Tag Archives: farming

Urban Gardening

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S. Squire Rooster and Lady Brownie Hen, standing around and on concrete block herb garden. Chickens don’t bother herbs, but they love worms, grubs, termites, roaches, lizards, and fiddlers. I keep my yard as free of artificial chemicals and traps as possible, but I can’t stop the county from dumping malathion on our heads.

August 18, 2017

As people starve in Venezuela and other places, I remind myself Americans don’t know what starvation feels like.  We suffer from the opposite problem, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, life-style-related diseases resulting from consuming too much of the wrong things.

 

My herbs begged for pruning the other day.  It took several hours to cut, sort, wash, chop, and store, but I got a half-gallon of mint-stevia tea and almost a pint of basil-chive pesto.  My mind is free when I’m doing finger-trained things like chopping herbs.  I thought about how easily herbs grow on my deck, and how even urbanites with window sills, balconies, or patios could grow food.

I thought about my “green footprint” and how all greenery—even so-called weeds—contribute to cooling the earth and re-claiming oxygen from CO2.  So even growing an herb or a potted tomato on the patio adds to your oxygen green print.  Citrus grows well in patio pots, too, depending on where you live.

When the government controls the food supply, it’s a set-up for famine.  Julius Caesar used that to advantage, and so have rulers the world over.  That’s what makes centralized power so fragile.  We’re seeing that now, with President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.   He has the military guarding the food.  I’ll bet lots of folks now regret leaving the farms to work in factories and oil refineries.  At home, they could grow their own food.

We have the same situation brewing in the USA, but here the strategy is more insidious. We can see it being played out in all the mergers and acquisitions in the food, drug, and poison industries.  Most notable is the planned purchase of Monsanto by Bayer, based in Germany.  So Monsanto will go underground, should these two poison giants (depending on your point of view) merge.  Second, a little different but no less significant, is the merger of Dow and DuPont, two chemical giants.  Dow has the trademark on Styrofoam and has its own versions of genetically modified (GM) corn and other patented plant products.

Finally, we have the impending merger of Swiss Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemical producer, and China National Chemical Corp., a state-owned outfit.  More than half of Syngenta’s sales come from “emerging markets.”  At a $42 billion price, Wikipedia reports the purchase of Syngenta to be the largest for a foreign firm in Chinese history.

The farming industry (which is often distinct from and at cross-purposes with “farmers”) is supposedly opposed to the Montsanto/Bayer merger.  The opposition claims it will increase prices and reduce innovation.  The poison companies say they will increase research and development.  (That’s what scares me most.)

In the US, the ethanol mandate represents the biggest government power grab of the food supply to date.  GM corn manufacturers are now making “ethanol-grade” corn.  Well, folks, what does that mean to you?  It means to me that Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and other GM manufacturers are busy downgrading everyone’s food supply to generate electronic profits on Wall Street.  Of course Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Cargill, and other Big Food are all for burning perfectly good corn whiskey in cars.  Cars consume it faster than alcoholics do, and the government gets more in taxes, so of course the FDA, CDC, and EPA are complicit.

So with the mergers of the world’s six largest seed, agrochemical, and biotech corporations, which are in the business of poisoning us from the ground up, it behooves all of us to start producing our own food, individual by individual, as space and sunshine allow.

 

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Deck herbs, some in concrete blocks, others in clay pots.  Cat litter boxes do a good job of catching water.  Can water and/or fertilize from the base.

Herbs are probably the easiest plants to grow, and many are perennial.  My chickens don’t like them, the deer don’t like them, and they are amazingly bug-resistant.  Stevia, chives, mint, oregano, and rosemary are all perennial.  The rosemary bush is taller than I am.  Since stevia was approved by the FDA as a natural sugar substitute a few years back, corporate marketing has improved its image. Less well known is that it’s a perennial extra easy to grow in a small clay pot.

So I harvested overgrown stevia, mint, chives and basil.  I made stevia-mint iced tea and basil-chive pesto.

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Set-up for making mint-stevia tea.  Mint is on the chopping board.  kco081717

I use a one-half gallon container for the tea, fill with cold water, let the water come to a boil, and turn the burner off.  I stir in the chopped mint and stevia, replace the lid on the pot, and let it steep all night.  In the morning I strain the tea and transfer it to the refrigerator container.

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Set-up for making basil-chive pesto.  Curved knife blade with rocking motion works best for fast and safe herb and veggie chopping.   kco081717

Making pesto is a breeze with a mini-food processor.  Pesto keeps weeks in the refrigerator and infinitely in the freezer.  I freeze fresh pesto and gouge chunks out of the mix as needed.  I use it in salad dressings, spreads, sauces, marinades, and Italian dishes of all kinds.

I use a standard blend of ingredients with whatever herbs I have.  Two to three cloves of crushed or chopped garlic, a couple of handfuls of chopped herbs, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped nuts, and enough olive oil to make the processor work right.  I use soy sauce or olive brine instead of salt.  I like red pepper, too.  If you overdo the red pepper, extra olive oil helps a lot.

More traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but they are expensive, somewhat hard to find, and not worth the price.  I prefer walnuts or almonds, but any nut will do.  Put them in the processor early, as they take time to grind up right.

Cheese is also variable.  Hard cheeses, like grated parmesan or romano, tend to last longer in storage, but I’ve used jack and cheddar, too.  Pestos are as versatile as your imagination.

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My version of pesto pizza.  Rye toast smeared with basil-chive pesto, topped with parmesan cheese and salad olives.  Broiled in toaster oven 3-5 minutes. kco081717

Chemistry Quiz

  1. What is the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry?
  2. What is this molecule?

                           CH4

3.  What is this molecule?

                           CH3-CH2-OH

Answers:

1.  The difference between organic and inorganic chemistry is carbon. Carbon (C) is the basic building block of life, thus “organic chemistry”. Everything that lives or has ever lived contains it.  Carbon dioxide (CO2), considered a “greenhouse gas” in today’s parlance, is part of the natural life cycle, exhaled by human beings and animals, used by plants for growth.  The earth’s atmosphere is composed of 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen.  The remaining one percent consists chiefly of argon, with extremely small amounts of other gases.  Carbon dioxide, then, constitutes significantly less than one percent of the earth’s atmosphere.

Green plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in “photosynthesis,” a process involving chemical reactions, using the sun as an energy source.

Life is an organizing force which defies “entropy.” “Entropy” has several definitions, but it is generally perceived as the ultimate degradation of matter and energy in the universe toward patternless conformity, degradation, disorder, and death.  However, the organizing force of life concentrates the energy in the living or dead organism.  Wood, coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of stored energy sources derived from living or formerly living organisms.

2.  If you answered that CH4 is methane, you would be right. Methane is another so-called “greenhouse gas.” It is produced by all living and decaying organisms.  It is the simplest molecule in organic chemistry, consisting of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms.  Everything from marshlands to landfill, from animal waste to human farts, add methane to the atmosphere.

If you answered that CH4 is natural gas, you would also be right.  This is why natural gas is considered the cleanest fuel of all, because it produces no toxic by-products.  The chemical reaction for natural gas when used for energy production is:

CH4 + 2O2 + flame = CO2 + 2H2O

Translated, this means that one methane molecule plus two oxygen molecules plus heat of combustion generates one carbon dioxide molecule and two water molecules. Thus, burning natural gas generates twice as much water as carbon dioxide.

If you are considering “greenhouse gases,” you must recognize that water (steam) is a potent one. The cloud cover of the earth has the effect of trapping heat inside the atmosphere.

You will note that “climate change scientists” want to reduce CH4 levels, but oil and gas companies want to capture and sell CH4 in the “global economy.” They are using “fracking” and other techniques to extract CH4 from trapped deposits in the earth.

3.  If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is whiskey, you would be right. Whiskey is a distilled alcohol, usually from grain, such as rye and maize or corn. It is also distilled from barley.  Corn liquor was an early American product and used in bartering by cash-strapped farmers to pay bills.  George Washington was a large-scale whiskey distiller.  In his later years, he made most of his money from the distilling business.  Distilleries are examples of “economic narrows” that operate as toll gates between producer and retail purchaser.  Washington and Alexander Hamilton conspired to enact the “Whiskey Tax” in 1791 to undermine the bartering system and replace it with a cash-based system that could be more easily taxed. (Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow, 2007) This led to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion, in which Washington betrayed the farmers who had fought in the Revolution (thereby neglecting their farms) and were going bankrupt because of debt, taxes, and the devaluation of the Continental dollar, after the new United States currency was introduced.

If you answer that CH3-CH2-OH is ethanol (or ethyl alcohol), you would also be right.  The 2007 Congressional mandate to blend gasoline with at least 10% ethanol proved a boon for Archer Daniels Midland and other corporate giants, which benefitted mightily from the mandate, through tax breaks, other ethanol subsidies, and price supports.

It must be remembered that “farmers” and the “farming industry” are not the same. In fact, “farmers,” as we perceive them, are being displaced in large numbers by corporate mega-farms.  The corporate “farming industry” has significant political clout through donations to both major parties.  They also have armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and friends in federal and state regulatory agencies like the USDA and EPA.  They are the major beneficiaries of federal and state mandates, subsidies, and price supports.  They have their fingers in every point of the farm to table (or vehicle) distribution chain, including storage, distilleries, commodities futures markets, transportation (ADM Trucking is a subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland), and global sales.

In this election year, while the media and public are focusing on the presidential candidates, let us not forget that the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate are up for grabs. Whatever anyone thinks of Donald Trump, we must admit he is a game-changer.  His grass roots appeal is showing the power of the people to make a significant difference in how the game is played.  We may be moving closer to a true democracy, by default, as the “ruling elite” of the two-party system desperately tries to recapture its “market share” of public trust and acceptance.

Yes, the individual can make a difference, whether at the national or local level. If that individual is informed well enough ask the right questions of all candidates, from local to national levels, and to demand informed answers, we might wrest a revolution in consciousness from this circus of political psychodrama.

So far, Ted Cruz is the only presidential candidate who has come out against the ethanol mandate, but he has begun to waffle under political pressure from the “farm lobby” and others. Hillary Clinton does not seem to know the difference between natural gas and methane.  She is not alone.  It is frightening to think that so many people with zero knowledge of science are in positions to write and pass legislation mandating, regulating, and subsidizing industries that affect us all and to such a great extent.

It probably doesn’t matter much who becomes president. The real power is in Congress, which has the power to repeal stupid legislation, like the ethanol mandate.  Especially now that there’s a worldwide oil glut—one of the premiere reasons for passing the mandate—it’s especially good timing to revisit that law and its consequences.