Chemical Load of our Environment

no bugsI am on some of the Facebook gardening groups, and there seems to be a buzz across the board about bees! Not about keeping bees, but about how few we are seeing in our gardens, and I see it my garden too. Bees love certain spots in my garden, they LOVE the sage and salvia flowers, bees simply can’t resist clover – which is starting to flower right now, and they go gaga for catmint. But in the last two weeks I have counted just three bees. And it is not just bees, my garden is quiet. I have not seen many bugs at all, especially flying bugs.

Who knows what the reason is, it could be the mild winter, the cool spring, the cold snap, the prolific amounts of pollen everywhere – maybe bees just don’t have to forage. Maybe all they have to do is dust the hive (or they could come dust my house, pollen has been everywhere this spring!) I did call our town to see if they had done any spraying, and they hadn’t – they sent me over to Plymouth County Mosquito control. I have not heard back from them yet, but in the meantime, I did my own research, and what I found, was staggering.

chart 2chart 1What I looked at was land use, specifically, how many acres in the U.S are committed to agricultural uses (cropland and pasture), and how many acres are committed to urban use. I then looked at average annual spend on herbicides, which includes fertilizers, per acre for each, and I found that the average home owner spends three times per acre more than our farmers for herbicides. Okay, so we are paying retail, and farmers are buying in bulk. But then, this article is not about the weeds, it’s about the bees. Right? So I did the same exercise for pesticides, and guess, what, we are bug-a-phoebes! Here the average spend of homeowners was nearly 15 times higher and although I didn’t give it a graph, when I included commercial and industrial spend, non-farmers spent 21 times more on pesticides than farmers did.

I think we come down on farmers because a) there is much more farmland than urban area – for each acre of urban area, there are 17 acres of farmland and grassland/pasture. That makes farmers the custodians of a large chunk of our land. And b) what farmers are growing, is the food we put in our bodies – so of course we care about what they are doing to it!

Those of you that have been with us a while know how I feel about agricultural monocultures and industrial farming, of course. I am not condoning these practices. But what about our responsibility? As custodians? We raise our children in urban areas, we visit recreational ponds which are the ultimate catchment areas for our garden run off during the rain. In my rational mind, I understand that I cannot dictate what my neighbors do in their homes and gardens, and I understand that mosquitos and ticks spread diseases that are no laughing matter – but the toxic load of our environment is no laughing matter either, and sacrificing one for the other will not prevent us from getting sick, just look at the out of control cancer statistics.

Ultimately, we have to be responsible too. Our communities cannot point fingers for the disappearance of the honey bee, or the large number of butterflies whose numbers are dwindling. We are a part of that problem, and as a community, we need to collaborate, educate, and make better, organic, and healthy choices for our gardens and open spaces.

By Pamela Denholm


Eating Seasonally

eatseasonThose of you who have been with us a while, and those of you with gardens of your own, will have watched the seasons transform and evolve in a way that you just are not able to in a modern, air conditioned grocery store. I love eating seasonally, I feel like I eat much, much more variety, and I appreciate all my food so much more because it tastes better in season, and I get to dream for it and long for it when it is out of season. Here are some other tangible benefits to enjoying your food seasonably:

1. Health Benefits – Seasonal foods are picked at the peak of freshness and offer higher nutritional content than out of season unripe fruits and vegetables. When you eat with the seasons you can enjoy a rainbow of colorful and diverse foods in your diet as well as providing your body with a wide variety of important vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that you need to maintain vibrant health.

2. Sustainable Benefits – Organic seasonal foods are grown in a sustainable manner by farmers who really care about protecting our planet. Organic farmers rotate crops to increase soil fertility, use integrated pest management to control pests using beneficial insects instead of toxic pesticides, and use sustainable composting methods for disposing of organic waste. We are also not using extreme energy, chemical fertilizers, and other funky agents to force crops to fruit out of season.

3. Environmental Benefits – It reduces the number of miles your food has to travel before it Spring Listreaches your plate, and also the amount of time (and energy) required to store it and maintain temperatures conducive to storage. This helps cut back on the amount of fuel used which reduces pollution. By making a conscious choice to purchase organic, seasonal, and local foods we help protect our water, air, and land.

4. Economic Benefits – When you buy organic, seasonal, locally grown foods you help provide financial support to the farmers in your area which helps to grow your local economy. Did you know that you need to spend three times as much with a chain store, than you do with a local business to have the same economic impact and benefit on your community?

By Pamela Denholm

Resources: – 4 great benefits to eating locally

My Goodness, We Are a Pig Headed Bunch!

pig headedMy husband and I have a little ritual in the morning. We wake up, make a cup of tea, rouse the children, and then pick up our phones and scroll through our respective headlines while sipping said tea. It’s the modern day version of reading the paper, only the paper is tailored to our specific interests – so he feeds me snippets of global news and politics, and I feed him all the human rights and environmental tidbits. We are usually done by the time our tea cups are empty, and we meet the kids at the breakfast table to get the day started. On this particular morning, here were some headlines that stood out:

  •  Bleaching kills a third of coral on Great Barrier Reef’s north pristine coast
    Warm sea temperatures are the cause
  • Iconic places under dire threat from climate change
  • Yellow stone national park, Venice’s iconic lagoon, Galapagos Islands, Ilullissat Icefjord – being damaged by onslaught of climate related effects
  • Doctors ‘drug of last resort’ falling prey to antibiotic resistance
    Antibiotic resistant diseases on the rise because we’ve allowed agribusiness to turn antibiotics into livestock feed

This last one is the one I would like to focus on. The first drug resistant bacteria was discovered half way around the world in China in November last year. A few weeks ago, a woman in Pennsylvania was diagnosed as the first American to carry the strain. An entirely separate investigation turned up a similar strain in tissue taken from a pig slaughtered here in the US. What is concerning, is this discovery ties the new resistance directly to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.

Both the patient and the pig were infected with a strain of E.coli resistant to multiple antibiotics, including some potent versions considered ‘last resorts’. They did eventually manage to treat the patient, however, Christopher Braden, MD, deputy director of the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, warned that the plasmid-borne colistin-resistance gene could transfer to CRE or any other superbug, making them deadlier. Essentially, other bacteria’s can potentially become harder to treat.

CDC Director Tom Frieden hardly minced words when he told The Washington Post, “It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics—that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units or patients getting urinary-tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics. I’ve been there for TB patients. I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness. This is not where we need to be.”

However, despite these dire warnings, we still continue to use antibiotics routinely in large scale husbandry (factory farms), and the reason is twofold: one, it makes the animals grow bigger more quickly, and two, since these animals are kept in close quarters unlike their natural habitat, and fed foods unlike what they would choose to forage for, they are sicker and instead of isolating sick animals and treating them, it is easier to add antibiotics to their feed and treat them all routinely. It is estimated that 70-80% of the antibiotics used in the US, are given to livestock.

So, what can we do? Well, of course you can let your Representative know what your position on the matter is, whatever that may be. But you can also help change the face of food production by supporting smaller scale farmers in your area. Smaller farms, regionally located, that raise animals humanely, are the answer to so many problems, and this may just be one of the more important ones.

By Pam Denholm

Resources: – First Case of E-Coli Resistant to Last Resort Antibiotic, May 2016 – ‘Doctors Drug of Last Resort’ is Falling Prey to Antibiotic Resistance – May 2016
Photo courtesy of Brown Boar Farm