Tag Archives: food growing

Toby Hemenway, leading permaculture promoter, dies at 64 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Toby Hemenway, a leading writer, teacher and crusader for permaculture, died Tuesday at his Sebastopol home because of complications from pancreatic cancer.

Hemenway, 64, wrote a top seller on permaculture, a term coined in the late 1970s mixing “permanent” and “agriculture” to describe a new approach to agriculture and community design bringing together elements that sustain and support each other.

“He was really a big deal,” said Kellen Watson, senior programs coordinator with Daily Acts, a Petaluma-based sustainability education program. “He wrote the top-selling permaculture book in the world,” for many people their first introduction to the subject.

That book, 2009’s “Gaia’s Garden — A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” was considered the most easily understandable book on the topic, presenting basic permaculture concepts and principles with clarity and elegance, as well as detailed how-to tips for implementing them in a garden.

It was named by the Washington Post as one of the 10 best gardening books of 2010 and has sold more than 250,000 copies.

Hemenway could talk about soil from a cosmic perspective — how the elements of life were molded during the Big Bang, inside stars, and in explosive supernovae.

Then he would bring it down to earth.

“Soil is miraculous,” he wrote in “Gaia’s Garden.” “It is where the dead are brought back to life.”

Read more at: Toby Hemenway, leading permaculture promoter, dies at 64 | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Tips, tricks to debugging your garden

Jeff Cox, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If you discover that some kind of insect is damaging your garden, what should you do?The best thing you can do? Keep calm and carry on. The worst thing you can do? Spray your garden with insecticide. Here’s why.

First of all, a little insect damage is actually good for your crops, whether edible or ornamental. It stimulates growth hormones to repair damage and stimulates the plants to produce insect-repelling compounds.

But what if a pest is so numerous that it threatens to destroy your crop? That’s a signal you need to encourage more beneficial insects to live in your garden, the kind that eat pests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can invite them in by planting nectar and pollen-producing plants, especially ones with umbrella-shaped flower and seedheads, like fennel, dill, and carrot, even the wild carrots called queen anne’s lace.

Insect scientists also suggest leaving about 10 percent of your garden space planted in whatever happens to grow wild there (except blackberries and poison oak). This will be habitat for native pest-eating insects.

Pests are food for beneficial insects, so by spraying insecticide on your garden, you are wiping out the pests and the good guys. Pests, however, are designed by nature to be the first ones back into a garden that has been sprayed. After all, they eat plants, so the table is set.

Until pest populations build up, there’s not much for beneficials to eat, so they show up last. The result is that your pest problem will be worse than before.

Read more at: Tips, tricks to debugging your garden | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Wildlife

Troubled Delta system Is California’s water battleground

Erica Goode, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Fighting over water is a tradition in California, but nowhere are the lines of dispute more sharply drawn than here in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a 720,000-acre network of islands and canals that is the hub of the state’s water system.

Giant pumps pull in water flowing to the delta from the mountainous north of the state, where the majority of precipitation falls, and send it to farms, towns and cities in the Central Valley and Southern California, where the demand for water is greatest.

For decades, the shortcomings of this water transportation system, among the most ambitious and complex ever constructed, have been a source of conflict and complaint.

But in the fourth year of a profound drought, the delta has become a central battle zone, pitting north against south, farmers against environmental groups, farmers against one another and many local residents against California’s governor, Jerry Brown, whose plan to fix the delta’s problems upsets them almost as much as the drought itself.

“In major battles, crossroads are always fought over,” said Steve Mello, who farms in the north delta. “And this is the crossroads for most of the water in the north state that they are seeking to export south.”

Water pumped from the delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, accounts for only about 15 percent of the total water from aboveground sources that is used in California.

But the delta pumps help feed more than three million acres of farmland, much of it in the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heartland of the state. The estuary’s water is also home to hundreds of wildlife species, including fish — like the winter-run Chinook salmon and the delta smelt — that are listed as endangered and federally protected.

Casualties in this tug of war are counted in fallowed fields and the loss of species. And as the drought has intensified, so has debate over how the delta’s limited supply of water should be apportioned. Farmers in the Central Valley call it a “man-made drought,” complaining that water needed for crops is going to fish instead. This month, an environmental group filed suit against the state and federal governments, claiming that endangered species were being sacrificed to agricultural interests.

Read more at: Troubled Delta System Is California’s Water Battleground – The New York Times

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: It’s time to protect the Delta

Jon Rosenfield & Gary Bobker, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

California is at high risk of permanently losing key species and habitats in the West Coast’s largest estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Bay.

Some describe these grave outcomes as “ecosystem collapse,” others prefer the less descriptive term “ecosystem change.” Whatever words we choose, the decline of the Bay-Delta is part of the global loss of biological diversity described in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Sixth Extinction” – a tragedy that’s happening not just in coral reefs and rainforests but right in our backyard.

Focusing on semantics rather than biology threatens to overshadow important points:

▪  Several species native to the Delta could soon disappear;

▪  These and other permanent and negative outcomes are directly related to human activities – in particular, the diversion of more than 50 percent of the estuary’s inflow; and

▪  We can still protect this ecosystem and the values it provides to us, if we act decisively.

Six of the estuary’s unique populations of fish are listed as endangered and others are declining rapidly. In 2014, endangered winter-run and commercially valuable fall-run Chinook salmon were devastated by failure to provide cold water required by eggs incubating below Central Valley dams and the minimum freshwater flows that young salmon need as they migrate to the ocean. Cuts to freshwater flows also devastated species such as Delta smelt, longfin smelt and starry flounder that are at or near record low population levels. Yet the same failures to enforce minimum flow and temperature protections are being repeated this year, pushing native species ever closer to extinction.

When species that were once the estuary’s most abundant are on the verge of disappearing, everything that depends on them suffers, too – from commercial fishing communities along the California and Oregon coasts; to the tourism, recreation and seafood businesses of Northern California; to Orca whales in the Gulf of the Farallones.

“Ecosystem collapse” refers to a sudden loss of key ecological functions, processes, species or habitats. Those who apply that term to the Delta are simply using shorthand to describe consequences we should avoid. Quibbling over word choice risks shifting attention away from the frightening reality on the ground.

For example, an alternative description like “ecosystem change” is misleading. Characterizing extinctions and other major, potentially permanent, negative transformations as merely “change” is like an EMT describing the victim of a hit-and-run by saying “this patient’s health is changing” – true, but not very informative.

Let’s move past the semantics and focus on achieving outcomes that reflect our values – the same values that have repeatedly led Americans to adopt laws to protect our clean water, clean air, endangered species, vibrant fisheries, wildlands and wild rivers for the benefit of future generations.

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Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

California’s drought spurring gray-water recycling at home 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Showering during California’s drought is a guilt-free experience for homeowners Catarina Negrin and Noah Friedman.

The Berkeley couple — she runs a pre-school, he’s an architect — are early adopters of a home plumbing do-over that’s becoming more popular during California’s record four-year dry stretch.

California, like many states, long required all water used in homes to be piped out with the sewage, fearing health risks if water recycling is done clumsily.

Since 2010, however, the increasingly dry state has come around, and now even encourages the reuse of so-called gray water, which typically includes the gently-used runoff from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs and washing machines.

As mandatory conservation kicked in statewide this month, forcing many of California’s 38 million people to face giving up on greenery, these recycling systems have become attractive options in new homes, right along with granite countertops. California Building Industry Association executive Robert Raymer rattles off the drought-conscious top builders that now routinely offer in-home water recycling.

And California’s building codes are catching up as well, allowing owners of existing homes to create the simplest systems for the safest gray water without a permit.

So while others think about hauling buckets to catch stray drips from their sinks and tubs, Negrin and Friedman can relax: Each gallon they use in the shower means another for the butterflies that duck and bob over their vegetable garden, for the lemon tree shading the yard, and for two strutting backyard chickens busily investigating it all.

“I love a lush garden, and so it seems like why not, right? I could have a lush garden if it doesn’t go into the sewer system,” Negrin said. “So, yes, “I’m going to take a shower.”

Because pathogens swimming in untreated gray water can transmit disease if humans ingest them, most modern health and building codes have long made recycling it impractical. Many families did it anyway, without official oversight or permits. Greywater Action, a group that promotes household water recycling and trains families and installers on the do’s and don’ts, estimates that more than a million Californians had illegal systems before plumbing codes were updated.

But interest in doing it the right way has soared since April 1, when Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25-percent cut in water use by cities and towns. Palo Alto gray-water system installer Sassan Golafshan saw his website crash within a day from the surge in traffic.

Read more at: California’s Drought Spurring Water Recycling at Home | Sci-Tech Today

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water

U.S.D.A. develops label to verify G.M.O.-FREE. food

Associated Press

The Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified organisms. The certification, which is the first of its kind, would be voluntary and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a “U.S.D.A. Process Verified” label along with a claim that they are free of G.M.O.s. The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, outlined the new certification in a May 1 letter to department employees, saying it was being done at the request of a “leading global company,” which he did not identify. The government says G.M.O.s on the market now are safe, so mandatory labels are not needed. But consumer groups say shoppers still have a right to know what is in their food.

Source: U.S.D.A. Develops Label to Verify G.M.O.-FREE. Food – NYTimes.com

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

Delta habitat conservation plan scrapped as Governor prioritizes agribusiness

David Siders and Phillip Reese, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

For years, Gov. Jerry Brown used the promise of habitat restoration to broaden the appeal of his plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.

Designating the project as a habitat conservation plan – and securing a 50-year permit for the effort – not only gave water users paying for the project an assurance water deliveries could not easily be changed, but also cast the project as more than a standalone conveyance.

The $25 billion project, Brown said in his State of the State address in 2013, was “designed to improve the ecology of the Delta, with almost 100 square miles of habitat restoration.

”Brown’s announcement Thursday that he was dramatically reducing the habitat portion of the plan is expected to make permitting the project easier. But it also burdens the project with new political difficulties. Ecosystem restoration has long been part of efforts to bridge the fractured interests of farmers, environmentalists, Delta landowners and Southern California’s population centers, and reducing its emphasis has invigorated opponents of the effort.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a group opposed to the project, said in a prepared statement that the project “has now shifted from a proposal to protect 56 species, and over 100,000 acres of habitat, to a straight water grab” from the Delta.

Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, said Brown needs to forget the tunnels and move on. “Today’s announcement confirms what I feared in 2009,” she said in a prepared statement. “The commitment to co-equal goals in the Delta has been broken. The tunnels will move forward, and the commitment to the health of the Delta has been reduced in large part, and relegated to a separate track.”

The new plan reduces to about 30,000 acres of restoration an initial effort to restore 100,000 acres of wetland and wildlife habitat. The projected cost is about $300 million, a tiny fraction of the $8 billion originally planned.

The change comes after federal agencies balked at a 50-year permit, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying last year that the project could violate the federal Clean Water Act and harm endangered fish.Brown said Thursday that the original restoration plan was only an “idea.” He said the state did not have the money to restore 100,000 acres, but that with money from a voter-approved water bond and other sources, restoring 30,000 acres can be done.

Read more via: Jerry Brown’s revised water tunnels plan adds political problems | The Sacramento Bee The Sacramento Bee

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water, Wildlife

Here’s the real problem with almonds

Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie, MOTHER JONES

Almonds: crunchy, delicious, and…the center of a nefarious plot to suck California dry? They certainly have used up a lot of ink lately—partly inspired by our reporting over the past year. California’s drought-stricken Central Valley churns out 80 percent of the globe’s almonds, and since each nut takes a gallon of water to produce, they account for close to 10 percent of the state’s annual agricultural water use—or more than what the entire population of Los Angeles and San Francisco use in a year.

As Grist’s Nathanael Johnson put it, almonds have become a scapegoat of sorts—"the poster-nut for human wastefulness in California’s drought." Or, as Alissa Walker put it in Gizmodo, "You know, ALMONDS, THE DEVIL’S NUT." It’s not surprising that the almond backlash has inspired a backlash of its own. California agriculture is vast and complex, and its water woes can’t hang entirely on any one commodity, not even one as charismatic as the devil’s nut almond.

And as many have pointed out, almonds have a lot going for them—they’re nutritious, they taste good, and they’re hugely profitable for California. In 2014, almonds brought in a whopping $11 billion to the state’s economy. Plus, other foods—namely, animal products—use a whole lot more water per ounce than almonds.

So almonds must be worth all the water they require, right? Not so fast. Before you jump to any conclusions, consider the following five facts:

1. Most of our almonds end up overseas. Almonds are the second-thirstiest crop in California—behind alfalfa, a superfood of sorts for cows that sucks up 15 percent of the state’s irrigation water. Gizmodo’s Walker—along with many others—wants to shift the focus from almonds to the ubiquitous feed crop, wondering, "Why are we using more and more of our water to grow hay?" Especially since alfalfa is a relatively low-value crop—about a quarter of the per acre value of almonds—and about a fifth of it is exported.

It should be noted, though, that we export far more almonds than alfalfa: About two-thirds of California’s almond and pistachio crops are sent overseas—a de facto export of California’s overtapped water resources.

READ MORE VIA Here's the Real Problem With Almonds | Mother Jones.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable Living, Water

How Big Ag gamed California’s drought

Mark Hertsgaard, BOHEMIAN.COM

Almonds are one of California’s most water-intensive crops. Why haven’t officials cracked down on farmers?

‘I’ve been smiling all the way to the bank,” said pistachio farmer John Dean at a conference hosted earlier this month by Paramount Farms, the operation owned by Stewart Resnick.

Resnick is the Beverly Hills billionaire known for his sprawling agricultural holdings, controversial water dealings and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to California politicians including Gov. Jerry Brown, former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The record drought has alarmed the public, left some rural communities without drinking water and led Brown last week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history. But the governor’s executive order required cutbacks only from the urban sector that uses roughly 20 percent of California’s developed water; the agricultural sector, which uses 80 percent, was required only to formulate “plans” for coping with future drought.

Responding to criticism about letting agriculture off easy, Brown and his aides pointed out that farmers have already been cut back. In February, U.S. officials announced that agriculture’s allocation of federal water supplies in California would be cut to zero in 2015. State water allocation to agriculture will be only 20 percent in 2015. And these reductions come on top of earlier cutbacks in 2014.

Yet despite such cutbacks, large-scale farmers are enjoying record profits—and increasing the acreage planted in almonds and other water-intensive crops—thanks in part to infusions of what experts call dangerously underpriced water.

Agriculture is at the heart of California’s worsening water crisis, and the stakes extend far beyond the state’s borders. Not only is California the world’s eighth largest economy, it is an agricultural superpower. It produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed in the United States—and more than 90 percent of the almonds, tomatoes, strawberries, and other specialty crops—while exporting vast amounts to China.

Agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile, but can only thrive if massive irrigation water is applied.

Read more at: Crop Priority | News | North Bay Bohemian

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water

Amid a drought, cue the almond shaming

 Justin Fox, BLOOMBERG VIEW

The nut boom was a rational and reasonable response to economic and hydrological reality. But now, with the state hit by a drought far worse than the one that jump-started it, it’s proving to be problematic.

It takes a gallon of water to produce an almond. That’s one remarkable fact. Here’s another: 82 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, almost all of them in its agricultural heartland, the Central Valley. Here’s another: Almond growers use about 10 percent of the state’s water supply every year. And here’s yet another: California’s mountain snowpack, the main source of the Central Valley’s water, is at 5 percent of its historical average for this time of year.

Couple those remarkable facts with the spectacular rise of the almond and in particular almond milk as a dietary staple for the affluent and health-conscious — a rise driven in part by the marketing efforts of the Almond Board of California — and you have the makings of a collision, or a backlash, or something. My Bloomberg colleague Joe Weisenthal tried to get #almondshaming going as a Twitter hashtag Monday, and didn’t quite succeed. But there is definitely some almond shaming going on.

Read more via Amid a Drought, Cue the Almond Shaming – Bloomberg View.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water