organic agriculture

Garden Day – Chicken Manure

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Photobucket Bill’s chickens

After several years of having what I suppose you could call a vegan garden, one where no animal products are used, I decided to to go back to a tried and true aspect…free manure.

In this economic malaise I thought the boost might increase yield and along with quality and taste, yield is very important.

My old friend Bill has a chicken coop/stall in his barn so I cleaned about half of it out and got approximately 600 pounds of almost granulated manure. The coop had not been cleaned out for years. If you are going to raise chickens for eggs, you might as well do it right and Bill does that. Only the best feed and he even gives them ground oyster shells that make for a strong egg shell . With 14 pullets he gets about 10-12 eggs per day, gives away some and sell others for $1.50 a dozen. He loves his chickens and they repay him with almost perfect eggs.
So I’d say the manure is good quality also.

The big plant boost will be from chicken manure tea. In each of four 30 gallon trash cans I put in 20 pounds of the manure and filled them up with water. I will stir this periodically and after 3 to 4 weeks it should be ready. To be on the safe side so as not to ‘burn’ any plants, I’ll use it diluted by half and try to feed the plants right before a rain if at all possible.

I then filled up a 3×6 compost bed with about a foot of the manure, covered it with straw and will let it sit until late summer when it should be broken down enough for a lettuce and spinach crop and hopefully have some late season salads.

The rest of the chicken manure was broadcast lightly over the rest of the unplanted garden and sprinkled in between the already up lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, chives and onions and on top of the potatoes planted but not yet up.

It should be worth the effort.

Trench Composting

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Photobucket

The easiest way I’ve found to utilize kitchen wastes and other organic materials is to trench compost. Dig a hole or trench eight to ten inches deep, fill it halfway with the waste products and backfill with soil. I use straw on top to hold moisture and that’s it.

The technique works well in small garden areas, especially raised beds. It’s something most everyone can do.

Organic waste materials do not grow anything in a land fill, unless that land fill is right in your backyard.

Finding God in the Compost Pile

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Thursday, October 23, 2008 by: Dr. Phil Domenico

(NaturalNews) Philosophers throughout history have sought out grand theories to define Nature, as if there were a unifying feature. The ancient Greeks were particularly curious in this regard, though they had very little evidence to work with. In the early 6th century BC, Thales postulated that the primary substance of Nature is water. Anaximenes defined it as air. Heraclitus concluded that it was fire. By the mid-5th century BC in Sicily, Empedocles identified four basic elements¬ – earth, water, air, and fire – that comprised all of Nature. Such musings say a lot more about human limitation than they do about Nature. To be sure, Nature is too vast and varied to fit conveniently into a box. It will retain its mystery, despite our lame efforts to name it, or tame it.

Nevertheless, scientists have unraveled many of the mysteries of Nature since ancient times. So, rather than rely on old stories or religious texts to explain what it’s all about, many now look to the collective information from thousands of lifetimes of scientific inquiry. In one sense, no one can know the nature of things as intimately as a scientist. However, a single scientist does not typically look at the whole picture, but rather focuses on one single aspect of it. The sharper the focus, the more knowledge gained. Each scientist is just a dot on the mosaic of understanding. It takes the efforts of thousands of scientists to make sense out of the whole. Today’s evidence-based view of Nature may not be as enchanting, holistic or succinct as those in religion or myth, but it is as close as we can get to reliable truth.

With the wealth of new information, we have much more to go on in explaining how the world turns. Certainly, there is nothing simple about the workings of Nature. To explain Nature fully, one must account for the many unique elements and their myriad associations that contribute to its majesty. From simple atoms vibrating in solution to multicellular life, an endless array of structures defines the Earth and its movement. Living and non-living matter are constantly in flux, and overlapping in ordered patterns. Earth’s secrets lie in the interplay of its multifaceted, opportunistic elements.

It is the grandest of experiments. Life springs forth powerfully, dynamically, abundantly, with ever more clay. Over billions of years, creatures still unimaginable have inhabited this planet, filling every conceivable niche. Cataclysmic disaster created new habitats and destroyed others, and life adapted. Countless, nameless species learned to thrive at extremes, in freezing or boiling, oxidative or anaerobic, high or low-pressure conditions. Relentlessly, life’s manifestations arise from clay like mushrooms, defy death momentarily, and are recycled anew.

There are about 72 elements detectable in seawater, from whence life originated. Each element is endowed with a special utility that defines its role in the big picture. Life has exploited a few dozen of these elements, and the special features inherent in them. A prime example is the attraction of sulfur for minerals. Iron and zinc combine with sulfur in hundreds of different enzymes in our cells. Enzymes containing iron-sulfur clusters are key players in energy production. Other enzymes contain protruding “zinc fingers” that walk along our DNA and fix damaged genes. Delicate zinc-sulfur sensors can detect slight chemical changes in blood and trigger major inflammatory responses. Metal-sulfur interactions drive chemical reactions, regulate enzyme activity, participate in energy transfer and cell signaling, and form durable structures like skin, cartilage and bone. Life has exploited mineral-sulfur interactions to the max. Yet, that’s only one of the many interactions occurring between organic and inorganic substances.

This interplay between organic and inorganic gets to the heart of Nature’s essence. Life owes its plasticity to these interactions. Minerals (i.e., dirt, rock) represent the inorganic phase and carbon-based molecules (protein, carbohydrates, fats) define the organic phase. Each essential mineral — calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, cobalt, chromium, selenium, molybdenum, etc — plays a unique role in the process. Magnesium drives activity in over 300 enzymes involved in an assortment of functions. Zinc may affect even more processes. The hormone insulin functions poorly in the absence of chromium. When selenium is low, the body’s antioxidant system cannot protect us from toxic metals, viruses and cancer. In their organic forms, minerals are linked to proteins (e.g., metallo-enzymes), carbohydrates (e.g., fiber), nucleic acids (e.g., DNA, RNA), or fats (e.g., membrane lipids) in coordinated fashion. Organic-mineral complexes dominate nature. Energy from the sun drives the assembly of these many and varied interactions. However, in death (or in the compost pile), these interactions are again broken down to their component parts. The cycle goes from complex to simple and back again.

Soil quality depends greatly on its mineral content. It starts with slime on rocks, wherein bacteria eat away at its surface. Every bout of rain promotes this microbial process to help release the rock’s minerals into the soil. Thus, rain provides more than water; it also helps generate new minerals for plant growth. Rain also sparks activity in the compost pile, where minerals are recycled from crop refuse and manure. Rich and full-spectrum mineral content in the refuse makes for high-quality compost. Alternatively, a handful or two of pristine sea salt (not the white, refined stuff) or rock dust can activate the pile. Decomposition over several months converts minerals to their elemental form. Plants and microbes prefer these inorganic minerals, and convert them back to complex structures like enzymes, chemical signals, antioxidants, pigments and structural integument. The minerals are now in organic form, which animals prefer. What comes out the other end is thrown back into the compost pile, and converts to dirt all over again.

Quality mineral nutrition comes primarily from plants grown in good organic soil. But, since most soils are depleted, we are wise to take mineral supplements. Unfortunately, most of the minerals in drugstore supplements are in the elemental form found in dirt, and do not contribute much to health. That’s probably why they’re dirt-cheap, so to speak. Organic (or chelated) mineral supplements cost more and are more bulky, but are much more likely to confer health benefits than are inorganic forms. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in clinical trials. Almost every mineral that ends in chloride, oxide, or sulfate does not get absorbed well by the human gut. The question is, why then do most multivitamins contain magnesium oxide and chromium chloride? Answer: Follow the money. As always, you get what you pay for.

The compost pile is a paragon of death and renewal. Mixing organic waste and manure in a mound large enough to retain heat promotes decomposition and disinfection. The pile is turned early and often for uniformity and to avoid malodorous fermentation. In aerated piles, good organisms dominate and the smelly ones die. The heated pile also becomes inhospitable for Salmonella, E. coli and other manure pathogens. The recent infestations of spinach, onions, peanut butter and hamburger do not arise from organic farms where good compost is used, but rather from factory farms with filthy runoff problems that use sewer sludge or synthetic chemicals as fertilizer. Good compost promotes food quality. In a well-made compost pile, good bacteria defeat the bad ones, just like it should be. An abundance of friendly microbes defines the quality of finished compost, and the power of those microbes depends on their mineral content.

Compost is not just the key to sustainable agriculture, but also God’s will. It is the renewal of things, and the only tangible form of reincarnation. It is life’s resolve and death’s acceptance. What transpires in a compost pile is as awesome as in any religion, and its miracles are accessible. The God in the compost pile is worth dirtying one’s fingernails for. The fruit of its faith is in the fertility of the land, the salubrity and appeal of its produce, and ultimately in the balance of things. Eating fresh, hardy, local organic produce is spiritually gratifying, like returning to Eden. Understanding the wisdom of nature and respecting its mystery, through compost, brings us closer to the Oneness: Nature’s unifying principle.

Organic and mineral elements are driven to assemble and dissolve, each particle carrying a quantum of soul with it. Like the atom that carries it, this soul cannot be destroyed; disassembled, yes, but not destroyed. Soul is compounded in ever more complex life forms. Humans, the greatest assembly of soul, are Nature’s crowned jewels and God in its highest order. This comforts me, and brings me closer to the task ahead; to live in harmony with my world.

Source: http://www.naturalnews.com/024580.html

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Why We Need Action on Soil Depletion

Thursday, October 23, 2008 by: Lynn Berry

https://i1.wp.com/www.naturalnews.com/gallery/photoscom/soil.jpg(NaturalNews) Soil scientists have known for many years about the decline in soil fertility. To address the problem, farmers, agricultural companies and governments have advocated a number of solutions which, however, have not ensured that our food is more nutritious.

Farming is big business and the aim to is give people cheaper food and make profits. This has meant that crops are genetically modified to ensure resistance against disease and to grow faster; that pesticides and herbicides are used to control pests; that ammonium-based fertilizers are applied to try to improve the soil.

This business has created an entirely unnatural ecosystem, where the soil has become barren and devoid of micro-organisms that are needed to create organic mineral complexes. The trace minerals have been used up and there is no immediate way to restore the micro-organisms.

The minerals from the soil contribute to producing nutrient rich food (including minerals). These nutrients are absorbed by us when we consume food. Like it or not we are connected to the soil. If it’s depleted, then so are we. Unhealthy, barren soil does not produce food that is abundant in nutrients. For example, between 1951 and 1999 Vitamin A was completely lost in onions and potatoes.(1)

Soil that is depleted is unable to help nutrient deficient plants overcome attacks from pests and fungus. This means more pesticides are used. Synthetic (inorganic) fertilizers have little benefit since they create insoluble mineral complexes which are difficult for plants to absorb. Dr Richard Drucker (of Drucker Labs) reports that healthy nutrient-rich crops need 70 trace minerals, but that farming is only replacing 3-5 of these.(2)

Government authorities have been aware of the problem for 70 years. In 1936 it admitted that almost all soils in the US were depleted of minerals, and this was reiterated again in 1992 at the Earth Summit.(3) What does that have to say about progress?

Another reason why soils are depleted is acid rain. The University of Maine published a study in the December 2003 issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal which confirms that acid rain depletes nutrients from the soil. Authorities have long ignored scientists’ reports that acid rain depletes the soil of nutrients needed for growing trees.(4)

Can we then get minerals from other sources? Drucker believes that the best inorganic trace minerals from coral, colloidal or ionic have very large and insoluble molecules that are difficult to absorb at cellular level. Further, once they are absorbed, they accumulate in the body and are stored in fatty tissues. Over time, these substances become toxic leading to possible disease. Given this problem, we can assume that it will be difficult to get minerals from other sources. He does suggest that we need high quality supplements until a solution is found.(2)

Organic minerals have very small molecules which are easily absorbed through the cells. The minerals work as activators in the body as they are required to set off chemical reactions. For example, magnesium is an activator for over 300 enzymes and is important for the energy system of the body.

Dr Linus Pauling is famous for saying that every disease, sickness and ailment is related to mineral deficiency. The reason is that minerals are required for every cell in our body to function.

If minerals are lacking in our food, vitamins are of no use because vitamins (and enzymes) need minerals for them to work in our bodies. This means that vitamin supplements would be of no use unless we also have adequate minerals.

Our focus on progress in the name of money is having significant impacts on our health. Money was the very reason why authorities did not over the 70 years insist on sustainable farming practices, and why producers of pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers held sway. So some people have benefited financially, but what use is money if it cannot buy us food that will sustain us and keep us healthy in the long term?

(1) www.ghchealth.com/nutrient-depleted-soi…
(2) www.nutritionalwellness.com/archives/20…
(3) www.healthylivingintl.com/minerals/coll…
(4) www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-03…

Source: http://www.naturalnews.com/024581.html

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Stardust on the Corn

In his essay, The Work of Local Culture, poet and rustic sage Wendell Berry famously wrote of a steel bucket that used to hang from a fencepost on his Kentucky farm:

“I never go by it without stopping to look inside,” Berry wrote. “For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing I know, the greatest miracle that I have ever heard of: it is making earth. The old bucket has hung there through many autumns, and the leaves have fallen around it and some have fallen into it. Rain and snow have fallen into it, and the fallen leaves have held the moisture and so have rotted. Nuts have fallen into it, or been carried into it by squirrels; mice and squirrels have eaten the meat of the nuts and left the shells; they and other animals have left their droppings; insects have flown into the bucket and died and decayed; birds have scratched in it and left their droppings or perhaps a feather or two. This slow work of growth and death, gravity and decay, which is the chief work of the world, has by now produced in the bottom of the bucket several inches of black humus. I look into that bucket with fascination because I am a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts, and I recognize there an artistry and a farming far superior to mine, or to that of any human. I have seen the same process at work on the tops of boulders in a forest, and it has been at work immemorially over most of the land-surface of the world. All creatures die into it, and they live by it.”

Berry’s recognition of “an artistry and a farming far superior . . . to that of any human” at work inside his bucket is, of course, homely recognition of the fact that the universe doesn’t need people. The universe got along fine before humans appeared. The universe will get along fine when humans disappear.

Prehistoric Meteorites

Scientists today know that Earth and her ecosystem were shaped in part by a series of meteor strikes. Geological evidence shows, for example, that 65 million years ago a meteor some 10 kilometers in diameter roared down from the heavens and struck Earth near what is now the town of Puerto Chicxulub, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The giant rock exploded upon impact, leaving a crater roughly 180 kilometers in diameter. The explosion filled the atmosphere with clouds of gas and debris that blocked the sun’s light for years. The long darkness caused immediate and catastrophic global climate changes, of which one result was the extinction of the dinosaurs.

About 74 million years ago, some 10 million years before the Yucatan apocalypse, a similar disaster occurred near what is now the town of Manson, in northwest Iowa. The impact and explosion of the Manson Meteorite, as it is called, left a crater 35 kilometers wide. The Manson Crater is 23rd largest of the 172 meteoric craters known to exist on Earth. Basing their calculations on evidence such as the size and depth of the crater and damage to the surrounding terrain, scientists believe that the Manson Meteorite was about 2.5 kilometers in diameter and was traveling at about 56,000 mph when it hit the ground.

Though human history is filled with wars and floods and plagues and famines and volcanos and earthquakes, neither our written records nor our folklore recall cosmic calamities like those at Manson and Chicxulub. The heavens thus far have refused to rain annihilation upon man. Of ancient craters like those at Chicxulub and Manson, no part is now visible. Scientists know those craters exist and can map their extent thanks to evidence from drill cores, from seismic instruments, and from other scientific and technological resources.

Meteorites in Iowa History

Though hundreds of small meteors enter our atmosphere daily, most all of them burn up before they reach the ground. Evidence of their burning, particles of ash sometimes called cosmic dust, perpetually drifts down from the sky.

Some of that dust surely falls into places such as Wendell Berry’s bucket and contributes in some way to the process at work there, though neither Berry nor anyone else could actually see it. The ‘stardust’ that rains upon us is invisible to the naked eye and can only be detected using special tools and techniques.

The nightly display of ‘shooting stars’ is all most folks ever see of rocks from outer space. For a meteor to actually strike the ground (only meteors that hit the ground are called meteorites) is an extremely rare occurrence. Some of those lucky enough to witness such an event may be superstitious and attach ominous import to what they have seen. Others may not know what they’re seeing and mistake it for something else entirely.

So it was when, at about 2:50 p.m. on February 25, 1847, a meteor streaked fire and smoke across the sky and exploded over Linn County, Iowa. Pieces of the thing showered down on a strip of wooded land near the Cedar River, from Hooshier Grove (now the town of Ely) to a spot two or three miles south of the village of Bertram.

Published accounts agree that “The attention of people in that region was arrested by a rumbling noise as of distant thunder; then three reports were heard one after another in quick succession, like the blasting of rocks or the firing of a heavy cannon. . . . These were succeeded by several fainter reports, like the firing of small arms in platoons. Then there was a whizzing sound heard in different directions, as of bullets passing through the air.” (a)

The explosions were so loud that they caused alarm in Iowa City, 22 miles away. (b) Judge James Cavanagh and two of his sons were cutting wood along the Cedar River some way south of the impact area. When they heard the heavy explosions and saw puffs of dark smoke in the northwestern sky, the Cavanaghs and other witnesses thought the town of Marion had been blown off the map. (c)

Perhaps because Marion was then the Linn County seat and the largest town in the area, or perhaps because early reports told of a single strike in Linn County about nine miles south of Marion, meteoric stones recovered by Linn County residents in the days and weeks after the 1847 strike are known to science and to history as fragments of the Marion Meteorite. It is estimated that between 46 and 75 pounds of the Marion Meteorite were recovered in all, and it is likely that more of it remains to be found. Of that which was recovered, Amherst College got two pieces weighing roughly 20 pounds each. A museum in Tubingen, Germany, got a fragment weighing about a pound, and Chicago’s Field Museum houses two smaller pieces. In 1977 Amherst College lent one of its two fragments back to the State University of Iowa, where it remains on display. (d)

The Marion Meteorite was the first meteor strike in the recorded history of Iowa. It was also the first of several that awed and sometimes terrified Iowans in the latter half of the 19th Century: At 10:20 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1875, residents of Iowa County saw an enormous fireball come screeching out of the southeast and blast itself to bits in the sky just west of Homestead. People saw the flash and heard the detonation at a distance of 150 miles. It scattered pieces of rock over some 20 square miles. Another big rock smashed to earth near Estherville (Emmet County) at 5:15 p.m. on May 10, 1879, and still another struck near Forest City (Winnebago County) on May 2, 1890. (e)

The Estherville strike was the biggest of the four. (f) One recovered boulder reportedly weighed 431 pounds. Several others near that size were found, along with hundreds of smaller fragments. The rock’s spectacular explosion caused a dust cloud several cubic miles in volume, according to watchers’ estimates. (g)

In the 20th Century, too, Iowans experienced several meteorites: On a bitter cold night in November 1916, watchers saw a meteor explode in the sky near the town of Mapleton (Monona County). (h) Another ‘detonating meteor’ (sic) was seen in the sky west of Alta (Buena Vista County), at 9:55 p.m., on May 31, 1917. A 108-pound meteorite believed to have come from one of those two explosions was recovered in 1939 from a cornfield east of Mapleton. (i)

The continuous rain of meteorites globally should remind us all that Wendel Berry is right: planet Earth is a sort of bucket hanging on a fence post in the cosmos. The soil, the land, the plants and animals, the people that shelter in the bucket, the moon, the stars, the universe itself are parts of a living process that goes on apace, within and all about us. When any person claims to ‘own’ a piece of that process, he or she is deluded. To believe we can control it is the utmost folly.

Control issues aside, some Iowans believe they can taste stardust in cornbread. Details at eleven.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

a) Rev. Reuben Gaylord in a letter to Prof. Charles Upham Shepard of Amherst College, qtd. in Ben Hur Wilson, “The Marion Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 186.

b) C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 188.

c) Judge James Cavanagh to C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 187.

d) Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 185.

e) “Looked Like the Face of Moon Had Fallen Off,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, 16 July 1967, 5-B.

f) Ibid.

g) Otto Knauth, “Recall Days When Sky Rained Stones on Iowa,” The Des Moines Register, 24 April 1967, 3.

h) Ben Hur Wilson, “The Mapleton Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 197-206. For whatever reason, the incident caused so little stir at the time that witnesses were later unsure of the exact date of its occurrence.

i) Ibid. 197.

What Organic Homesteading Is All About

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5.14.2008

From Gene Logsdon (1973):
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I’m sure if I had to cultivate gardens ten hours a day every day for someone else, I’d think of it as work. But the beauty of the organic homestead is that “work” is self-willed, not commanded from on high or dictated by economic necessity. “Work” becomes creative, individualistic, done out of love, not someone else’s sense of duty.

But beyond the activities that might be termed play-work or work-play, the successful homestead provides opportunity for pursuits of a purely recreational nature. If your home schedule does not provide time for simple reverie in a fence corner, you’ve failed somewhere. If a hammock—well-used—is not among the accessories of your homestead, you’re doing something wrong.

If you have been brought up on a farm, you already know the many ways country people have to amuse themselves. And if you are originally from the city, you may know some hobbies new to country people. Here’s a list—far from complete—of both kinds:

1. Hunting Indian relics. I’ve found arrowheads in almost every locality I’ve looked for them. That includes Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. I find them in streams, along stream banks, and especially in fields bare of vegetation, such as corn fields after harvest or before spring plowing.

2. Bottle hunting in old trash piles and around abandoned farmsteads.

3. Collecting butterflies—or any bugs for that matter.

4. Birdwatching.

5. Ice skating, sledding, tobogganing. For delightful holiday fun, hitch a team of horses to a big wagon sled (if you can find one), and take a gang of friends for a ride over snowy hills.

6. Hayrides. And barn dances.

7. Swimming and fishing.

8. Hunting and trapping.

9. Whittling. Good for the soul.

10. Outdoor photography.

11. Landscape painting, if you’re up to it.

12. Gathering nuts, wild persimmons, pawpaws, or wild plums. Making cookies using some or all of these ingredients.

13. Picking wild grapes and making wine.

14. Starting a rock collection.

15. Building a canoe.

16. Exploring abandoned farmsteads (with permission). In the west, go “ghost-towning.” That’s what ranchers call visiting real ghost towns. In some areas, as southern Indiana, spelunking is a typical rural hobby, too. Lots of caves there.

17. Horseback riding.

18. Hunting antique insulators along telephone lines.

19. Collecting old barbed wire. Strands of about eighteen inches are bought and traded among collectors.

20. Hunting driftwood, dried weeds, and so on for table decorations.

21. Hiking, picnicking, camping out. You can pursue such pastimes right on your own farm. Some farmers build vacation cabins back in their woodlots or along their ponds and take restful vacations without leaving home.

22. Archery; target shooting.

23. Herb collecting in the wild.

24. Bicycling—a lot safer on country roads.

25. Recording folksongs, folktales, and other forms of rural, oral folklore.

The list could go on and on, depending upon your own interests. The point is, there is never a dull moment in the country. And that’s why you have chosen to live there.

But the organic homestead means something deeper than either the nobility of work or the pleasantness of leisure. What it must provide—if the homestead is to have true success—is a shrine to tranquility, an island of calm sanity to which you can retreat each day from the hectic outside world.

And what is tranquility?

Most visitors to our home become alarmed when we proudly point out a huge gray hornets’ nest hanging from the porch ceiling uncomfortably close to the entrance to the house. But when my sister visited us (she’s a country woman who knows a thing or two about hornets and such like), she made a different observation, which I consider the best compliment I’ve ever received. “You must have a peaceful environment around your home,” she mused, staring at the nest, “or those hornets wouldn’t have built a nest on your porch. They know there is not much fear or strife here.”

I would like to believe her observation is true. We certainly try hard enough to make it true. At least I can say the hornets have never been alarmed; we have never given them cause for alarm. Sometimes when we ring the dinner bell which is just a few feet from their nest, they become excited—or did at first. But they seem to have gotten used to that, too. We can stand right beneath the nest—I have climbed up and stared right into the entrance—and the winged stingers pay no attention. They do not fear us, because they know we do not fear them. We both know there is no good reason why we cannot share the porch.

Our hornets are a very small but significant example of the basic philosophy of the organic homesteader: accommodate yourself to nature when ever possible, don’t dominate nature when you don’t have to.

I am not suggesting that nature is free of strife and fear, or that the natural way is never the violent way. There is a kind of violence that forms the fiber of nature: all life feeds upon other life.

But man has made a science of violence. Evolving into a world where he had at least three strikes against him from birth (man is born the most helpless of all animals), the human animal, fearing for survival, learned cunning violence. He learned overkill.

The birds and the animals battle for territorial rights and for mates. Man, supposedly being smarter, recognized that such violence could be avoided by enforcing some kind of Law. But the same mind that conceives of law also invents lethal weapons that kill on a scale far beyond the natural limits of natural violence.

A culture built on fear and violence cannot acquire a true morality. Without peace with nature, there can be no tranquility among human beings. Men who can for economic gain bombard a forest or a field with a poison that can indiscriminently kill the insect life therein can easily be brainwashed into believing there is a necessity to drop bombs on other people. The man who will shoot wild animals for no reason other than to prove his skill at aiming a gun can readily be trained to shoot other people. The man who brags that he has worn out three farms in his lifetime is brother to the man who brags he has worn out three women in his lifetime.

This is why it becomes important to the organic homesteader what kind of fertilizer he uses on his beans. This is why he will risk ridicule of the worldly wise to ask: “What else will your new product do besides make profits for everyone?”

Recently a stone-age tribe of “uncivilized” people was discovered in the Phillipines. Surprisingly, these people are happy, content, peaceful—they live a completely organic life, in tune with their natural environment. They need protection only from the civilized people around them, say anthropologists, which is certainly the severest criticism civilized man has ever received.

The organic homestead is both a way back toward the innocence of these primitives and a way forward to a more intelligent use of what civilized man has learned. Man can live and let live to a much greater degree than he ever could before. Cunning violence, the violence of overkill, is obsolete. We can teach ourselves to walk our way through existence with a softer step and a gentler hand. Conviction begins on the organic homestead.

And what if there were millions of organic homesteads? A nation of them? Jefferson had such a utopian dream, so I guess its all right if I dream that way, too.

Also See: Gems From The Lives Of Contrary Farmers (Gene Logsdon)

http://organictobe.org/index.php/2008/05/12/what-organic-homeste

"Organic Cheaters"

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Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Sues Estee Lauder and Others Over “Organic Cheater” Labeling

May 07, 2008 by: Mike Adams
cleansing
(NaturalNews) Following the Organic Consumers Association’s revelations that so-called “organic” or “natural” product brands were actually made with toxic chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has sued numerous companies in the industry that it accuses of using misleading labeling to deceive consumers. The lawsuit is meant to encourage the named companies (see list below) to either reformulate their products to eliminate the petrochemical materials, or to change their labeling and stop using the words “organic” or “natural” on their products.

Companies sued by Dr. Bronner’s include Estee Lauder, Ecocert, OASIS, Stella McCartney’s CARE, Jasön, Avalon Organics, Nature’s Gate, Kiss My Face, Ikove and others. Each of the companies being sued, says Dr. Bronner’s, are using potentially dangerous chemicals that certainly don’t quality as natural or organic. The product categories include shampoo, body wash, liquid soap, skin cleansers and other personal care products.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps have remained a steadfast defender of honesty and integrity in the organic products business, and NaturalNews continues to strongly recommend Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap products to its readers (that’s the soap I use for just about everything). The fact that so many other companies are acting like “organic cheaters” is sad to see in this industry, and it emphasizes the importance of defending the integrity of the organic label. If the word “organic” is allowed to be slapped on products containing synthetic petrochemicals and potentially cancer-causing substances, then it only serves to mislead and potentially harm consumers. Sadly, many of the companies in the “organic” products industry are flatly dishonest, and they’re jumping on the organic bandwagon as a clever tactic to make a quick buck rather than formulating their products with genuinely honest organic ingredients that put consumer health first.

NaturalNews encourages consumers to boycott all the “organic cheater” brands and choose only genuine, trusted brands that are supported by the Organic Consumers Association (www.OrganicConsumers.org)

Here is the original press release from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps announcing this news:

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Files Lawsuit Against Major ‘Organic’ Cheater Brands

Offending Companies Claim “Organic” or “Organics” on Labels But Main Cleansing Ingredients Are Based on Conventional Agricultural and/or Petrochemical Material

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The family owned Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court today against numerous personal care brands to force them to stop making misleading organic labeling claims. Dr. Bronner’s and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) had warned offending brands that they faced litigation unless they committed to either drop their organic claims or reformulate away from main ingredients made from conventional agricultural and/or petrochemical material without any certified organic material. OCA has played the leading role in exposing and educating consumers about deceptive organic branding.

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps says, “We have been deeply disappointed and frustrated by companies in the ‘natural’ personal care space who have been screwing over organic consumers, engaging in misleading organic branding and label call-outs, on products that were not natural in the first place, let alone organic.” Dr. Bronner’s has determined, based on extensive surveys, that organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in branded and labeled soaps, shampoos and body washes that are labeled Organic”, “Organics” or “Made with Organic” will be from organic as distinct from conventional agricultural material, produced without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and free of petrochemical compounds.

For example: The major cleansing ingredient in Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic” liquid soaps, body washes and shampoos is Sodium Myreth Sulfate, which involves ethoxylating a conventional non-organic fatty chain with the carcinogenic petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which produces caricinogenic 1,4-Dioxane as a contaminant. The major cleansing ingredient in Avalon “Organics” soaps, bodywashes and shampoos, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, contains conventional non-organic agricultural material combined with the petrochemical Amdiopropyl Betaine. Nature’s Gate “Organics” main cleansers are Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (ethoxylated) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Kiss My Face “Obsessively Organic” cleansers are Olefin Sulfonate (a pure petrochemical) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Juice “Organics”, Giovanni “Organic Cosmetics”, Head “Organics”, Desert Essence “Organics”, and Ikove “Organic” all use Cocamdiopropyl Betaine as a main cleansing ingredient and no cleansers made from certified organic material. Due to the petrochemical compounds used to make the ingredient, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is contaminated with traces of Sodium monochloroacetate, Amidoamine (AA), and dimethylaminopropylamine(DMAPA). Amidoamine in particular is suspected of causing skin sensitization and allergic reactions even at very low levels for certain individuals. Organic consumers have a right to expect that the personal care products they purchase with organic branding or label claims, contain cleansing ingredients made from organic agricultural material, not conventional or petrochemical material, and thus have absolutely no petrochemical contaminants that could pose any concern.

Dr. Bronner’s products, in contrast to the brands noted above, contain cleansing and moisturizing ingredients made only from certified organic oils, made without any use of petrochemicals, and contain no petrochemical preservatives. The misleading organic noise created by culprit companies’ branding and labeling practices, interferes with organic consumers ability to distinguish personal care whose main ingredients are in fact made with certified organic, not conventional or petrochemical, material, free of synthetic preservatives.

Lawsuit Also Names Estee Lauder, Stella McCartney’s CARE, Ecocert and OASIS

Ecocert is a French-based certifier with a standard that allows not only cleansing ingredients made from conventional versus organic agriculture, but also allows inclusion, in the cleansing ingredients contained in products labeled as “Made with Organic” ingredients, of certain petrochemicals such as Amidopropyl Betaine in Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Even worse, despite Ecocert’s own regulations prohibiting the labeling as “Organic” of a product containing less than 100% organic content, Ecocert in practice engages in “creative misinterpretation” of its own rules in order to accommodate clients engaging in organic mislabeling. For instance, Ecocert certifies the Ikove brand’s cleansing products to contain less than 50% organic content, noted in small text on the back of the product, where all cleansing ingredients are non-organic including Cocamidopropyl Betaine which contains petroleum compounds. Yet the product is labeled “Organic” Amazonian Avocado Bath & Shower Gel. Another instance is Stella McCartney’s “100% Organic” CARE line certified by Ecocert that labels products as “100% Organic” that are not 100% Organic alongside ones that are; the labels of products that are not 100% organic simply insert the word “Active” before “Ingredients.” In allowing such labeling, Ecocert simply ignores the requirements of its own certification standards. Furthermore, the primary organic content in most Ecocert certified products comes from “Flower Waters” in which up to 80% of the “organic” content consists merely of just regular tap water that Ecocert counts as “organic.”

Explicitly relying on the weak Ecocert standard as precedent, the new Organic and Sustainable Industry Standard (“OASIS”)-a standard indeed developed exclusively by certain members of the industry, primarily Estee Lauder, with no consumer input — will permit certification of products outright as “Organic” (rather than as “Made with Organic” ingredients) even if such products contain hydrogenated and sulfated cleansing ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate made from conventional agricultural material grown with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and preserved with synthetic petrochemical preservatives such as Ethylhexylglycerin and Phenoxyethanol. [Reference: OASIS Standard section 6.2 and Anti-Microbial List] The organic content is required to only be 85%, which in water and detergent-based personal care products, means organic water extracts and aloe vera will greenwash conventional synthetic cleansing ingredients and preservatives.

The OASIS standard is not merely useless but deliberately misleading to organic consumers looking for a reliable indicator of true “organic” product integrity in personal care. Organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in products labeled “Organic” be made from organic not conventional agriculture, to not be hydrogenated or sulfated, and to be free from synthetic petrochemical preservatives. Surprisingly, companies represented on the OASIS board, such as Hain (Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic”; Avalon “Organics”) and Cosway (Head “Organics”,) produce liquid soap, bodywash and shampoo products with petrochemicals in their cleansers even though use of petrochemicals in this way is not permitted even under the very permissible OASIS standard these companies have themselves developed and endorsed.

Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of the OCA, said: “The pressure of imminent litigation outlined in cease and desist letters sent by OCA and Dr. Bronner’s in March prompted some serious discussion with some of the offending companies, but ultimately failed to resolve the core issues.”
http://www.naturalnews.com/023185.html

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USDA Renews Approval of 46 Non-Organic Ingredients in “Organic” Foods

May 07, 2008 by: David Gutierrez
USDA(NaturalNews) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has renewed its approval for 46 non-organically produced substances to be used in foods and beverages that are labeled “organic.” At the same time, the agency withdrew its approval for a type of food coloring and a food additive.

Under the Organic Foods Production Act, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board is required to renew approval every five years for any non-organic ingredients that are allowed into organic foods.

The products renewed include five agricultural non-organic products and 41 non-agricultural, non-organic products. The agricultural produced products are corn starch, kelp, pectin, unbleached lecithin and water extracted gums. Some of these are not individual products, but categories; water-extracted gums, for example, include arabic, carob bean, guar and locust bean gums. Kelp may only be used as a thickener or a dietary supplement.

The 41 allowed non-agricultural products include common ingredients such as citric and lactic acid; calcium carbonate; calcium chloride; carnauba wax; bakers, brewers or nutritional yeast; dairy cultures; flavors; sodium carbonate; glycerin; mono- and diglycerides; and xanthan gum.

The USDA withdrew its approval, however, for colors derived from non-synthetic sources and for potassium tartrate derived from tartaric acid.

The organic industry is the fastest-growing agriculture sector in the United States, currently accounting for 3 percent of all food and beverage sales. Retail revenues have risen 20 to 24 percent each year since 1990, from $1 billion to nearly $17 billion in 2006. They are expected to reach nearly $24 billion by 2010.

At the same time, acreage of organic agriculture operations more than doubled from 2001 to 2005, to a current 4.05 million acres. The number of organic operations increased by more than 18 percent in the same period, to a 2005 value of 8.500 crop and livestock operations and 2,900 handling operations.
http://www.naturalnews.com/023183.html

“And We Have the Seeds”

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Black Ears of Wheat art by Stratis Athineos

Still think the elitists haven’t infiltrated the heirloom seed and organic gardening movement?
Remember that GMO and Hybrid are two different things. GMO means genetically modified organism ( for example injecting fish dna into corn seed embryo). Hybridization occurs in nature ( yes they also do it in labs …but remember that farmers have also been hybridizing crops for hundreds of years). Hybridization occurs in nature from cross pollination. Bees, the wind, ants, hummingbirds, butterflies, rain just to name a few all aid in the cross pollination of plants, trees, etc.
If there was no cross pollination occurring, there would only be ONE type of peach, tomato, cherry, lettuce, cabbage, bean, etc.
When purchasing your seeds to plant, it is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to educate yourself on the company selling them and the type of hybrid it is.
Typically those that say “Highly disease resistant” are GMO hybrids.

Plant your gardens, learn how to save your own seeds from the crops that you grow. An easy way to figure out if the seeds you save will produce next season is to take a few of the seeds from this season from your crops and lay them on a moist paper towel or in a container with some water in it. Give it a few days and watch to see if starts to sprout.
I have been doing this for years from the seeds that I save from my crops.

There is NO reason why each and every person cannot or is not growing some type of food. You can grow food in anything that will hold dirt (with a few exceptions).
I have grown (and am currently growing) chives and onions in old boots, radishes in old dish pans/litter boxes, carrots in 2 liter pop bottles, potatoes in trash bags or trash cans, a variety of lettuce, onions, radishes, carrots, etc., in old laundry baskets, tomatoes in buckets, herbs and other veggies in old dresser drawers and herbs in little gift bags ( the coated bags that have taken the place of wrapping paper) and old straw baskets and hats. At the moment I am growing brown rice in an old fish aquarium and am in the process of doing it in a kiddie pool too ( by the way, you can also use a kiddie pool to grow veggies..lettuce, radishes, etc.).

Get creative and become empowered by growing your own food!!! The money that you will save yourself from having to pay outlandish prices for fruit and veggies at the grocery store can be used to purchase other important supplies…canning jars, AMMO, etc.

The term Victory Garden has been around for decades, but these are the times that they truly are VICTORY GARDENS. For every seed you plant and every crop you harvest, no matter how big or how small, you are depleting the power of the elitists and diminishing their plan to have us all be slaves on their global plantation.

What it all boils down to is that the person reflected back to you when you look into a mirror, is the person responsible for your quality of life and your survival.

God Bless and Happy Planting!

~Cordi

http://offthegridgirls.wordpress.com/2008/05/02/and-we-have-the-seeds/

The Oil We Eat

Posted on Updated on

An essay by Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, from Harper’s Magazine Feb 2004. It’s lengthy, but well worth the read.

The Oil We Eat (from Harper’s)

Following the food chain back to Iraq

The secret of great wealth with no obvious source is some forgotten crime, forgotten because it was done neatly.

–Balzac

The journalist’s rule says: follow the money. This rule, however, is not really axiomatic but derivative, in that money, as even our vice president will tell you, is really a way of tracking energy. We’ll follow the energy.

We learn as children that there is no free lunch, that you don’t get something from nothing, that what goes up must come down, and so on. The scientific version of these verities is only slightly more complex. As James Prescott Joule discovered in the nineteenth century, there is only so much energy. You can change it from motion to heat, from heat to light, but there will never be more of it and there will never be less of it. The conservation of energy is not an option, it is a fact. This is the first law of thermodynamics.

Special as we humans are, we get no exemptions from the rules. All animals eat plants or eat animals that eat plants. This is the food chain, and pulling it is the unique ability of plants to turn sunlight into stored energy in the form of carbohydrates, the basic fuel of all animals.
Solar-powered photosynthesis is the only way to make this fuel. There is no alternative to plant energy, just as there is no alternative to oxygen. The results of taking away our plant energy may not be as sudden as cutting off oxygen, but they are as sure.

Scientists have a name for the total amount of plant mass created by Earth in a given year, the total budget for life. They call it the planet’s “primary productivity.” There have been two efforts to figure out how that productivity is spent, one by a group at Stanford University, the other an independent accounting by the biologist Stuart Pimm. Both conclude that we humans, a single species among millions, consume about 40 percent of Earth’s primary productivity, 40 percent of all there is. This simple number may explain why the current extinction rate is 1,000 times that which existed before human domination of the planet. We 6 billion have simply stolen the food, the rich among us a lot more than others.

Energy cannot be created or canceled, but it can be concentrated. This is the larger and profoundly explanatory context of a national-security memo George Kennan wrote in 1948 as the head of a State Department planning committee, ostensibly about Asian policy but really about how the United States was to deal with its newfound role as the dominant force on Earth. “We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population,” Kennan wrote. “In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.”

“The day is not far off,” Kennan concluded, “when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.”

If you follow the energy, eventually you will end up in a field somewhere. Humans engage in a dizzying array of artifice and industry. Nonetheless, more than two thirds of humanity’s cut of primary productivity results from agriculture, two thirds of which in turn consists of three plants: rice, wheat, and corn. In the 10,000 years since humans domesticated these grains, their status has remained undiminished, most likely because they are able to store solar energy in uniquely dense, transportable bundles of carbohydrates. They are to the plant world what a barrel of refined oil is to the hydrocarbon world. Indeed, aside from hydrocarbons they are the
most concentrated form of true wealth–sun energy–to be found on the planet.

As Kennan recognized, however, the maintenance of such a concentration of wealth often requires violent action. Agriculture is a recent human experiment. For most of human history, we lived by gathering or killing a broad variety of nature’s offerings. Why humans might have traded this approach for the complexities of agriculture is an interesting and long-debated question, especially because the skeletal evidence clearly indicates that early farmers were more poorly nourished, more disease-ridden and deformed, than their hunter-gatherer contemporaries.

Farming did not improve most lives. The evidence that best points to the answer, I think, lies in the difference between early agricultural villages and their pre-agricultural counterparts–the presence not just of grain but of granaries and, more tellingly, of just a few houses significantly larger and more ornate than all the others attached to those granaries. Agriculture was not so much about food as it was about the accumulation of wealth. It benefited some humans, and those people have been in charge ever since.

Domestication was also a radical change in the distribution of wealth within the plant world. Plants can spend their solar income in several ways. The dominant and prudent strategy is to allocate most of it to building roots, stem, bark–a conservative portfolio of investments that
allows the plant to better gather energy and survive the downturn years. Further, by living in diverse stands (a given chunk of native prairie contains maybe 200 species of plants), these perennials provide services for one another, such as retaining water, protecting one another from wind, and fixing free nitrogen from the air to use as fertilizer. Diversity allows a system to “sponsor its own fertility,” to use visionary agronomist Wes Jackson’s phrase. This is the plant world’s norm.

There is a very narrow group of annuals, however, that grow in patches of a single species and store almost all of their income as seed, a tight bundle of carbohydrates easily exploited by seed eaters such as ourselves. Under normal circumstances, this eggs-in-one-basket strategy is a dumb idea for a plant. But not during catastrophes such as floods, fires, and volcanic eruptions. Such catastrophes strip established plant communities and create opportunities for wind-scattered entrepreneurial seed bearers. It is no accident that no matter where agriculture sprouted on the globe, it always happened near rivers. You might assume, as many have, that this is because the plants needed the water or nutrients. Mostly this is not true. They needed the power of flooding, which scoured landscapes and stripped out competitors. Nor is it an accident, I think, that agriculture arose independently and simultaneously around the globe just as the last ice age ended, a time of enormous upheaval when glacial melt let loose sea-size lakes to create tidal waves of erosion. It was a time of catastrophe.

Corn, rice, and wheat are especially adapted to catastrophe. It is their niche. In the natural scheme of things, a catastrophe would create a blank slate, bare soil, that was good for them. Then, under normal circumstances, succession would quickly close that niche. The annuals
would colonize. Their roots would stabilize the soil, accumulate organic matter, provide cover. Eventually the catastrophic niche would close. Farming is the process of ripping that niche open again and again. It is an annual artificial catastrophe, and it requires the equivalent of three
or four tons of TNT per acre for a modern American farm. Iowa’s fields require the energy of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year.

Iowa is almost all fields now. Little prairie remains, and if you can find what Iowans call a “postage stamp” remnant of some, it most likely will abut a cornfield. This allows an observation. Walk from the prairie to the field, and you probably will step down about six feet, as if the land had been stolen from beneath you. Settlers’ accounts of the prairie conquest mention a sound, a series of pops, like pistol shots, the sound of stout grass roots breaking before a moldboard plow. A robbery was in progress.

When we say the soil is rich, it is not a metaphor. It is as rich in energy as an oil well. A prairie converts that energy to flowers and roots and stems, which in turn pass back into the ground as dead organic matter. The layers of topsoil build up into a rich repository of energy, a bank. A
farm field appropriates that energy, puts it into seeds we can eat. Much of the energy moves from the earth to the rings of fat around our necks and waists. And much of the energy is simply wasted, a trail of dollars billowing from the burglar’s satchel.

I’ve already mentioned that we humans take 40 percent of the globe’s primary productivity every year. You might have assumed we and our livestock eat our way through that volume, but this is not the case. Part of that total–almost a third of it–is the potential plant mass lost when forests are cleared for farming or when tropical rain forests are cut for grazing or when plows destroy the deep mat of prairie roots that held the whole business together, triggering erosion. The Dust Bowl was no accident of nature. A functioning grassland prairie produces more biomass each year than does even the most technologically advanced wheat field. The problem is, it’s mostly a form of grass and grass roots that humans can’t eat. So we replace the prairie with our own preferred grass, wheat. Never mind that we feed most of our grain to livestock, and that livestock is perfectly content to eat native grass. And never mind that there likely were more bison produced naturally on the Great Plains before farming than all of beef farming raises in the same area today. Our ancestors found it preferable to pluck the energy from the ground and when it ran out move on.

Today we do the same, only now when the vault is empty we fill it again with new energy in the form of oil-rich fertilizers. Oil is annual primary productivity stored as hydrocarbons, a trust fund of sorts, built up over many thousands of years. On average, it takes 5.5 gallons of fossil energy to restore a year’s worth of lost fertility to an acre of eroded land–in 1997 we burned through more than 400 years’ worth of ancient fossilized productivity, most of it from someplace else. Even as the earth beneath Iowa shrinks, it is being globalized.

Six thousand years before sodbusters broke up Iowa, their Caucasian blood ancestors broke up the Hungarian plain, an area just northwest of the Caucasus Mountains. Archaeologists call this tribe the LBK, short for linearbandkeramik, the German word that describes the distinctive pottery remnants that mark their occupation of Europe. Anthropologists call them the wheat-beef people, a name that better connects those ancients along the Danube to my fellow Montanans on the Upper Missouri River. These proto-Europeans had a full set of domesticated plants and animals, but wheat and beef dominated. All the domesticates came from an area along what is now the Iraq-Syria-Turkey border at the edges of the Zagros Mountains. This is the center of domestication for the Western world’s main crops and live stock, ground zero of catastrophic agriculture.

Two other types of catastrophic agriculture evolved at roughly the same time, one centered on rice in what is now China and India and one centered on corn and potatoes in Central and South America. Rice, though, is tropical and its expansion depends on water, so it developed only in floodplains, estuaries, and swamps. Corn agriculture was every bit as voracious as wheat; the Aztecs could be as brutal and imperialistic as Romans or Brits, but the corn cultures collapsed with the onslaught of Spanish conquest. Corn itself simply joined the wheat-beef people’s coalition. Wheat was the empire builder; its bare botanical facts dictated the motion and violence that we know as imperialism.

The wheat-beef people swept across the western European plains in less than 300 years, a conquest some archaeologists refer to as a “blitzkrieg.” A different race of humans, the Cro-Magnons–hunter-gatherers, not farmers–lived on those plains at the time. Their cave art at places such as Lascaux testifies to their sophistication and profound connection to wildlife. They probably did most of their hunting and gathering in uplands and river bottoms, places the wheat farmers didn’t need, suggesting the possibility of coexistence. That’s not what happened, however. Both genetic and linguistic evidence say that the farmers killed the hunters.
The Basque people are probably the lone remnant descendants of Cro-Magnons, the only trace.

Hunter-gatherer archaeological sites of the period contain spear points that originally belonged to the farmers, and we can guess they weren’t trade goods. One group of anthropologists concludes, “The evidence from the western extension of the LBK leaves little room for any other
conclusion but that LBK-Mesolithic interactions were at best chilly and at worst hostile.” The world’s surviving Blackfeet, Assiniboine Sioux, Inca, and Maori probably have the best idea of the nature of these interactions.

Wheat is temperate and prefers plowed-up grasslands. The globe has a limited stock of temperate grasslands, just as it has a limited stock of all other biomes. On average, about 10 percent of all other biomes remain in something like their native state today. Only 1 percent of temperate grasslands remains undestroyed. Wheat takes what it needs.

The supply of temperate grasslands lies in what are today the United States, Canada, the South American pampas, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Europe, and the Asiatic extension of the European plain into the sub-Siberian steppes. This area largely describes the First World, the developed world. Temperate grasslands make up not only the habitat of wheat and beef but also the globe’s islands of Caucasians, of European surnames and languages. In 2000 the countries of the temperate grasslands, the neo-Europes, accounted for about 80 percent of all wheat exports in the world, and about 86 percent of all com. That is to say, the
neo-Europes drive the world’s agriculture. The dominance does not stop with grain. These countries, plus the mothership–Europe accounted for three fourths of all agricultural exports of all crops in the world in 1999.

Plato wrote of his country’s farmlands:

What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick man. …Formerly, many of the mountains were arable, The plains that were full of rich soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with forests and produced abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once the land was enriched by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea. The soil was deep, it absorbed and kept the water in loamy soil, and the water that soaked into the hills fed springs and running streams everywhere. Now the abandoned shrines at spots where formerly there were springs attest that our description of the land is true.

Plato’s lament is rooted in wheat agriculture, which depleted his country’s soil and subsequently caused the series of declines that pushed centers of civilization to Rome, Turkey, and western Europe. By the fifth century, though, wheat’s strategy of depleting and moving on ran up against the Atlantic Ocean. Fenced-in wheat agriculture is like rice agriculture. It balances its equations with famine. In the millennium between 500 and 1500, Britain suffered a major “corrective” famine about every ten years; there were seventy-five in France during the same period. The incidence, however, dropped sharply when colonization brought an influx of new food to Europe.

The new lands had an even greater effect on the colonists themselves. Thomas Jefferson, after enduring a lecture on the rustic nature by his hosts at a dinner party in Paris, pointed out that all of the Americans present were a good head taller than all of the French. Indeed, colonists
in all of the neo-Europes enjoyed greater stature and longevity, as well as a lower infant-mortality rate–all indicators of the better nutrition afforded by the onetime spend down of the accumulated capital of virgin soil.

The precolonial famines of Europe raised the question: What would happen when the planet’s supply of arable land ran out? We have a clear answer. In about 1960 expansion hit its limits and the supply of unfarmed, arable lands came to an end. There was nothing left to plow. What happened was grain yields tripled.

The accepted term for this strange turn of events is the green revolution, though it would be more properly labeled the amber revolution, because it applied exclusively to grain–wheat, rice, and corn. Plant breeders tinkered with the architecture of these three grains so that they could be hypercharged with irrigation water and chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen. This innovation meshed nicely with the increased “efficiency” of the industrialized factory-farm system. With the possible exception of the domestication of wheat, the green revolution is the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet.

For openers, it disrupted long-standing patterns of rural life worldwide, moving a lot of no-longer-needed people off the land and into the world’s most severe poverty. The experience in population control in the developing world is by now clear: It is not that people make more people so much as it is that they make more poor people. In the forty-year period beginning about 1960, the world’s population doubled, adding virtually the entire increase of 3 billion to the world’s poorest classes, the most fecund classes. The way in which the green revolution raised that grain contributed hugely to the population boom, and it is the weight of the population that leaves humanity in its present untenable position.

Discussion of these, the most poor, however, is largely irrelevant to the American situation. We say we have poor people here, but almost no one in this country lives on less than one dollar a day, the global benchmark for poverty. It marks off a class of about 1.3 billion people, the hard core of the larger group of 2 billion chronically malnourished people–that is, one third of humanity. We may forget about them, as most Americans do.

More relevant here are the methods of the green revolution, which added orders of magnitude to the devastation. By mining the iron for tractors, drilling the new oil to fuel them and to make nitrogen fertilizers, and by taking the water that rain and rivers had meant for other lands, farming had extended its boundaries, its dominion, to lands that were not farmable. At the same time, it extended its boundaries across time, tapping fossil energy, stripping past assets.

The common assumption these days is that we muster our weapons to secure oil, not food. There’s a little joke in this. Ever since we ran out of arable land, food is oil. Every single calorie we eat is backed by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten. In 1940 the average farm in the United States produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil energy it used. By 1974 (the last year in which anyone looked closely at this issue), that ratio was 1:1. And this understates the problem, because at the same time that there is more oil in our food there
is less oil in our oil. A couple of generations ago we spent a lot less energy drilling, pumping, and distributing than we do now. In the 1940s we got about 100 barrels of oil back for every barrel of oil we spent getting it. Today each barrel invested in the process returns only ten, a
calculation that no doubt fails to include the fuel burned by the Hummers and Blackhawks we use to maintain access to the oil in Iraq.

David Pimentel, an expert on food and energy at Cornell University, has estimated that if all of the world ate the way the United States eats, humanity would exhaust all known global fossil-fuel reserves in just over seven years. Pimentel has his detractors. Some have accused him of being off on other calculations by as much as 30 percent. Fine. Make it ten years.

Fertilizer makes a pretty fine bomb right off the shelf, a chemistry lesson Timothy McVeigh taught at Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995–not a small matter, in that the green revolution has made nitrogen fertilizers ubiquitous in some of the more violent and
desperate corners of the world. Still, there is more to contemplate in nitrogen’s less sensational chemistry.

The chemophobia of modem times excludes fear of the simple elements of chemistry’s periodic table. We circulate petitions, hold hearings, launch websites, and buy and sell legislators in regard to polysyllabic organic compounds–polychlorinated biphenyls, polyvinyls, DDT, 2-4d, that sort of thing–not simple carbon or nitrogen. Not that agriculture’s use of the more ornate chemistry is benign–an infant born in a rural, wheat-producing county in the United States has about twice the chance of suffering birth defects as one born in a rural place that doesn’t produce wheat, an effect researchers blame on chlorophenoxy herbicides. Focusing on pesticide pollution, though, misses the worst of the pollutants. Forget the polysyllabic organics. It is nitrogen-the wellspring of fertility relied upon by every Eden-obsessed backyard gardener and suburban groundskeeper–that we should fear most.

Those who model our planet as an organism do so on the basis that the earth appears to breathe–it thrives by converting a short list of basic elements from one compound into the next, just as our own bodies cycle oxygen into carbon dioxide and plants cycle carbon dioxide into oxygen. In fact, two of the planet’s most fundamental humors are oxygen and carbon
dioxide. Another is nitrogen.

Nitrogen can be released from its “fixed” state as a solid in the soil by natural processes that allow it to circulate freely in the atmosphere. This also can be done artificially. Indeed, humans now contribute more nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle than the planet itself does. That is, humans have doubled the amount of nitrogen in play.

This has led to an imbalance. It is easier to create nitrogen fertilizer than it is to apply it evenly to fields. When farmers dump nitrogen on a crop, much is wasted. It runs into the water and soil, where it either reacts chemically with its surroundings to form new compounds or flows off
to fertilize something else, somewhere else.

That chemical reaction, called acidification, is noxious and contributes significantly to acid rain. One of the compounds produced by acidification is nitrous oxide, which aggravates the greenhouse effect. Green growing things normally offset global warming by sucking up carbon dioxide, but nitrogen on farm fields plus methane from decomposing vegetation make every farmed acre, like every acre of Los Angeles freeway, a net contributor to global warming. Fertilization is equally worrisome. Rainfall and irrigation water inevitably washes the nitrogen from fields to creeks and streams, which flows into rivers, which floods into the ocean. This explains why the Mississippi River, which drains the nation’s Corn Belt, is an environmental catastrophe. The nitrogen fertilizes artificially large blooms of algae that in growing suck all the oxygen from the water, a condition biologists call anoxia, which means “oxygen-depleted.” Here there’s no need to calculate long-term effects, because life in such places has no long term: everything dies immediately. The Mississippi River’s heavily fertilized effluvia has created a dead
zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.

America’s biggest crop, grain corn, is completely unpalatable. It is raw material for an industry that manufactures food substitutes. Likewise, you can’t eat unprocessed wheat. You certainly can’t eat hay. You can eat unprocessed soybeans, but mostly we don’t. These four crops cover 82 percent of American cropland. Agriculture in this country is not about food; it’s about commodities that require the outlay of still more energy to become food.

About two thirds of U.S. grain corn is labeled “processed,” meaning it is milled and otherwise refined for food or industrial uses. More than 45 percent of that becomes sugar, especially high-fructose corn sweeteners, the keystone ingredient in three quarters of all processed foods, especially soft drinks, the food of America’s poor and working classes. It is not a coincidence that the American pandemic of obesity tracks rather nicely with the fivefold increase in corn-syrup production since Archer Daniels Midland developed a high-fructose version of the stuff in the early seventies. Nor is it a coincidence that the plague selects the poor, who eat the most processed food.

It began with the industrialization of Victorian England. The empire was then flush with sugar from plantations in the colonies. Meantime the cities were flush with factory workers. There was no good way to feed them. And thus was born the afternoon tea break, the tea consisting
primarily of warm water and sugar. If the workers were well off, they could also afford bread with heavily sugared jam–sugar-powered industrialization. There was a 500 percent increase in per capita sugar consumption in Britain between 1860 and 1890, around the time when the
life expectancy of a male factory worker was seventeen years. By the end of the century the average Brit was getting about one sixth of his total nutrition from sugar, exactly the same percentage Americans get today–double what nutritionists recommend.

There is another energy matter to consider here, though. The grinding, milling, wetting, drying, and baking of a breakfast cereal requires about four calories of energy for every calorie of food energy it produces. A two-pound bag of breakfast cereal burns the energy of a half-gallon of
gasoline in its making. All together the food-processing industry in the United States uses about ten calories of fossil-fuel energy for every calorie of food energy it produces.

That number does not include the fuel used in transporting the food from the factory to a store near you, or the fuel used by millions of people driving to thousands of super discount stores on the edge of town, where the land is cheap. It appears, however, that the corn cycle is about to come full circle. If a bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers has their way–and it appears they will–we will soon buy gasoline containing twice as much fuel alcohol as it does now. Fuel alcohol already ranks second as a use for processed corn in the United States, just behind corn sweeteners. According to one set of calculations, we spend more calories of fossil-fuel energy making ethanol than we gain from it. The Department of Agriculture says the ratio is closer to a gallon and a quart of ethanol for every gallon of fossil fuel we invest. The USDA calls this a bargain, because gasohol is a “clean fuel.” This claim to cleanness is in dispute
at the tailpipe level, and it certainly ignores the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, pesticide pollution, and the haze of global gases gathering over every farm field. Nor does this claim cover clean conscience; some still might be unsettled knowing that our SUVs’ demands for fuel compete with the poor’s demand for grain.

Green eaters, especially vegetarians, advocate eating low on the food chain, a simple matter of energy flow. Eating a carrot gives the diner all that carrot’s energy, but feeding carrots to a chicken, then eating the chicken, reduces the energy by a factor of ten. The chicken wastes some energy, stores some as feathers, bones, and other inedibles, and uses most of it just to live long enough to be eaten. As a rough rule of thumb, that factor of ten applies to each level up the food chain, which is why some fish, such as tuna, can be a horror in all of this. Tuna is a secondary predator, meaning it not only doesn’t eat plants but eats other fish that themselves eat other fish, adding a zero to the multiplier each notch up, easily a hundred times, more like a thousand times less efficient than eating a plant.

This is fine as far as it goes, but the vegetarian’s case can break down on some details. On the moral issues, vegetarians claim their habits are kinder to animals, though it is difficult to see how wiping out 99 percent of wildlife’s habitat, as farming has done in Iowa, is a kindness. In
rural Michigan, for example, the potato farmers have a peculiar tactic for dealing with the predations of whitetail deer. They gut-shoot them with small-bore rifles, in hopes the deer will limp off to the woods and die where they won’t stink up the potato fields.

Animal rights aside, vegetarians can lose the edge in the energy argument by eating processed food, with its ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food energy produced. The question, then, is: Does eating processed food such as soy burger or soy milk cancel the energy benefits of vegetarianism, which is to say, can I eat my lamb chops in peace? Maybe. If I’ve done my due diligence, I will have found out that the particular lamb I am eating was both local and grass-fed, two factors that of course greatly reduce the embedded energy in a meal. I know of ranches here in Montana, for instance, where sheep eat native grass under closely
controlled circumstances–no farming, no plows, no corn, no nitrogen. Assets have not been stripped. I can’t eat the grass directly. This can go on. There are little niches like this in the system. Each person’s individual charge is to find such niches.

Chances are, though, any meat eater will come out on the short end of this argument, especially in the United States. Take the case of beef. Cattle are grazers, so in theory could live like the grass-fed lamb. Some cattle cultures–those of South America and Mexico, for example–have perfected wonderful cuisines based on grass-fed beef. This is not our habit in the United States, and it is simply a matter of habit. Eighty percent of the grain the United States produces goes to livestock. Seventy-eight percent of all of our beef comes from feed lots, where the cattle eat grain, mostly corn and wheat. So do most of our hogs and chickens. The cattle spend their adult lives packed shoulder to shoulder in a space not much bigger than their bodies, up to their knees in shit, being stuffed with grain and a constant stream of antibiotics to prevent the disease this sort of confinement invariably engenders. The manure is rich in nitrogen and once provided a farm’s fertilizer. The feedlots, however, are now far removed from farm fields, so it is simply not “efficient” to haul it to cornfields. It is waste. It exhales methane, a global-warming gas. It pollutes streams. It takes thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make a calorie of beef this way; sixty-eight to make one calorie of pork.

Still, these livestock do something we can’t. They convert grain’s carbohydrates to high-quality protein. All well and good, except that per capita protein production in the United States is about double what an average adult needs per day. Excess cannot be stored as protein in the
human body but is simply converted to fat. This is the end result of a factory-farm system that appears as a living, continental-scale monument to Rube Goldberg, a black-mass remake of the loaves-and-fishes miracle. Prairie’s productivity is lost for grain, grain’s productivity is lost in
livestock, livestock’s protein is lost to human fat–all federally subsidized for about $15 billion a year, two thirds of which goes directly to only two crops, corn and wheat.

This explains why the energy expert David Pimentel is so worried that the rest of the world will adopt America’s methods. He should be, because the rest of the world is. Mexico now feeds 45 percent of its grain to livestock, up from 5 percent in 1960. Egypt went from 3 percent to 31
percent in the same period, and China, with a sixth of the world’s population, has gone from 8 percent to 26 percent. All of these places have poor people who could use the grain, but they can’t afford it.

I live among elk and have learned to respect them. One moonlit night during the dead of last winter, I looked out my bedroom window to see about twenty of them grazing a plot of grass the size of a living room. Just that small patch among acres of other species of native prairie
grass. Why that species and only that species of grass that night in the worst of winter when the threat to their survival was the greatest? What magic nutrient did this species alone contain? What does a wild animal know that we don’t? I think we need this knowledge.

Food is politics. That being the case, I voted twice in 2002. The day after Election Day, in a truly dismal mood, I climbed the mountain behind my house and found a small herd of elk grazing native grasses in the morning sunlight. My respect for these creatures over the years has become great enough that on that morning I did not hesitate but went straight to my job, which was to rack a shell and drop one cow elk, my household’s annual protein supply. I voted with my weapon of choice–an act not all that uncommon in this world, largely, I think, as a result of the way we grow food. I can see why it is catching on. Such a vote has a certain satisfying heft and finality about it. My particular bit of violence, though, is more satisfying, I think, than the rest of the globe’s ordinary political mayhem. I used a rifle to opt out of an insane system. I killed, but then so did you when you bought that package of burger, even when you bought that package of tofu burger. I killed, then the rest of those elk went on, as did the grasses, the birds, the trees, the coyotes, mountain lions, and bugs, the fundamental productivity of an intact natural system, all of it went on.