Tag Archive | organic

7 Ways to Help Honey Bees

by Eve Fox

The bad news is that our honey bees are dying. U.S. bee keepers lost a shocking 31% of their hives this winter, as they have for the past seven years in a row. Although the exact causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are not 100% certain, what is crystal clear is that we’re speeding towards the disastrous point at which we will not have enough bees to pollinate our crops.

The good news is that there are a number of easy (even enjoyable) ways YOU can help honey bees to survive and, hopefully, to thrive. And none of them involve rushing out to buy protective mesh clothing and a smoke can!

Here are seven simple ways to help our favorite pollinators out.

1. Add your name to the petition urging the EPA and USDA to ban neonicotinoids, a widely used class of agricultural pesticides that is highly toxic to bees and believed to play a crucial role in colony collapse disorder. The EU has just enacted a ban on neonicotinoids and we must follow Europe’s lead as there is literally no time to waste.

2. Let dandelions and clover grow in your yard. Dandelions and clover are two of the bees’ favorite foods – they provide tons of nourishment and pollen for our pollinators to make honey and to feed their young.  And these flowers could not be any easier to grow – all you have to do is not do anything.

3. Stop using commercial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers – these chemicals are harmful to the bees. And they’re also harmful to you, your family, and our soil and water supply, too. Definitely not worth it!

4. Eat more honey and buy it from a local bee keeper. This is a pretty sweet way to help the bees (sorry, I can never resist a good pun.) Unlike big honey companies, local bee keepers tend to be much more concerned about the health of their bees than they are about their profits. And their products do not have to travel far to reach your kitchen, either. You can almost always find local honey at your farmers’ market and it may also be available at your local health food or grocery store. It may cost a little more than the commercial options, but it’s well worth it.

5. Plant bee-friendly flowers. This not only helps the honey bees, it will also make your yard more beautiful and can also provide you with a bunch of great culinary herbs.In addition to the dandelions and clover I mentioned above, bees love many other flowers, including: bee balm, borage, asters, lavender, thyme, mint, rosemary, honey suckle, poppies, sunflowers, marigolds, salvia, butterfly bush, clematis, echinacea,  blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, fennel, yellow hyssop, milkweed, goldenrod, and many more.

You can also just buy one of those pre-mixed packets of wildflowers with good results. And, if you’re ever in doubt, choose native plants as they will be best suited to the climate you live in and can help support the bees throughout the season.6. Buy organic. Organic food and fibers like cotton and hemp are produced without the use of commercial pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, making them inherently more bee-friendly than conventionally grown products.
7. Share this post with your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to help build more “buzz” for honey bees.


War on Gardening / Freedom to Garden

Lately I’ve been reading many articles on the subject of home gardens and laws against it. It’s time to change these ridiculous laws! Does it make sense to you to cover your lawn with chemicals and waste so much water just so you can have a greener lawn than your neighbors, or grow vegetables and help your family as well as save money? Of course, if you want a green lawn that is certainly OK, but what if I want to garden in my yard? Shouldn’t that be my choice? I say YES!

Here is one article on the subject:

Cities Continue to Demonize Vegetable Gardens

From 2008 to 2009, home gardening increased from 36 million to 43 million households. It appears to be continuing its upward trend. As Mother Earth News puts it, “The worse the economy, the more people garden.”

Although vegetable gardening is good news for people’s pocketbooks as well as their stomachs, it has created an interesting problem between some city officials and the local gardeners. In what has been dubbed a War on Gardening, many green thumbs across the nation are having to deal with officials who are none-too-impressed with their edible plants.

The trouble occurs when gardeners turn to unconventional places to plant their produce, usually in the front yard. One organization, Food Not Lawns, is devoted to helping gardeners rip up their useless ornamental lawns in favor of growing something you can eat.

The garden starts out innocently enough, in most cases. Usually, the gardens under dispute are very well-maintained and give the appearance of order and organization. However, someone soon calls the city with a complaint. City workers then look up their land development code and issue a citation.

It’s there that the situation gets dicey. The gardener can either comply with the city or face an array of fines, watch as the garden gets cleared by the city, or be confronted with even jail time for their actions.

The most famous case of this concerned Julie Bass, who faced up to 93 days in jail for not removing her front-yard vegetable garden. But gardeners from Orlando to Oklahoma are stirring up an unlikely movement challenging the authorities and calling for others to preserve their right to garden.

One gardener we spoke to related a problem he had with the city of Las Vegas. “[My] garden contained assorted vegetables like beets, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, [and] grape vines in a Pennsylvania topsoil retention method.”

His garden was covered with Bermuda grass to conserve topsoil and water. It was this that officials took offense at, and they wrote him a citation.

“The citation stated “Overgrown area, in need of cutting. Time limit and fine if failed to comply.”

He sent a reply stating that he did not live in a fenced in homeowners association area, and that the inspector did not know the difference between weeds and vegetables. “Two weeks later I received an apology from our city councilman,” he told us.

The question of whether gardeners should be allowed to use their front lawns as plant beds affects more than you may think at first glance. Those against them see them as a threat to property values, a plight on the aesthetics of a neighborhood.

Is there more behind anti-gardeners’ thinking, however? The woman charged with a misdemeanor and threat of jail was told that her garden was not “suitable” for a front yard, with one city official saying that suitable meant “common.” Since ornamental lawns today usually include bermuda grass, a couple of deciduous trees, and perhaps a small row of flowers, that is what everyone should do, the thinking goes. The question then becomes less about personal freedom and more about why we constantly try to define what is normal and acceptable in society.

Perhaps soon officials will realize that organic vegetable gardening is a good thing, and it is here to stay. Until then, there will probably be many more cases of the war on gardening taking place in America.

Also see  Todmorden: The Incredible Edible Town

What Are Synthetic Nutrients Doing in Organic Foods?

by Jan Cho

Back in 2011, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan apologized for a loophole in the organic standards, which, according to the Cornucopia Institute, “led to the indiscriminate and illegal addition of synthetic nutrients to organic foods.” The USDA thereby proposed to close the loophole in January 2012, a move that at first garnered support from both the organic community and corporate food manufacturers who own organic brands.

In a series of meetings earlier this year, however, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rejected corporate petitions for eight synthetic nutrients. This was not at all the decision that food manufacturers had expected, since, as the Cornucopia Institute reports, “in the past, the NOSB has all too often sided with corporate lobbyists in a desire to ‘grow’ the organic market.”

Rather than concede defeat and abide by the NOSB’s decision on the eight nutrients, food manufacturers have simply disregarded it. Moreover, at their urging, the USDA may now leave the loophole intact, as it were, allowing the indiscriminate addition of unapproved synthetic nutrients to organic foods to continue. The USDA is seeking public comment on this policy through December 26, 2012.

The addition of synthetic nutrients to organic foods is a legal as well as a philosophical issue. Simply stated, food manufacturers are breaking the law by incorporating them into organic foods. As explained by the Cornucopia Institute, “the law prohibits the use of a petitioned synthetic material if it is found to be non-essential to producing organic foods, or to endanger human health or harm the environment, or if natural or organic alternatives exist.” It’s in accordance with these criteria that the NOSB voted against the use of the synthetic nutrients in question. While the USDA cannot override the NOSB’s decision, it has elected to ignore it by declining to close the loophole in organic standards.

What’s wrong with synthetic nutrients?

In addition to the legal issue, there is a philosophical issue to consider here. “One of the founding principles of the organic movement is the reliance on natural processes for healthy food production,” reads the position paper issued by the Cornucopia Institute. So vitamins and minerals in organic foods should be obtained by natural processes, from natural sources. Synthetic nutrients, however, are industrial substances manufactured in laboratories and factories, often using hazardous petrochemical solvents, and contain additives like artificial coloring, coal tar derivatives and preservatives. In other words, it’s everything organic consumers are trying to avoid by choosing organic foods. Food companies use synthetics because they’re cheaper and easier to come by.

Synthetic nutrients have no place in organic foods, yet many organic consumers don’t realize that they’re already in there. As one survey of 1,500 organic consumers showed, the vast majority (95.1 percent) of them either assume that the nutrients in organic foods are derived from natural sources or don’t know whether they are or not. The survey also showed that a majority (60.8 percent) would not buy foods containing a synthetic nutrient, and 30.3 percent would be “less inclined” to buy them.

To be frank, the whole business of adding nutrients to foods at all (but for a few exceptions like infant formulas) is one that I’m pretty skeptical about. The bottom line is that foods are fortified today because that’s what drives sales. The only reason for adding Vitamin C, 20% more calcium and 5 grams of fiber to products is because consumers are more likely to buy them. It’s a marketing gimmick, not a public health measure. In today’s land of plenty and variety, most of us can easily get everything we need from foods found in and provided by nature — unfortified, unsupplemented, straightforward food. The trouble is, we have lost our way over the years and no longer know how to prepare these foods to our best advantage and incorporate them into a wholesome, balanced diet.

As Barbara Kingsolver argues in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” what Americans could really use is a robust food culture. “We have yet to come up with a strong set of generalized norms, passed down through families, for savoring and sensibly consuming what our land and climate give us,” she writes. “We have, instead, a string of fad diets convulsing bookstores and bellies, one after another, at the scale of the national bestseller.”

These are fad diets that spin the latest research on nutrients and other discoveries into marketable schemes. I’d like to see us move past this unproductive cycle. I’d like to see us getting to know real food and using the wisdom of that experience to rebuild a food culture, take pleasure in our food and enjoy good health to boot.