stir-fried zucchini you want, and you can dry all those that escape you and get past the optimal stage for green eating. In this way, our summer squash patch produces both the fresh crop and an additional crop that is a long-storing staple. It also means that never again do we have to creep out in the dead of night to leave anonymous baskets of oversized zuchs on the doorsteps of our neighbors.

MG: Can you take us on a verbally illustrated tour of your garden? What does it look like? What do you have planted next to each other, and how do you space your rows?

CD: I’ve gardened in many ways in different years and eras, and I talk about them all in The Resilient Gardener. Sometimes I’ve had a few raised beds of tomatoes and greens in the back yard and a bigger patch of potatoes, corn, beans, and squash at the home of a friend. These days, my farm partner Nate and I garden on a couple of acres of good soil a few miles from home, a real luxury. Much of what is going on is determined by the fact that it is just our second season on that land.

About one acre is tilled. It’s divided into six sections. One section we’re turning into permanent garden beds to grow a big variety of garden crops, everything from amaranth greens and garlic to lettuce and strawberries. The rest is field crops that get rotated around each year. The field crops are all in rows spaced at 3′. (Or 7′ for the big squash.) The basic 3′ spacing is what is needed to get our rototiller between the rows, that is, when the rototiller works. Which it doesn’t always. The acre of crops is as much as we want to tend by hand when the rototiller is uncooperative. In addition, it’s as much as we want to water. This kind of spacing means we need to water the most water needy crops only once per week in August, the most water-short month, and less the rest of the time. And with this spacing, the potatoes don’t have to be watered at all. And everything could at least survive a good while if it didn’t get watered at all, even in August.

The permanent beds are 4′ across, the biggest we can reach across comfortably, with aisles between them that are alternating 3′ and 1′. That space is a compromise. Nate, being 32, can tend and harvest a garden by bending over or squatting. So if the garden was just his, he would space the beds with aisles 1′ wide. That way, he would have the most possible planting area for the total area that needs to be watered. And there would be as little aisle space that needs to be weeded as possible. I’m 64. My back and knees rebel against squatting or bending over for very long. I can hoe comfortably using the right kinds of tools that permit me to work standing upright with my back straight. I can also tend and harvest comfortably on my hands and knees, but that takes aisles 3′ across. If we split the difference, I wouldn’t be able to harvest from any of the rows. With alternating aisle widths, and Nate tending and harvesting preferentially from the narrow aisles, we can both tend and harvest. And we have lots more bed space than if we used 3′ aisles for everything.

We don’t put sides on our beds, incidentally. If we did that, we would have to tend all the space near the sides by hand, squatting or on hands and knees. With no sides on beds, the beds can mostly be tended by hoeing from a comfortable standing position, with a straight back. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk a good bit about the labor implications of various gardening styles and practices as well as what tools and methods to use if you have back problems. Most people garden in a way that strains or trashes their backs or knees. That is totally unnecessary if you match gardening styles and tools to your physical needs. When gardening bigger areas, this matching is especially important.

In our field, one major section is potatoes, about 23 varieties. Yellows, blues, reds, whites, bakers, boilers, early varieties, late varieties. The number of varieties gives us some resilience with respect to diseases as well as potatoes that are great for every possible cooking method, and that have many different flavors. We choose varieties based primarily upon spectacular flavor, but also upon storage ability and yield and disease resistance when grown under our conditions.

We grow our spuds organically, with no irrigation, and with only the modest levels of fertility of the sort that can be obtained simply by turning under a legume cover crop. Our spud patch should give us at least a thousand pounds of spuds, which will be prime eating quality through February, through April for certain varieties. Part of that long storage is appropriate choice of varieties. The rest of it is our method of storage, which is “sophisticated low tech.” We store the potatoes in our attached garage. That’s low tech. What is sophisticated is that we have figured out exactly what containers to use for optimum storage, and a maximum-minimum thermometer-hygrometer sits in the storage area. We occasionally open the garage door or the door to the house as needed in winter to control temperature or humidity.

Our potatoes don’t get irrigated. We grow them at 16″ in the rows instead of the 8 — 12″ so as to have one important staple crop that doesn’t require irrigation. That cuts down our water use and gardening labor. In addition, if the electricity failed and we couldn’t irrigate, our practice of growing potatoes without irrigation would really matter. Not irrigating also gives us especially clean, disease-free spuds. In addition, the flavors are much more intense than when the potatoes are irrigated. Water and fertility needs are very much affected by spacing. If we crowded the spuds more, we would need more fertile soil, probably imported fertilizer, and irrigation.

The tomatoes are at one end of the potato patch for purposes of rotation, since they are potato relatives. We water the tomato end.

About 1/6 of the garden is in legumes, but not in one section because we plant different species that are grown at different times of year, a common trick for spreading many kinds of risks and enhancing resilience. In addition, overwintering cool-season legumes don’t require watering. Staple crops that don’t require watering (or electricity) cuts the labor in good times and might be essential in bad times. So we plant ‘Iant’s Yellow’, in fall and overwinter them. Winter is our rainy season. ‘Iant’s Yellow’ is delicious as a dry bean (but not as a shelly). It usually overwinters well. It was an unusually cold winter, though. Most of our favas died out. These things happen. That’s why overwintered favas is just one of our beans and overwintering is just one of our patterns of growing beans.

We planted ‘Hannan Popbean’, a garbanzo, in early spring. It was unusually cool and wet, but they did fine. I’ve selected ‘Hannan’ to grow well when grown organically, to germinate cheerfully in cold mud, to be highly resistant to all the aphid-borne legume diseases that are rampant in the Willamette Valley, and to finish a crop in late July and without irrigation. We harvested the ‘Hannan’ yesterday. This year, there has been almost no summer heat, and everything is delayed. So the ‘Hannans’ took until mid-August. But they still did fine. The fact that they finish so early gives us resilience that we called upon this year.

Our vetch cover crop died out instead of growing last winter because of the unusual cold. So we’re short of fertility in the patch for summer-grown legumes. In addition, we didn’t get that area tilled during the short spring tilling window before an unusually wet spring ensued. (We got the ground tilled for the potatoes, garbs, and one corn planting, but didn’t have enough of a weather break for the rest.) So we got a late start planting the warm-season legumes. And it was already looking like a cool summer. This meant that any summer-grown beans might not mature until the rainy season. Common dry beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) tend to mold, rot, or split if they are asked to dry down in the rainy season. So we planted ‘Fast Lady Northern Southern Pea’ on all the land for summer grown legumes.

‘Fast Lady’, our Northern — and maritime-adapted cowpea, is very fine in texture and delicious, and like other cowpeas, doesn’t need to be soaked before cooking. Cowpeas are much better at making their own nitrogen than P. vulgaris dry beans, so our cowpea should be less affected by the fertility problem. Also, cowpeas are less harmed by getting rained upon when drying down than common beans. Cowpeas are also more drought resistant and better at scrounging water. That means we don’t have to water them as often as most summer grown beans. And we can eat the shoots, leaves, green pods, and shelly beans during the summer as well as harvest the dry seed. It adds flexibility when your main staple crops give you good summer green crops as well. And I’ve harvested ‘Fast Lady’ right in the middle of the rainy season before, and it was fine. The drying pods shed rain very nicely instead of absorbing it. In addition, being a cowpea, we can save pure seed from ‘Fast Lady’ even if we are growing pole beans, since the cowpea and common beans are different species. And ‘Fast Lady’ is by far the easiest to thresh of any bean I have ever grown.

We did an early planting of ‘Magic Manna’, the early corn that provides our parching corn, savory corn gravy, sweetbreads, some flavors of cornbread, and cakes. I’m talking about fine-grained cakes, such as angle food cake or sponge cakes. Real cakes. True flour corns can give you a flour almost as fine in texture as commercial wheat flour. ‘Magic Manna’ is a flour corn that gives us four different colors of ears, each with different flavors and cooking characteristics, all from one patch. Red and pink ears make great parching corn and sweetbreads. Pancake ivory and white ears make great pancakes, sweetbreads, and cakes. And brown ears make a delicious gravy as well as savory (non-sweet) cornbreads. ‘Magic Manna’ is very early. I bred it by selecting for flavor, and culinary characteristics from ‘Painted Mountain’. I designed the genetics so that one variety could produce corns with several flavors and culinary niches all from one patch. ‘Magic Manna’ should also be a great ornamental corn.

Then there is a much later planting of a late flint corn. Usually I grow pole beans on late corn, but we put the corn in too late for that this year.

We planted our early flint sister varieties ‘Cascade Creamcap’, ‘Cascade Ruby-Gold’, and ‘Cascade Maple-Gold Polenta’ on the farm of a cooperating grower. It pollinates at the same time as ‘Magic Manna’, so we don’t grow both on our land. The Cascade sister lines are so designed genetically that they can be planted in adjacent patches and still allow for saving seed. The Cascade planting will give us all our polenta, johnny cakes, and five different colors of ears for five more different flavors of cornbread, all from a single patch. Corn is my basic grain staple. I’m gluten intolerant. With these corns, I can make cornbread that holds together well enough to make sandwiches, and that requires only corn, water, eggs, butter or fat or oil of some sort, salt, baking powder, and water. I’ve bred these Cascade lines to be the ultimate survival corns as well as to be spectacularly delicious.

The squash patch provides winter squash, summer squash, and dry squash.

Then there is a huge patch of brassicas, mostly kale but also cabbage, broccoli, and others. We plant those mostly in late July and eat them all fall and winter and spring. Nate and I both love kale. Nate also makes lots of sauerkraut.

The backyard is now heavily shaded by trees on neighboring properties. I gardened there when I first moved into the house. At this point, we garden on our leased land, and the back yard is duck pasture. My flock of 35 laying ducks (Anconas) provides all the eggs we want as well as some to sell to cover the feed bills. They also provide all our breeding stock as well as generate ducklings for sale to others in the area. The Anconas eat commercial chow and forage in summer, but in fall, winter, and spring they eat mostly cull and small potatoes and winter squash, and such goodies as worms, sowbugs, and slugs. Ducks are a better choice for free-range layers in the maritime Northwest than chickens. In our climate, they are the ultimate ecologically well-adapted livestock. Compared with chickens, ducks lay better (especially in winter), are happy outdoors year round, can scrounge a much large portion of their feed, eat even big banana slugs, and are the best at yard and garden pest control. And they love our weather.

One of our friends is a melon grower. We trade potatoes for melons. We also sell potatoes to the duck egg customers. And starting in December this year, we plan to start selling seeds of some of the varieties I’ve been breeding for the last two decades. We forage wild cherries and serviceberries and sometimes hazelnuts. And we buy huge amounts blueberries from a blueberry farm down the street.

Ideally, we would like to have a small farm with some sheep and maybe water buffalo for milk, meat, and draft, and a full orchard, and of course, a pond for the ducks in addition to land for our garden and seed crops. But resilience is about just doing something now, making a start, doing what you can with what you have. And what we can do at the moment is lease some good gardening land that isn’t too far from our home, and grow lots of food, and breed new varieties selected specifically for flavor and resilience. And we can just play around and try things and have fun.

MG: For gardeners who are just starting out, do you think there’s something intimidating about the idea of the “perfect” garden?

CD: The issue of how to get a garden as perfect as possible — that isn’t my issue. My issue is, how can I get the highest yield of the most delicious food for the least possible time and effort? I’m lazy. I want to garden efficiently. Perfectionism really gets in the way of gardening efficiently. I don’t talk about very much about perfectionism. Instead, I talk about what I call “selective sloppiness.” I have spent a lot of time figuring out what I can get away with not doing. I even have a section in The Resilient Gardener that lists lots of things gardeners are frequently told to do that are unnecessary or even counterproductive.

Then, of those things that actually do matter, the question is, exactly how sloppy can I be about them and still get the results I want? What is the most appropriate level of sloppiness? What is, if you will, perfect sloppiness?

While I’m at it, I have to bring up that old adage that goes “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Nonsense! Most things worth doing are not worth doing well. They are only worth doing sloppily. And lots of what most of us spend much of our lives doing is not worth doing at all. Anything not worth doing at all is certainly not worth doing well.

Forget perfectionism! I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. The rest of our lives aren’t perfect. Why should our gardens be? Let’s make practical gardens, resilient gardens. And let’s manage our resilient gardens with cheerful, unapologetic selective sloppiness.

Read the original interview on Alternet.

Carol Deppe is the author of The Resilient Gardener, available now.

Best of 2010: NY Times Magazine Meets Radical Homemakers

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

What does raising chickens in your backyard have to do with feminism? Everything. say the radical homemakers, a new breed of women (and men) who reject society’s impulse to box them in with binary definitions like breadwinner/housewife. They grow much of their own food, mend their own clothes, and, most importantly, are part of a supportive community of sustainability-minded individuals who refuse to be mindless consumers. They’re back-to-the-landers writ small, and somehow they’re making it work.

From the New York Times magazine:

Four women I know—none of whom know one another—are building chicken coops in their backyards. It goes without saying that they already raise organic produce: my town, Berkeley, Calif., is the Vatican of locavorism, the high church of Alice Waters. Kitchen gardens are as much a given here as indoor plumbing. But chickens? That ups the ante. Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.

All of these gals—these chicks with chicks—are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.

Hayes pointed out that the original “problem that had no name” was as much spiritual as economic: a malaise that overtook middle-class housewives trapped in a life of schlepping and shopping. A generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment. Others merely found a new source of alienation. What to do? The wages of housewifery had not changed—an increased risk of depression, a niggling purposelessness, economic dependence on your husband—only now, bearing them was considered a “choice”: if you felt stuck, it was your own fault. What’s more, though today’s soccer moms may argue, quite rightly, that caretaking is undervalued in a society that measures success by a paycheck, their role is made possible by the size of their husband’s. In that way, they’ve been more of a pendulum swing than true game changers.

Enter the chicken coop.

Read the whole article here.
Related Articles:

Shannon Hayes’s book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, is available now.

“Of course organic farming can feed the world,” Coleman said. The audience was dumbstruck.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

A Visit from Maine’s Organic Gardening Guru, Eliot Coleman – The Atlantic Monthly

Yale’s Timothy Dwight common room is packed. The room quiets down, and a couple hundred Ivy affiliates surrender their ears … to a farmer.

The man, the farmer, the legend, is Eliot Coleman, educator, advocate of Four Seasons Farming (a year-round farming philosophy of his own creation), and author of several seminal books on organic farming. For nearly 40 years, Coleman has championed the organic farming cause, testing his methods on one and a half acres of the very successful Four Seasons Farm, on his property in Maine.

Coleman began by explaining that it was his taste for adventure that got him into farming. In his mid-twenties, Coleman was hiking, trekking, and climbing mountains, hauling a 90-pound bag of gear, venturing into nature for three or four weeks at a time: “It was a heck of a lot harder than farming,” he said. Coleman defines farming as a socially responsible adventure; the best adventure he has had so far, with the decades of dedication to the cause a hard-hitting testament to that fact.

In addition to farming and adventure, Coleman loves reading—a combination that birthed the success of his farming practice. Coleman briefed us on his story: he was a “kid from New Jersey” who started out at Williams College as a geology major, ending up with a master’s in Spanish literature, with absolutely no background in agriculture. Apart from having a sense of adventure, and paying attention to the systems already present in nature (a skill that he learned while hiking and mountain-climbing), Coleman got started in agriculture by reading old gardening books from the 1800s, to learn how people grew crops before pesticides and fertilizer. “I’m a Jeffersonian farmer,” Coleman said, “I read things.” What he learned, apparently, is alarmingly simple: You just have to grow them correctly.

Coleman explained that he utilizes a system of crop rotations based on regular soil amendments, and he uses the presence of pests to gauge if he is growing correctly: “Pests are the best Professors of Agriculture,” he said. He began to wax lyrical about nature, the force that is his second love (after his longtime wife, Barbara Damrosch, a renowned horticulturalist and author, who was seated in the front row).

“Nature is the most elegantly designed system,” Coleman said, going on to propose his theory that nature’s “flaws” are actually in man’s understanding of nature, not in nature herself. I began to get a sense of the greater mythology that governs Coleman’s practice. It seemed that if only we work with nature, instead of trying to control her, then we, too, could match the success of Coleman’s approach. “This mountain doesn’t have a top!” he exclaimed, reminding us that there is always more to learn.

Coleman segued to the heart of his story: He told us that he turned part of his 40 acres of rocky, woody land, with an initial soil pH of 4.3, in the harsh conditions of Maine, into a 1½ acre farm that yields $120,000 worth of produce a year. “Of course organic farming can feed the world,” Coleman said. The audience was dumbstruck; it was almost as if Coleman was responding to that feeling in the room when he said, “The word ‘impossible’ scares people off of things that if they tried, they’d realize weren’t so impossible.”

The Q&A session at the end of the event was a garden of anecdotes, advice, and quotations, dominated by the farmers and gardeners in the audience, asking for farming advice—after all, Coleman must be doing something right. The advice was sound, and simple: Rotate crops and livestock. Compost is the world’s best fertilizer. In fact, don’t use chemicals for anything: Chemicals result in deranged plants, the same way eating Twinkies results in deranged humans. Spinach, mache, corn salad, and claytonia (or “miner’s lettuce”) are the best crops for a winter hoophouse; also try asian greens, such as tatsoi and mizuna, or maybe even watercress or globe artichokes. If you don’t have time to save your own seed, existing seed houses—such as Johnny’s, FedCo, and Territorial—are doing a wonderful job.

Then there was the more eccentric advice. Problem with deer? Coleman recently put a deer fence around his whole farm, but before that he tried an electric box that, when triggered, would emit the call of a mountain lion. Or, you could put a radio out in the cornfield: Music is ineffective, but an all-night talk show will keep the fauna right away. Need more phosphorous in your soil? Use clamshells. More potassium? Use seaweed. Never put pig manure on your tomato beds. And so on.

This discussion eventually pointed to the idea of getting to the root of every problem in order to solve it. “The idea that is missing in modern medicine is correcting the problem, as opposed to treating the symptoms,” Coleman said. He cited examples. “If you have a headache, is your body deficient in aspirin? … War is symptom treatment … Diplomacy is cause correction.”

One of the final questions centered around Senate bill 510, which recently became law and, according to some, makes it illegal to grow, share, trade, or sell homegrown food. Coleman said the bill does not distinguish between large processors and small farms, and stressed that once something like this becomes law, it becomes easy to tweak and tweak it to put smaller growers out of business. But he added that in addition to policy, it’s American households that stunt the growth of local agriculture by spending only 9 percent of their income on food (compared to 15 percent for households in Europe). According to Coleman, if we are going to keep sustainable agriculture and small-scale farming alive, this desire for cheap food has to change.

Coleman’s parting advice: “Vote with your dollars.” He firmly believes that the entire agricultural cycle begins with individuals deciding what they will and won’t eat. “You’re in charge.”

This article originally appeared at 

Eliot Coleman is the author of several books on organic gardening including The Winter Harvest Handbook, which is now available as a set along with a DVD of one of Coleman’s excellent workshops

Best of 2010: Michael Ruppert: “Beware the Green Investment Bubble”

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

The following is an excerpt from Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World by Michael C. Ruppert. It has been adapted for the Web.

There is much popular talk about the coming new Green Economy; about how America will rebuild itself to new and undreamed-of prosperity by building an economy based on alternative, carbon-free or low-carbon energies. We have already seen how problematic some alternative energy sources are, but that’s only half of the problem. The other half is the fact that all these green energy companies are going to issue stock, borrow money and commit themselves to endless growth because they will function in the same economic paradigm that governs everything else.

They’re screwed before they even get out of the gate, especially for the brief interval where oil will stay below $100. In the Peak Oil movement we have called this “The Bumpy Plateau” for more than a decade. Any attempt at economic recovery will result in an immediate oil price spike in the face of depletion, which will kill the recovery and take another, deeper bite out of what was left when the recovery started.

It would be unwise to instantly forget what happened with the dot-com and housing bubbles. Both were illusions and well-orchestrated wealth transfers from the middle and lower classes to the wealthiest people in the country. The housing bubble was created and fanned white-hot by intentionally deregulating the mortgage industry, fraud and a host of crimes which sucked people into buying homes they could not afford and could never hope to pay for. A ton of money was created and it went to the people who ran the schemes: the largest banks, mortgage lenders and political campaign donors.

When that bubble collapsed, the taxpayers were asked to bail out first Bear Stearns and then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at total costs that will top $1 trillion dollars before counting the October 2008 bailout of $800 billion and all those that followed under many deliberately confusing names into the first quarter of 2009. As I write, the total “value” of various U.S. government bailouts has topped $10 trillion.

This doesn’t count the U.S. banks that have failed and are going to fail before banks are inevitably nationalized. Those are the same banks where green energy companies will be forced to look for financing. Personally, I think that the sooner the big banks fail, the sooner people can get to devising local currencies, which is what they’ll need to survive anyway. It is imperative to start that process while bridges are still standing and fresh water still runs. We need to start the transition to local currencies while there is still electricity and while fiber-optic cables are maintained and relatively new; while airlines fly and cell phones operate.

None of the above takes into account all the cash that homebuyers put into down payments initially. That money was lost too. That’s the same thing as the money that gullible investors poured into the dot-com bubble. The ones at the bottom of the pyramid are always us, and it is always our money that disappears first. The current monetary paradigm offers no other option. The above does not address the equity (energy) that was lost in each collapse. These are real costs.

In the market crash of 2002 and 2003 (which I accurately predicted, saying it was only a precursor to today’s events) hundreds of billions of dollars of shareholder equity were destroyed by the fraud of major corporations. Those dollars represented a lot more energy than what circulates today. The Federal Reserve has doubled its capitalization in less than a year, having left it alone for the previous nine decades. The equity was destroyed, but the wealth was transferred. And equity is where wealth resides in the dying economic paradigm.

There may be 40% less equity in the Dow Jones than there was in late 2007, but there is more equity that has been hidden and disguised by those who hold it. But even wealth transfers have a law of entropy. This is not a case where all those investments were converted 1:1 into some other form. The elites who thought they were immune are going down too, like dinosaurs who cannot grasp their impending extinction. Even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, has discovered himself mortal.

As the networks blithely talked about shareholder equity that was lost at the beginning of the collapse, they almost never mentioned how many billions of dollars pension funds, other institutional investors and individuals put back in to the markets when they bought more shares at newly lowered prices. When bubbles burst, those on the bottom literally pay twice. The first time, when they buy stocks that later tank, and again when they purchase new shares, hoping to make up for the equity they lost when the previous bubble burst. Does this sound like an out-of-control gambling addiction to you? What happened was that the people at the top got “their” money out, at the top. They sold their shares before the bubble burst. That’s why they call it “pump and dump.”

An American president cannot let this happen with a “Green Economy” for three reasons. First, the Treasury is empty and the United States now has its largest budget deficit ever, with the national debt exceeding $11 trillion. It doesn’t have many bailouts left, and these do absolutely nothing to solve the fundamental problem. They only impair the system’s ability to respond to new challenges, like feeding you when the time comes. Second, the infrastructure costs to assist in some kind of stable transition and to maintain basic services as oil and gas fade away are going to be astronomical. Third, the Green Economy has got to produce and deliver useable solutions quickly. We cannot afford energy bridges to nowhere that make great profit for investors but provide little or no real-world benefit. If the Green Economy doesn’t do this, then the nation will be left with a non-functioning energy infrastructure.

Beware of Greenwash hype.

A new level of oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), managed directly by the White House, is going to be essential. There will need to be the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for alternative energy companies which says that what they are selling will actually work. We know what to look for. The financial folks who will organize and fund the Green Economy will—as a matter of course—be of the same discipline, with the same priorities, trying to meet the same requirements as the folks who gave us Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, AIG, and Washington Mutual. If the Green Economy is to be any real help, it must have, as its only mandate, the development and delivery of alternative energy supplies and infrastructure and getting it to the American people in an efficient and speedy manner.

This will require a fundamental change in the way money works, and it will be directly addressed in the proposed policies which follow.

Michael Ruppert’s Confronting Collapse is available now.

Best of 2010: Creating A Root Cellar

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

The following is an excerpt from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

No one wants second best. A slimy cabbage from a dingy corner of the basement will never compete with the crisp specimens on the vegetable shelf of the supermarket. Wilted, dried-out carrots look unappealing next to the crunchy, plastic-wrapped beauties in the refrigerator. When home storage is unsuccessful, a case can be made for artificial refrigeration. But the cabbage need not be slimy nor the carrots wilted. A properly constructed root cellar does not take a backseat to any other method of food storage. It is no great feat to manage a simple underground root cellar so that the produce will be equal or superior in quality to anything stored in an artificially refrigerated unit, even after long periods of storage.

A successful root cellar should be properly located, structurally sound, weather tight, convenient to fill and empty, easy to check on and clean, and secure against rodents. Proper location means underground at a sufficient depth so frost won’t penetrate. The cellar should be structurally sound so it won’t collapse on you. It needs to be weather tight so cold winds can’t blow in and freeze the produce. You need to have easy access to fill it, to use the produce, and to clean it at the end of the winter. And it should be rodent-proof so all the food you have stored away won’t be nibbled by rats and mice.

Provision must be made for drainage as with any other cellar, and the cellar should be insulated so that it can maintain a low temperature for as long as possible and provide properly humid storage conditions. Finally, microclimates within the cellar (colder near the floor, warmer near the ceiling) should allow you to meet different temperature and moisture requirements for different crops. The cellar will be most successful if it incorporates your underground food storage needs into one efficient, compact unit. It’s surprising how easily a hole in the ground meets all those conditions.

Any house with a basement already has a potential root cellar. You just need to open a vent so cold air can flow in on fall nights, and sprinkle water on the floor for moisture. The temperature control in the root cellar is almost automatic because cold air, which is heavier than warm air, will flow down, displacing the warmer air, which rises and exits. This lowers the temperature in the cellar incrementally as fall progresses and the nights get cooler. By the time outdoor conditions are cold enough to require moving root crops to the cellar (around October 21 to November 7 here in Maine), conditions in the underground garden are just right-cool and moist. With minimal attention, they will stay that way until late the next spring.

No wood or other material that might suffer from being wet should be used in root cellar construction. The ideal root cellar is made of concrete or stone with rigid insulation around the outside. Any permanent wood in a root cellar soon becomes damp and moldy. Wood will not only rot but also will serve as a home for bacteria and spoilage organisms and is subject to the gnawing entry of rodents. The stone or concrete cellar is impregnable. It won’t rot or decompose, and the thick walls hold the cool of the earth.

The easiest way to make a root cellar is to wall off one corner of the basement as a separate room. The best material is concrete block. There is no problem even if the rest of the basement is heated. You simply need to insulate one temperature zone from the other. Leave enough space between the top of the walls and the joists of the floor above so you can install a cement-board ceiling with rigid insulation above it. Also attach rigid insulation to the heated side of the cellar walls you build. The insulation can be protected with a concrete-like covering such as Block Bond. Install an insulated metal door for access, and the structure is complete.

There are several simpler options, especially for storing small quantities of vegetables. If your house has an old-fashioned cellar with a dirt floor and there is enough drainage below floor level, you can dig a pit in the floor 18 to 24 inches deep, line it with concrete blocks, and add an insulated cover. You will want to open the cover every few days to encourage air exchange in the pit. The pit won’t be as easy to use as a room you can walk into, but like any hole in the ground, it should keep root crops cool and moist. In warmer climates, you can use similar pits or buried barrels for storage either outdoors or in an unheated shed.

One of the simplest techniques we ever used, before we had a root cellar, was to dig pits in one section of the winter greenhouse. In that case we used metal garbage cans and buried them to their edge in the soil under the inner layer. To make sure they stayed cool we insulated their lids. We filled those cans with all the traditional root crops after their late fall harvest. Our whole winter food supply that year was in one central spot and when we went out to harvest fresh spinach and scallions for dinner we would bring back stored potatoes and cabbage at the same time.

Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest is available now.

Best of 2010: Alice Shabecoff: To Vaccinate Your Child…Or Not?

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

by Alice Shabecoff

Donna Curless’s three children were born and spent their early years in Brick Township, a mid-size, middle income New Jersey city whose rate of children with autism seemed so off the charts that it became the quoted statistic for quite a few years. Looking for possible causes, government and independent investigators found the water supply polluted with a mixture of industrial chemicals from local manufacturing plants, to which chlorine had been added as a disinfectant, as it is in so many American cities and towns. (Chlorine can combine with other chemicals to produce a toxic byproduct.)

Yet Donna is sure that her own children’s autism was the result of vaccinations.

It’s possible she’s right. Although Dr. Philip Landrigan, the ‘father’ of environmental pediatrics says there’s no evidence to link vaccines and autism, some in the scientific and medical community have found evidence to the contrary.

The unsettled debate involves two questions:

***first, might there be a subset of children who are likely, or at least more likely, to react badly to the current vaccination program? And

***second, aren’t there circumstances in which any child might have a bad response?
There’s enough research to suggest that both premises are plausible but not enough for a definitive answer.

Given this unsettled debate, parents could take a better-safe-than-sorry plan of action while research, which will undoubtedly take a really long time, figures out just what does cause autism spectrum disorders, not to mention asthma and other allergies which are also on a disconcerting rise. And birth defects; and cancer.

The first debatable question involves genetics. Just in recent years, with the unraveling of the human genome, science discovered that, in addition to inherited variations that are genetic mutations (which is where the current research dollars are being spent), there are inherited variations that are slight differences in the sequence of the DNA in the genes (an underfunded area of research). It’s these kinds of variations, called SNPs, that determine why some children have green rather than brown eyes, or blood type A rather than O. And some of these variations predispose us, from the womb throughout life, to be more or less vulnerable to different environmental insults, from bacteria, viruses and toxic chemicals. (But keep in mind that even a vulnerable child might never get sick were it not for the toxic assault.)

One type of variation can hamper the ability of a fetus or child or adult to metabolize and excrete heavy metals – that is, to detoxify their bodies.

Normally, like all mammals, we humans detoxify ourselves through the actions of the anti-oxidants our bodies produce. But some people have a genetic variation that makes their immune system lower in the most powerful anti-oxidant — known as glutathione — and lower in the amino acid cysteine which produces glutathione. Add to that, the fact that, from conception through infancy, all children have low levels of glutathione.

Glutathione is needed to detoxify heavy metals, such as lead or uranium. Or mercury. As you know, mercury is often added to vaccines as a preservative known as Thimerosal (which allows larger vials that can be used for cost-saving, profit-generating multiple doses). So it’s possible that, when a vaccine preserved with mercury hits a child with an inherited lower capacity to produce glutathione, that child’s body can’t detoxify itself thoroughly and reacts abnormally, for instance, by becoming autistic.

The second question under debate is about the vulnerability of the fetus and immature child. The human body’s defense systems (the level of glutathione is only one type) simply do not fully develop until adulthood. That’s why, some studies find, that if a baby or child is under the weather, with for example a cold or ear infection, his immune system, busy using up his insufficient reserves of glutathione to fight off the illness, may be vulnerable to the assault posed by a vaccination.

Continual, cumulative exposure, especially in the womb, to the huge array of toxins in the environment can also deplete glutathione in an otherwise ‘normal’ infant or child. Mercury is just one of the toxins that might weaken the child’s immune system and set the stage for greater vulnerability to harmful elements in vaccinations or other assaults to come.

Might the children of Brick Township, weakened in the womb or as infants by a virulent mix of chemicals in the water, have been pushed over their threshold of resistance and succumbed to autism when vaccinated?

It’s important to say that most research indicates that the neurological damage that leads to autism (and other illnesses, such as childhood cancer) takes place in the womb. That means we need to understand the exposures that occur during pregnancy to toxins such as pesticides, PCBs, and other endocrine disruptors (chemicals that upset the hormones in our bodies). Just recently, the nonprofit Birth Defect Research for Children found that combined fetal exposures to toxins can lead to birth defects plus autism (read Immunotoxins as Teratogens: Vaccinations are not the only bad suspects and perhaps not even the major triggers implicated in autism. Mercury can assault a fetus or child not only through vaccines but through its presence in the massive plumes of air pollution generated by coal fired power plants.

It’s glaringly, grievously obvious that research needs to look at the cumulative impact of toxins in our everyday lives, not only to settle the vaccination debate but also to learn how to protect our children more broadly.

In the 1940s, American children were vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. A polio shot was added in 1955, and measles, mumps and rubella added in 1971. In 1989, the full program of vaccinations totaled 11 injections of these vaccines by the age of 5. The injection of hepatitis B a few hours after birth was put on the schedule as of 1991.

By now, children get 25 vaccinations by 12 months of age and 36 vaccinations by the time they are 18 months old. In most doctors’ appointments, the child receives six vaccines in the time span of three to four minutes. Ours is the most aggressive vaccination schedule in the world.

The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine combines three live viruses. Some children react badly to this combination. Perhaps it’s those children who carry a variation that makes them more vulnerable, or perhaps they were slightly ill on the day of the injection. Or it could be those children who had, just a few minutes earlier, received a preservative-laden injection. No one has yet done research to find out the answers.

As Thimerosal was reduced in vaccines, aluminum, used to boost immune response, was increased. But aluminum, a soft metal, is also toxic.

What It Means For You
1. Consider a better-safe-than-sorry approach to vaccinations
The basic advice from those who are wary of possible repercussions from the official schedule is to:
–reduce the total number of vaccines,
–start the vaccines later in your child’s life,
–space out administering vaccines to one per doctor’s visit,
–never allow a vaccine with a preservative; demand single-dose vials, and
–never vaccinate a child who is not completely healthy; postpone the visit.

  • Flu shots, recommended for pregnant women as well as for children, commonly contain mercury as a preservative. So do shots against the H1N1 virus. But both can be found without preservatives. You may want to receive flu and H1N1 shots on different days.
  • The DTap vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) commonly contains aluminum, though some brands do not.
  • The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is a combined, three-in-one-vaccine. Separate shots are thought to be safer, but these are not available now in the U.S. (they do exist in other countries) tho one company is said to be restarting separates, perhaps for distribution in 2012. (See NVIC, below, for up-to-date information.)
  • The hepatitis-B vaccine is needed on the day of birth only when the mother is hepatitis-B positive, according to many researchers who add that you have the right to reject its administration then. They propose postponing that shot till shortly before your child starts day care or, if s/he doesn’t attend day care, until the year before kindergarten.
  • To be doubly sure, once you’re in the doctor’s office, you may want to look at the vaccine fact sheet to determine whether it contains a preservative or other potential toxin.

2. Boost immunity

Start with yourself. Mercury in a pregnant woman’s body can lower her immune capacities, and there’s research indicating that when her glutathione system is not working well, it has a negative impact on the developing baby. It weakens his/her capacity to withstand toxic assaults.

Eat healthy foods, especially green vegetables. Here is one area where you have (almost) complete control. You and your children should eat organic and unadulterated foods from local sources as much as possible.

3. Demand change

Demand research into the cumulative impact of environmental toxins. Demand our nation change the system that makes it so easy for these toxins to enter our lives.

Yes, you as a parent can control some potential injury to your child that might (or might not) occur from vaccinations but we must not ignore the greater danger of the toxics that pervade our air, water and food without our knowledge or acceptance.

Join a local environmental organization. Exercise your right as a citizen to keep your elected representatives representing the environmental health of our children.


Consult the recently-established nonprofit organization, the National Vaccine Information Center,, which offers sensible and reliable information. One of its features is a Vaccine Ingredient Calculator,, which highlights most if not all of the harmful contents that might be found –and avoided–in vaccines.

Sources for alternative vaccination schedules include:, and Healing the New Childhood Epidemics, by Dr. Kenneth Bock, pgs 391-394.

Read Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, to understand how toxins find their way into our daily lives, and how to protect your child and change the system.

_ _ _

Alice Shabecoff is the co-author with her husband Philip of Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins are Making Our Children Chronically Ill.

This article was originally published by, where you can comment and interact with other readers.

Best of 2010: Even Fox News says “Stop the Insanity” on Marijuana

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

As November 2nd and California’s critical vote on Proposition 19 (which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana) draws nearer, folks from all over the political spectrum are speaking out in support of legalization. The following opinion piece from Dr. Dale Archer was posted on on October 20th. I wonder if he’d get along with Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert, authors of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?…

Alcohol vs. Pot — Stop the Insanity!
by Dr. Dale Archer

In another shocking statement from the schizophrenic Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder emphatically stated that it “strongly oppose[s]” a measure called the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act,” which, if passed, would legalize marijuana in the state of California. Thus, the debate rages on about what to do about this popular, yet still illegal drug.

The most popular Q and A on my website,, is this one: “My Husband Smokes Marijuana Everyday.” In it is a discussion of a wife’s problems dealing with her spouse’s hourly use of pot. Countless folks have commented, discussing similar issues.

The popularity of this topic leads to several observations: Can marijuana be addictive? Yes. Are there health problems associated with its use? Yes. Can it affect memory and brain function? Yes.

So…should it be legalized? Yes!

Every question about weed would be answered the same if I substituted ‘alcohol’ for marijuana. The bottom line is that both of these drugs are relatively harmless when used in moderation and each can cause huge medical/psychiatric problems when abused.

Wake up, America! Haven’t we learned our lesson with prohibition? From 1920-33, organized crime exploded overnight to take control of the alcohol trade. It’s estimated today that close to $50 billion dollars a year are spent on the ‘war on drugs’ and to what end? The violence along the Mexican border is at an all time high and our prison system is overcrowded with almost 1 in 4 inmates serving time for a single non-violent drug offense. That leaves virtually no money in the system to treat those with a true addiction problem as opposed to the majority of folks that practice occasional recreational use.
The answer is blindingly clear and steeped in common sense. Legalize pot, tax the heck out of it and use the proceeds to fund treatment programs for those that really need help. This will have the added benefit of freeing up law enforcement resources to deal with the pedophiles, rapists and violent repeat offenders that are being released daily from our jails due to overcrowding.

The time to stop the alcohol versus marijuana hypocrisy is now!

Dr. Dale Archer is a psychiatrist and frequent guest on’s “The Strategy Room.” For more, visit his Web site:

Read the original article at

Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink? is available now. Check it out!

Best of 2010: Nine Simple Steps for Sheet Mulching

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Note: This week we’re highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

Learn about a simple, ecological way to fight weeds in this excerpt from Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles, by Eric Toensmeier.

Sheet mulching builds soil organic material and smothers weeds at the same time, so they never get a chance to grow!

Perennial Vegetables – Sheet Mulching

Best of 2010: An Interview with Michael Ruppert

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Note: For the next week we’ll be highlighting the most popular stories on our website for 2010. Happy Holidays, and enjoy!

Michael Ruppert, author of Confronting Collapse and subject of the documentary film Collapse, talks about the “long emergency” now upon us in the video below.

Confronting Collapse is available in our bookstore, along with Collapse the documentary. They are also available as a set. Twice the fascinating gloom at a bargain price!

Gene Logsdon: It Does My Heart Good

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

From the Community Blogs: This is not a Christmas story exactly, but it makes a wonderful way to pass along glad tidings of the year. Brock McLeod and Heather Walker operate Makaria Farm in Duncan, British Columbia ( and what they have been doing the past two years is just eye-poppingly, unbelievably, overwhelmingly, audaciously amazing.  They decided to take small scale grain raising to the very high level of accomplishment— beyond the wildest dreams I had when I wrote my book by that name.

They recently sent me a sort of homemade scrapbook telling the story of their adventures with small scale grain, complete with pictures. Once they realized that it was not that difficult to make their own bread from scratch— the ultimate scratch of growing the grain and grinding the flour, their imagination and vitality went into overdrive. They already ran a CSA and raised fruit along with seasonal vegetables, so adding grain to their farming menu was just another step up the ladder. What makes their grain adventure so endearing is that they involved the community of people around their farm. They started “Island Grains” and invited others to learn about small scale grain-raising with them. Fifty signed up with another twenty on the wait list. They tried to get me to come out for the first workshop but since I no longer can do much long distance travel, they looked around in their own neighborhood for experts, which is always the best thing to do anyway. They got Robert Giardino of the Heritage Grains Foundation to speak about ancient vs. modern grains at the first workshop. (I am reading from Brock and Heather’s scrapbook.)  He brought along cooked emmer grains for them to try. Helen Reid taught them how she grows quinoa. Don Jason of Salt Spring Seeds demonstrated his homemade threshing box. There’s a photo of the open wooden box, about a foot by three feet in size, (I’m guessing from the photo) — simplicity itself.  You just put some stalks of ripe grain in it and tromp the heck out of them, reminiscent of the way farmers for centuries walked their horses over grain stalks scattered on their barn floors. I was just so taken by the ingenuity of these people! I got to imagining dancing a little jig in the box while threshing out the grain, like people have done for ages mashing grapes for wine in a barrel. During that first meeting, demonstrating how easy growing grain can sometimes be, Dan Jason pointed out that Brock and Heather already had some  growing on their farm and were hardly aware of it. Brock had planted rye for green manure. Now he let it grow to seed and harvested rye grain for the first time.

At the second workshop, Tom Henry, one of the few farmers on Vancouver Island who owned a combine, taught the “grainies” as they were calling themselves, how to plant little plots of grain. Mike Doehnel, who has done grain trials on Vancouver Island with a special interest in malt barleys, also attended the workshop. Each grainie was given a 200 square foot strip of soil to practice grain growing. Some brought family and friends to share the work. Brock and Heather’s photos show that the grains grew marvelously.

Harvest came. Down those beautiful golden strips of grain, the “grainies” went with scythe and sickle. There’s a picture of Brock scything, and of course I welled up a little in tears (at my age it is very easy to weep at almost anything), remembering how my publisher used a photo of myself on the back cover of the first edition, scything my strip of wheat all those many years ago. There’s also a picture in the scrapbook of a very comely young lassie (as in the old song, “Comin’ Through The Rye”) cutting grain with a sickle. If we had had that picture to put on the back of my book it would have sold a whole lot more copies.

Another precious detail. Lacking grain sacks, these modern “grainies” took their harvested crop home in pillow cases!!!! Ain’t life wonderful? Merry Christmas everyone!


Read the original article on The Contrary Farmer.

Gene Logsdon’s Small Scale Grain Raising is available now, along with his newest release, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

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