Gods of Agriculture
By Bernadina Lucia
Would it surprise you to learn that agriculture has fitted itself into every aspect of life? Well, it shouldn't. Agriculture provides food; food is necessary for life. It was so important to our ancestors (as it should be to us) that it even played a huge role in religion.
Typically, gods and goddesses of agriculture also have duties as gods/goddesses of fertility, death, or riches. Why is this? Fertility is understandable, it is life, and interconnected with agriculture. Ferility was usually a role held by goddesses. For example, the teuotonic (Germanic) goddess, Perchta is a goddess of fertility, weaving, wisdom (she is said to be the leaders of the Bright Ones, also known as Wisse Frauen, or Wise Women) among other things. And yet, Every year she also becomes and malevolent spirit which kills those who have broken many taboos. Obviously this is to control people, to scare them into being good.
Typically gods wear many hats, so to speak, and may even be known by different names. For example, the Greek goddess Persephone, Queen of the Underworld and goddess of spring and flowers, is known as Korura, ('the Maiden', which she wasn't, as she had several daughters by Hades). Persephone is an example of a goddess of death and agriculture, though she has very little to do with the Underworld, as opposed to her husband Hades, who is also the god of fertility of the Earth (perhaps they knew that decomposing things made good fertilizer?) and their daughter Makaria, goddess of blessed death (aka she escorted souls to the Island of the Blessed.)
I can't really talk about Greek mythology and agriculture without mentioning Demeter, the goddess of grains and agriculture. Little known fact is, she also presided over the cycles of life and death. She had a second daughter, Despoine, who was worshiped in Acadian cults. She also had a son, Bootes, who invented the wagon and the plow.
The Roman gods are very similar to those of Greece, but with some distinction, such as names.
Gods/goddesses of fertility and agriculture are also associated with death because it is part of the natural order. After life comes death.
Many gods/goddesses of agriculture are also associated with prosperity.
The Norse god, Freyr, and his various similar counterparts through Teutonic and Old English mythology rule over prosperity, fertility, fair weather, and some aspects of agriculture, as well as other things. Why would gods of agriculture also sometimes be associated with prosperity? This one is easy! Agriculture was, and still is, were we get much of our sustenance. Having a lot of food at one time meant that you must be either very well off, or you can grow your own food. Prosperity is having a lot to eat.
The Chinese Dust Bowl and a Wall of Green
By Bernadina Lucia
It's no secret: our intense agriculture is no good for the plant. 22% of China's deserts are man-made, making it the largest productive land to desert conversion in human history, leading to the desertification more than 248,000 square miles. This has come about through heavily concentrating grazing, and turning grasslands into fields. As in the American dust bowl, when the soil becomes dry it is carried off by the wind. Plumes of dusts get carried to other parts of China, Korea, Japan and even as far the the Pacific coast of the U.S. This is up along side the vanishing of the Aral Sea in terms of disaster.
The desertification of China is continuing, and where the American Dust Bowl forced 3 million farmers to flee, the Chinese Dust Bowl has already forced tens of millions of farmers to flee to the cities, and has driven food priced up around the globe, because must of out food comes from China. Lettuce and rice, among many others.
There are many interesting attempts to try and prevent further damage. There are 'grass police' who prevent herders from taking their sheep and goats onto the grasslands. There is also an immense plan, the South-to-North water transfer, which aims to use miles and miles of canals to transfer 50 billion cubic meters of water from southern China to the deserts. While similar plans have had some success before, I'm specifically thinking of the Aral sea, it will have huge ramifications for everywhere that relied on the water that is being rerouted. It will also destroy hundreds of villages and heritage sites, and is only a solution as long as we pump water.
There is one other attempt to keep more precious soil from leaving. They plant trees. Many of the planters are herdspeople. They keep their animals in pens and the government pays them. They actually make more money this way. However, many of their animals suffer and are too thin, so they risk strict legal action by taking them out to graze at night.
The tree planting is organized by Future Forest, which gets one million dollars a year, and has planted more than 6.2 million trees since 2006. About 30% of the new trees die and have to be replanted.
They have to plant the trees inside of frames to keep the fragile saplings from blowing away in the harsh winds. They plant poplars because their spider-web like roots will hold soil down, and when the trees are mature, they will produce shoots. They also plant Salix, which is very drought hardy. They've already managed to reforest a swath of land the size of Massachusetts in just 10 years. However Massachusetts isn't that large, being the 45th largest state in the U.S., with only 8,284 square miles. Still, it's a start. Hopefully this effort, and others, will breathe life back into the new deserts of China.
A closer inspection: Vinegar
By Bernadina Lucia
Everyone knows vinegar, white, balsamic, wine. You put it on salads and use it to make pickled beets and such. But do you know how it's made? What's it's made from?
We'll start with balsamic vinegar. First, where do you get your balsamic vinegar? Do you think you scored a deal and you're buying it cheap at the supermarket? You probably aren't getting balsamic vinegar, then. Most 'balsamic' vinegar you can get at a supermarket is just imitation, it's colored and not aged. You can tell you have the real deal because it will have “grape must”, “aged grape must,” “Mosto d’Uva” or “DOC” on the label, and it's from Modena or Reggio Emilia, the only two reigons that produce balsamic vinegar. It usually isn't cheap, but it isn't too bad either. Only when you get into the high end stuff will it cost $400. It costs what wine does, because it basically IS wine.
It all has to do with the grapes, and the production process. It uses Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes. The juices are boiled and put into barrels made of oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, and ash. It is aged for 5+ years, and at the beginning of the year it is mixed with younger vinegar and placed in smaller and smaller barrels. By the end of the fermentation process, it has absorbed the aroma, flavor and color of the wood.
Next we'll move on to a very old method, the Orleans method. It is the classical French method of brewing vinegar. First, wooden barrels and lain on their sides. There are three holes, on on each end and one on what is now the top. The alcohol is added at this point, and so is the 'mother' vinegar, it is filled to below the level of the holes. Then screens are put over the three holes to prevent bugs from getting in. The filled barrels are allowed to sit for several months. The room temperature is kept at approximately 85°F (29°C). Samples are taken periodically by inserting a spigot into the side holes and drawing liquid off. When the alcohol has converted to vinegar, it is drawn off through the spigot. About 15% of the liquid is left in the barrel to blend with the next batch
Next is the submerged fermentation method. This is used most commonly in wine vinegars. A large stainless steel tank, called an acetator, has a pump at the bottom that pumps air through the vat. It is kept at 80-100 degrees, and nutrients are pumped into the tank. Within just hours, the wine is turned into vinegar.
Now the last method, the generator method, is used for distilled and industrial vinegars. Large oak vats filled with wood pulp or shavings. The alcohol is poured on top of that, and aerated. By the time the alcohol has reached the bottom, it is vinegar. Then it is distilled by being brought to a boil.
A Closer Examination: Lipstick
By Bernadina Lucia
Lipstick. It's shiny, or matte. It can add some color, a dramatic flourish. But what's in it? Is it safe to use?
Well, read the ingredients list to one common brand of one very affordable lipstick. It contains:
Ethylhexyl Palmitate, squalane, beeswax, ceresin, mineral oil, aloe, isopropyl myristate, tocopheryl acetate, and propylparaban. How many of those words can you pronounce on the first try? My rule of thumb is, if you can't say it, don't eat/wear it! But how dangerous are these things? What are they?
Let's start from the top, with the first ingredient: Ethylhexyl Palmitate. It's a combination of palmic acid, a fatty acid found in plants, animals, and microorganisms. The other ingredient is 2-ethylhexanol, a form of alcohol. It's commonly derived from palm oil. Don't worry, this ingredient is safe and is considered low danger. It doesn't cause cancer, and the biggest risk is irritation to eyes and lungs.
The next ingredient is squalane. This is an oil that is derived from the liver of sharks. However, it can also be produced from olive oil, and sugarcane. It is also safe.
Beeswax, as we know, is safe.
Next, what's the deal with ceresin? It's an oil derived from ozokerite. You may not know what this is, but it's known as earth wax. It's a naturally occurring and common mineral wax. Also safe.
The next ingredient is mineral oil. You know what this is, it's used everywhere. It's related to petroleum jelly. It is a very low moderate concern, as it can cause allergic reactions, and has very slight carcinogenic properties.
Aloe vera, is, of course, safe.
Isopropyl myristate is safe, some concern about irritation. Don't get it in your eyes. Isopropyl Myristate is composed of of isopropyl alcohol and myristic acid, a common, naturally occurring fatty acid.
Tocopheryl acetate is a combination of vitamin E and aecetic acid. It is of low moderate concern, also mainly for allergic reactions.
The last ingredient is propylparaban. It is of high moderate concern, because of possible developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergic reactions. I would watch out for it. Propylparaben is in the paraben family of preservatives used by the food, pharmaceutical, and personal care product industries. Parabens mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.
All in all, this lipstick is mostly safe, unless you have super sensitive skin or are allergic to any of the ingredients. It is less toxic than many things in your daily life.
A Closer Inspection: Corn Starch
By Bernadina Lucia
I know you're probably eager for me to ruin another of your favorite products. Well not this time! Everyone knows cornstarch, we use it in food, the Brits call it corn flour, and it's a dilitent, or non-Newtonian liquid (if you mix it with water, it's hard when you punch it, but liquid when you rest your hand on it.)
The corn used in cornstarch is known as 'dent corn' or 'field corn'. It has a hard and soft starch. The corn comes into the factory, where it is hulled, and washed. The corn kernels are then soaked for forty eight in hot water with acid and sulfur dioxide used to preserve it. Surprisingly, this is not toxic. Sulfur dioxide can irritate asthmatics, and one in ten asthmatics who drink soda containing sulfur dioxide report it getting worse.
This process softens the grain, and helps separate the germ, which floats, from the hull and endosperm. The germ is the part that would actually grow, the hull is the outside shell, and the endosperm has all the nutrients. The germ is scooped off the top, and everything else is pounded, and put through a centrifuge, which separate them from the corn gluten, the cereal germ, and the fiber.
Then the starch goes through another centrifuge, and flash drying. Then it gets packaged, or further modified depending on it's use.
See, it was much less painful this time.
Your Thanksgiving Plate
By Bernadina Lucia
Smell that? It's the smell of a massive dinner. Tomorrow, you'll eat until you burst. Turkey, cranberries, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and last but not least mashed potatoes. Yum.
But, have you ever stopped to wonder where all of it comes from?
Let's start off slow, and mild, with our tart little friend, the cranberry. Do you care to make a guess as to how many pounds of cranberries America eats a year? It's a huge number, 400 million. Astonishing isn't it? 20% of that, which is 80 million pounds of cranberries, we eat at thanksgiving. Most of it we consume in juices or juice blends. The per-capita consumption of cranberries is 2.3 pounds. Cranberries are endemic, meaning native, to the U.S, and almost all are grown in the same five states.
Now, let's ramp her up a little, with the sweet potato. The name is a misnomer, because they aren't actually related to the potato. It's sort of like having a friend who you call your cousin, but isn't actually. This is because sweet-potatoes are part of the morning glory family, while potatoes are Solanaceae family. Here's another interesting fact: they are one of the many foods that are GM, meaning genetically modified. Now, to be fair, most are not. But there are approved strains of GM sweet-potatoes. Sweet-potatoes have huge demand, the U.S per-capita consumption is 7.5 pounds. In 2015, there were 135,000 acres of sweet-potatoes in production.
Ready to escalate? Well, potatoes are! Potatoes are the most produced vegetable in the U.S, except for sweet-potatoes. However, world-wide, they are the fourth most consumed starch, behind wheat, corn, and rice. We eat most of our potatoes in the form of starch, fries, and chips. It may or may not surprise you to learn that, like many other foods, such as lettuce, China is the lead producer in the world, but we get most of our potatoes from Canada and Mexico. Good ole USA!
However, while we may be lacking in potatoes, we are the bread basket of the world, in the last three years we've outproduced China, India, Russia, and the E.U. It's the third most produced crop in the US, behind soy and corn. However, this golden waving glory, like all things, has a dark side. While it is denied that the wheat produced in the US is GM, they use a whole range of chemicals, all with horrible effects for humans. You can go here for a very detailed list: http://whatsonmyfood.org/food.jsp?food=WF which I suggest strongly.
But here's the breakdown: there are chemical residues of a pesticide called Malathion found in 49% of flours. It is a known carcinogen, which means causes cancer, known neurotoxin, suspected of disrupting hormone balance, and known to be extremely dangerous to bees. In 20% of flours, Chlorpyrifos Methyl was found. It is also a known neuro toxin and bee toxin. The other 31% of chemicals used are less common, but have the same toxins. So, as you bite into your bread-crumb stuffing or into a steamy roll, do you feel lucky? Are you eating neurotoxins? Do you feel lucky?
I've saved the worst cruelty for last. If you are squeamish and wish not to know of the consequences of your meal, don't read on.
The turkey. They aren't very bright, and they are a bit odd-looking, from their dangling snood (or beak worm, or face nipple,) to their large dinosaur feet. They grow quickly, and to great sizes, so they are economical. The kind you buy in the store for cheap is the broad breasted white.
Let's take a peak into their lives: imagine growing up in a small dark space with hundreds of others like you. Each turkey only gets 2 to four square feet of room, which shrinks as they grow. The food is full of chemicals, and they never see the sun. They grow so large so fast they get heart and leg problems. The buildings they are raised in are poorly ventilated, so the air is full of dust and ammonia, causing eye and lung problems. Because the factory, not a farm, it is a factory, is so crowded with birds, they may injure each other. So at a young age they are debeaked and declawed, and both of those are extremely painful procedures. As a single worker may be responsible for up to 30,000 birds, diseases go unnoticed. As you eat, please contemplate the short, miserable life of your dinner. Imagine, is this the one that was sick?
After they reach market weight, 99 days for hens and 130 for toms, they are shoved into crowded crates, and taken to be slaughtered. They are so roughly handled that dislocated or broken limbs are common.
Then they are slaughtered.
The procedure for the slaughter of poultry is this: they are shackled upside down, a mechanical blade is run across the throat, which, by the way, does not always kill right away. Then they are dipped into a vat of scalding water, some are still alive by this point, before being thrown into a plucking barrel.
Happy thanksgiving, everybody!
By Bernadina Lucia
Picture this: there is an empty lot. It's ugly, overgrown with weeds. Maybe it isn't a lot. Maybe it's an unused part of the lot an school is on, or maybe it's a corner on the campus of a hospital. Whatever the case, there are lots of pieces of land like this. Some are in the city, in the dankest poorest part where dietary issues are rampant. Maybe it's in a small town like ours, where people in the surrounding areas are in food deserts, with low access to grocery stores.
In any of these occurrences, that little piece of land can be turned into an asset.
First, let's distinguish between a community garden and a guerrilla gardening. A community garden is legal. They are usually on public land or private property, sometimes a piece of land is owned by a non-profit for the purpose of a community garden.
A guerrilla garden is done illegally, without the permission of the land owner. Some have gotten quite large, like Adam's Purple's Garden of Eden in New York, which reached 15,000 square feet before it was bulldozed by the city. There are actually a few prominent guerrilla gardening organizations, including Greenaid in Los Angeles, which converts old gumball machines into seed ball dispenser. I have mentioned these in the past.
The most famous guerrilla gardener is probably Johnny Appleseed, who went around the country planting applejack apples.
What purpose does urban gardening serve? Not only does it give purpose to barren land, but it can have healthful effects on the community.
In a study done in 2013 on a school garden, they found that 17% of obese children at the school reduced their BMI in seven weeks.
Having school gardens will also educate children on nutrition better than any indoor class. There is nothing better than kneeling in the dirt with you hands in the soil. It will also indoctrinate a better understanding, and a concern about you food and where it comes from. We need to introduce a cultural concern for our food. There is no way better than community gardens, where people who don't have the land or the time to grow their own garden can come and work and understand.
This is why we need to show support for our local programs, like the school garden at our elementary school (thank-you Emily!!), the master gardener program, and the demonstration garden.
Elf on the Shelf and Other Traditions
By Bernadina Lucia
As you all know, I love to ruin things with facts, but this time, I'm going to go deep into mythology!
First, I'm going to start with the Elf on the Shelf.
This little dolly is a 'tool' of 'Santa'. It watches and reports back on whether or not you've been good. It sounds fishy to me, I mean, the little spy is right in my house! It's a ploy to keep kids good, and it's supposedly 'fun'. Yay. Surveillance.
Of course, it's just a toy, a little tradition that is practiced in household across the U.S.
I wonder, though, where did it come from? Where did the legend of elves come from?
As we know already about Europe, it actually has a pretty diverse bunch of cultures. They are all influenced by their environment, trade with other European cultures and with Africa and Asia.
Before there was way accurate record-keeping across Europe, there were already a lot of myths and legends, many of which were believed to be true. Instead of Christmas, many cultures practiced Yule, or the Solstice. I mean, why not? The days will get longer again, it's cold, you need to eat all the food that might go bad. Do you really even need a reason to party?
So, deitites like the Yule Goat, who is a Scandinavian symbol of the god Thor. Or Perchta, Teutonic (Germanic) goddess who punishes people around Christmas time by disemboweling them and filling them with straw. Nearly everyone knows who Krampus is. He's also a Teutonic deity, who punishes bad children, though in mythology he is not as extreme as in the 2015 film.
All the winter party deities had helpers of some sort, but they didn't quite have what we think of as jolly little elves.
The idea of elves is not new. The Scandinavians had an idea of elves that is similar, and inspired, Tolkein's tall, graceful, blonde elves. The alfar was another term for Vanir. Vanir was a group of Norse gods and deities of fertility, lead by brother and sister gods Frey and Freya.
The Celts and Anglo-Saxons had similar elves; tall, thin, beautiful. They were nyphs, but they were nasty things. They killed livestock, afflicted humans with illness.
The Middle English elves were different: they were associated with faerie queens, and were associated with magic and sexuality
Meanwhile, in much of Europe, the elves were a little closer to our merry little Christmas elves. Well, in statue at least. Diminutive, but mischievous, or even maleficent.
As time went on, belief declined. They became entertaining stories.
But, how did we end up with little cute harmless elves as Santa's helpers?
As with much of our modern Christmas, it came about in the 1800s. You may know how sometimes one writer can change an entire holiday. There are two main works that cite Elves as Santa's helpers: Godey's Lady's Book, and Twas the Night Before Christmas. In Night Before Christmas, Santa himself is said to be a big jolly elf.
Valentines Day: The Romantic Destruction of the Planet
By Bernadina Lucia
We all know Valentine's day, first it was dedicated to a saint and to friendship and then with one poem Geoffrey Chaucer shifted the purpose to celebrating lovers. Now it's become a bit consumerist. School children in the U.S exchange cards and candy, even though many of them are too young to even be considering romance. But hey, it's fun, right? If you have a partner, the two of you make plans, exchange gifts, it's a big deal. If you don't, then you get lots of drama while searching for one, or you resolve to yourself that maybe it isn't your year of romance, and you sink deeper into whatever hobby fills the gap where a human companion would be.
If you are one of the people without a partner this Valentine's day, congratulate yourself. Valentine's day is expensive, there's gifts, dinner, etc. Now you can put that money towards more productive things, like paying your water bill. It's also better for the environment. Not being single, I mean. Not buying all of those things like cards and flowers. It's costly to the environment.
Did you know we buy a LOT of cards on Valentine's day? We bought 180 million cards in 2014. The greeting card companies made seven billion dollars in annual sales, mostly from Valentine's day and Christmas. The process of making the cards kills trees, as most are not recycled or made from other fibers, it crates huge amounts of carbon, and it uses a lot of water. So then what happened to all those cards after they were exchanged? It really is a greeting card holiday.
The total weight of discarded paper products weighed 6,432 tons, or 12,685,150 pounds. That's as much as four thousand Prius hybrid cars.
Maybe instead of giving cards, send an email or text, call them on the phone, or just tell them in person how much they mean to you. If it isn't worth it to talk to them in person or on the phone like that, then why waste the carbon of a card on them?
Well, what about flowers? How bad can they be? Well, you should be proud of yourself, if nobody gave you flowers, and you didn't give any to anyone. While in the seventies, we only imported 8% of our flowers, by 2003, 91% were imported. Because, let's face it, flowers around Valentine's day are impractical. It's still basically winter, they won't grow. So we import them from warmer places, like Africa. Well, they put a lot of strain on the water supply there. It produces 0.4 pounds of carbon per flower from Africa. We get most of our flowers from South America. Unfortunately, they rely on a lot of pesticides and fertilizers to grow the perfect bouquet. Actually, 20% of the chemicals they use are illegal in the U.S. Because they are very dangerous! Besides, after they are grown, they have to be shipped. Because they are perishable, they have to be taken by airplane.
Surprisingly, the Dutch grow a lot of roses. But they have to heat their greenhouses, and in total, it produces 6.4 pounds of carbon per Dutch rose.
Cloth flowers, in general, tend to be better for the environment, and last longer.
Reasons to Hate Raccoons
By Bernadina Lucia
Aww, how cute! A little cat-looking creature with a little black mask, right? Many people think raccoons to be cute, and will even feed them.
Do. Not. Do. That.
Here are four reasons to discourage raccoons:
Many people don't like to realize that they are wild animals, not cute little pets. Pull your heads out of your Disney hole, people. For those who use the tired argument of, 'we're living in the wild, this is their home. They were here first,' I'd like to point out that you are living in Native American soil.
What should you do if you are plagued by coons?
If you do catch a coon in a non-lethal trap, there are two trains of thought:
Drive is far away, (raccoons can actually cover an area of 10 or so miles of territory, depending on how rich the area is), and dumping it in the woods. However, this causes a few problems: this will be an issue for someone else, and it will put a burden on the natural population of animals. The raccoon you introduce to somewhere else may actually die anyway.
The second method, is to kill it. Beware, though, do not shoot it in the head. Brain, blood, and saliva splatters, if you get them in your eyes, nose, or mouth, can carry rabies, even if the animal LOOKS healthy. If you get rabies material in your face, contraction rate is nearly 100%. Shoot them in the lung if possible, over disposable trash bags, and put directly into the ground, at least two feet down, with rocks piled over the corpse before you place the dirt back into the hole, to make it more difficult for scavengers to dig up. You can also consider drowning the coon, but be warned that fleas may jump off the body and onto the nearest warm body, probably you. It is advised to kill the coon before you remove it from the cage.
Have a nice day!
Making Moola at the Market
By Bernadina DeVita
So you've made it to the Farmer's Market, or at least you are considering it. You've got your crop, but is that enough to actually make money? You need four things to make money: products, this is your vegetables, proximity, this refers to where you are, usually where is your store, but in this case it's sorted, and pricing. The last is promotion, or marketing.
Assuming you've made it to the market, you have product and proximity. Now, how about prices and marketing? Did you know that if you take credit cards, then you will experience a 3-4% fee on the price? That is 3-4% of the price of the vegetables that you lose. If you are equipped to take cards, price accordingly. Most retailers, such as grocery stores, have a razor thin profit margin. They make just 1% profit on something they sell after they deduct original cost, taxes, and operational costs. They can do this because of their quick turnover. They usually turn the entire inventory, that is, sell all of it, in 1-2 weeks, giving them about 20-26 turns per year.
At a farmer's market, this is a very difficult way to make a living.
Here are a few things that people expect about farmer's market booths:
They expect locally produced, or artisan products, e.g soap, vegetables, crafts. They want to feel like they are doing something healthy, something that is good for them and for the community.
They expect to see the owner at the booth. They go to the FM to feel connected to the community.
They want to feel like they are doing something good for the environment, so they expect organic or sustainably produced packaging and products. A nice packaging job on your soap is part of the nice atmosphere of the market, isn't it?
First, to create a good public image. Bring only your best produce. Organic or not, there is still a big difference between your best produce and your so-so produce. If you bring only the best, then you won't have to discount your stuff to sell it, or damage your reputation with gross tomatoes.
Packaging makes a huge impacts. Soap or jam that is nicely packaged and labeled creates a much better impression on potential customers than unwrapped bars of soap in a bin or jam with a sticky jar. Why should the customer spend their precious money on something you obviously don't care about? Make it look like it was worth your time and effort, and they will think it's worth their money.
Don't sell out of the back of your truck. Set up a table, and arrange your product in a way that mimics a wholefoods display. Signage is also very important. A colorful banner, or a large sign with your farm name, and your website or facebook page is very good, especially if you have pictures of your produce. Bring business cards, and hand then out to people, but don't be pushy. Being pushy scares potential customers away.
Would you rather buy tomatoes out of the back of a truck, or from a table where they are neatly arranged?
Basic marketing skills can made the difference between a FM stand with good produce, and a FM stand with good produce and customers.
By Bernadina Lucia
You've heard of it, Colony Collapse Disorder. But what is it? Here are some things you may already know if you are the casual observer:
Here's the dirt on CCD. Basically, is can have a lot of causes. CCD revers to when all of the worker bees just die or don't come back. Bees are dying or simply disappearing all the time. When it gets to be bad is when such a huge number vanish that the queen cannot replace them, or when they all vanish so suddenly that the most recent brood cannot hatch before the queen dies.
Occurrences have been recorded since the 1800s, 1869 to be exact.
The causes can vary. Bad weather. Varroa (vampire) mites. Lack of food. However, CCD has become more and more common, enough so that bees are actually being threatened. A beekeeper may lose all of their hives, even into the hundreds of hives, to CCD in a short period of time. What is causing this horrible atrocity?
There are other kinds of hive death that aren't necessarily CCD, or the bees may have simply swarmed to find some place better. CCD has a few common symptoms:
There are some precursors:
But why is CCD such a risk today? There has always been bad weather, mites, and lack of food. We have half as many hives today as in 1980. We're down two million hives. The 4.5 million that the U.S had in the 1980's is down even from the 5.9 in 1947.
Well, the working theory is that there has been an increased amount of CCD because of many factors: poor quality of queen from inbreeding of different strains, the moving of hives long distances, the increased resistance of pests and fungi against antibiotics and antifungals because of overuse, poor immune of bees from poorly bred queens, and what seems to be the most widespread, reasonable explanation, the agriculture
As I mentioned before, pesticides used to kill pests in China accidentally killed all of the bees. But this is slightly different. We have our new 'friend' glyophosates, also known as Round-up. It emerged in the 70s, the spawn of Monsanto, and one of its most successful products. They've actually found a way to cut down on pesticides by using genetic modification to put glyophosate into the genetic material of the plants. As the plant grows it replicates it, and when a bug takes a bite, the glyophosate punches holes in its cell walls. That's right, folks, there is actually bug poison in our food. It's in every aspect of the GMO plant: the root, the fruit, the stalk, and yes, the pollen. Because a lot of agriculture still requires pollination, bees are a huge industry. They are taken to fields and allowed to pollinate. Yet, why are such crops allowed to exist? Because, testing was done on them, and they were declared not to be harmful to bees. If you are a reasonable person, you will immediately see a flaw with this.
Glyophosate is an insecticide. It is in all parts of the plant. Second, the testing was done by Monsanto (or Chairman M). It's like letting thieves audit themselves. Third, they didn't even do any long term testing. They just fed the pollen to one generation of adult bees. They didn't feed it to the brood, where much of the pollen and bee honey goes, and they didn't do multi-generaional studies.
The glyophosate causes a disorder in bees where they lose their internal compass. They just leave and never come back because they don't know how to get back. They starve. The queen dies. The whole hive dies.
Think on this: the glyophosate doesn't just work on insects. It works on all creatures who consume it. If it only takes a little in the pollen to ruin a whole hive, how much do you think it would take to make a person sick? How much do people eat daily? How much have YOU eaten? Do you know? Are you already sick?
If you want to know more about bees and CCD, please check out More Than Honey. It's a wonderful documentary on bees and CCD.
By Bernadina Lucia
I'm sure you've heard of it, especially in Florida, that much like in out politics, gigantic holes randomly open up and swallow buildings, people, and possessions. But, what causes them?
Florida is over a massive aquifer, between them and the water is a large amount of sandstone. As I'm sure you probably know, when people build buildings, farm, or live somewhere, they use a lot of water. Well, tapping into these massive resource beneath their feet did provide a solution to the need for water. For awhile.
The problem that the stone the aquifers is made of, is its weak. Once the water was removed, it left huge, gaping holes in a massive aquifer. The sandstone gives way, and it all falls down, and gives no indications of stopping.
Well, doesn't it rain a lot in Florida? Why doesn't that do anything?
Well, even a grade-school kid knows about our Earth's hydraulic system, or water system.
However, it can take thousands of years for an aquifer to fill. It doesn't make it any easier when there are buildings and concrete over the ground to prevent absorption. Rather than being absorbed, it runs off into rivers and streams into deltas, and then the ocean.
So, if you're wondering why the Wang of America is being destroyed, it's because of what is sort of geological syphilis.
The Aral Sea
By Bernadina Lucia
The Aral Sea could easily be one of the most tragic examples of our hubris. Let me explain, first. The Aral sea lays (or should be laying) between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It is known as the Sea of Islands, because of the 1,100 tiny islands that dotted the sea. It was fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers. It was the source of nearly one sixth of all the fish catch in the Soviet Union. The rivers supplied all the water for surrounding farms in both nations, watering crops of melons, rice, cereal crops, and cotton. The Aral has a rich history. There were navel bases and other navel activity since 1847.
But as the population increased, so did the demand for crops. They took more and more water from the rivers through faulty open top irrigation. The poor irrigation lost so much water to evaporation and leaks, which just increased the already high demand on the strained rivers. Almost 75% of the water was lost before reaching the fields. Can we just imagine how huge that is? The huge amount of water that reached the fields was only a quarter of the amount taken.
Slowly, the water supply trickled away.
As the Aral sea was deprived of its source, it slowly began to evaporate off. What was once the fourth-largest inland sea slowly wasted away. As it disappeared, so did the fishing industry, and the farming industry. The rivers and streams that were fed by the Aral became toxic because the salt was so concentrated, there were high amounts of pesticides and fertilizers that came from runoff from agriculture, and there were toxins from weapons testing on the waters.
Eventually, though the Aral became so small it was the North and South Aral, two distinct toxic mud puddles. The South has almost completely disappeared.
The effects on the people who live there have been horrific. There are toxic clouds that roll in off where the Aral should be. There is huge unemployment where there used to be a massive fishing industry. The infant mortality rate is 75 out of every 1,000 live births, and 12 in every 1,000 births end in the mother's death. The cancer and liver failure rates a very high, as are repository issues.
So what is being done?
In 2007, the Aral was only 10% it's previous size. Obviously there are massive restrictions on the amount of water taken from the Syr and Amu. Just increasing the efficiency of the irrigation canals and switching to drought-resistant crops has helped a lot. This is difficult, though, because of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan's growing populations.
The Aral Sea Basin Program has been spearheading efforts, they have four objectives:
For more information, you can go here: http://www.columbia.edu/~tmt2120/introduction.htm
A Closer Inspection: Dandruff Shampoo
By Bernadina Lucia
Last week I looked at lipstick. This week I'm looking at something used by most people, at least for a period in their lives. If you've ever had dandruff, or seborreic dermatitis (which is like dandruff, except with swelling) you've probably used it.
The brand we looked at contains Selenium sulfide. Not all kinds of dandruff shampoo contains it.
Selenium sulfide: this is an inorganic salt used in the treatment of dandruff. However, it is rather toxic. It is rated as 'high' on the danger scale. It has high concerns for being carcinogenic, and can cause non-reproductive organ system damage.
The next ingredient is DMDM hydantoin. It's a preservative that's in 20% of cosmetics in the U.S. It's very common, but also rather dangerous. Just below Selenium sulfide on the danger scale. It is known to cause allergies, irritation, and immunotoxicity. This means it's bad for your immune system.
Next up is fragrance. Also known as parfun, or scent, this is in nearly all cosmetics. It is as bad as DMDM hydantion, except worse.
Ammonium laureth sulfate, which is a foaming agent. It is itself fairly safe, at least compared to the others. However, there is ongoing concern about possible contamination. The possible contaminants are etheline oxide, which is rated a full 10/10 on the danger scale, for carcinogens, immunotoxicity, and non-reproductive organ systems damage, and reproductive harm. The other possible contaminant is 1,4 Dioxane, which is like etheline oxide, but in more moderation, ranking only 8/10. Both are banned in the U.S., but both have been found contaminating ammonium laureth sulfate in 2,000+ cases.
The next ingredient, TEA-Lauryl Sulfate, also suffers from possible contamination, from our friend nitrosemines. Nitrosemines, as we know, cause cancer.
Cocamidopropyl betaine, which is a hair conditioning agent, also has the possibility of being contaminated with nitrosemines.
Magnesium Aluminum Silicate is a complex silicate, which is used as an anti-caking agent to keep the soap from settling out. It's fairly harmless, possibly causes some organ system damage, although it hasn't been proven.
Ammonium lauryl sulfate, cousin to ammonium laureth sulfate, is also rated low in terms of danger. But it is rated as possible cause of non-reproductive organ damage.
Sodium citrate is used in this shampoo as a pH adjuster. Harmless.
Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is a complex polymer based off of cellulose, as you can probably tell from the name. It's used as a binding agent in this, and is also quite safe.
Menthol: naturally occurring in peppermint. Except for water, probably the safest thing in the ingredients. It's used as a scent agent.
All-in-all, the shampoo gained a danger rating of 6/10. If possible, obtain a safer shampoo. You can go here: http://www.ewg.org/ and search for safe alternatives, and look up ingredients.
By Bernadina Lucia
Goats. They are a staple in many poor parts of the world because they can eat nearly any plant and still grow. They make milk and they have a flavorful meat, both are sources of easy protein and many nutrients you can't get from just vegetables. So, of course, they are prized.
They may be prized for another reason, though. Many people think their milk is better than cow's, at least if you can't have cow's milk. There are a few differences between cow and goat milk. One is that in goat milk the fat globules are smaller, so it is already homogenized, which can make it easier for some people to digest. It also has a different protein from cow's milk, so those who are allergic to cow's milk can actually have goat milk. I may even be a suitable alternative for people who are lactose intolerant, depending on the degree.
What is lactose intolerance? Well, in milk, there is a sugar known as lactase. It makes up 8% of cow milk. Goat milk has a little less, 10% less than what cow milk does. It isn't a huge number, though.
Lactose intolerance is different from an allergy because the stomach can't digest the lactase, which causes gas, bloating, and the runs, whereas with the allergy the autoimmune system attacks the body when lactase is consumed.
Many people who are lactose intolerant but can consume goat dairy may actually have a mild cow's milk allergy instead.
It's possible that the goat milk's better digestibility makes consuming it a little easier on you than cow's milk. For more information:
Dark Side to Veganism and Vegetarianism: Veg Zombies
By Bernadina Lucia
What do you think of when you head vegetarianism? Or veganism? Some holier than thou hippie? Someone with dedication? Some uber-healthy trender?
Vegetarians eat no meat. Some will eat fish (my vegetarian sister points out that they are not real vegetarians) others are lacto-ovo, meaning they will consume egg or dairy.
Vegans go even farther. No animal products at all, not even wool or animal feces as fertilizers. As you can imagine, or have experienced, how they can be a little bit, shall we say, moody? It is actually a big complaint in the veg*n (vegetarian or vegan) communities, about the number of veg*ns who are disrespectful, bigoted, and generally hateful.
Interestingly enough, there is a correlation between veg*ns and mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and OCD. Now, whether the extreme dieting causes or attracts, nobody is 100% sure.
But there is a very noticeable difference between the veg zombies and normal people.
In an article in Psychology Today, it was pointed out that vegetarians and vegans were four times as likely to binge than omnivores. A study in Turkey found that veg*n youth are more obsessed with their appearance and more likely to engage in more extreme behavior than omnivores.
A number of studies found that many people, women in particular, are veg*n because it is an extreme, though mostly socially acceptable, diet for weight loss.
But here's the thing: meat is NOT the dietary villain. Many veg*ns when they binge, fill up on unhealthy, but technically meat-free foods, like sugary cereals, starchy pastas, bread, and sweets. The resulting blood sugar sea-saw really fucks them mood-wise, it messes with hormone levels, actually increasing anxiety and depression. Plus, consuming just starch wrecks the skin, and causes weight gain.
I'm not saying that eating meat will solve all their problems, but food does factor in mental health. We need iron for our red blood cells so our brain can get oxygen. We need tryptophan, which is found exclusively in poultry, to produce serotonin. Serotonin manages much of the body's functions; it plays a part in sleep, and is a natural antidepressant. The human body cannot produce tryptophan by itself.
Now, ditching meat affects everyone differently. There was one account of a young couple who were suffering for eczema, joint pain, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, among other problems. When they went to veganism, they improved right away! They moved out an started a vegan farm. They had pets, including rescue livestock like chickens. It's possible that their new lifestyle played a part in their new health. There are studies finding that people with pets, and those who are exposed to healthy soil every day have low rates of depression, and indeed microbes in the soil are natural antidepressants.
A Closer Examination: Canola Oil
By Bernadina Lucia
I was out last week because I had dental surgery. But now I'm back in full swing, tacking another thing found in most households. Canola oil. Even if you don't have a bottle of it in your kitchen, I'm sure something you own has it in it. A salad dressing. Mayonnaise. Those chips you like. Canola oil, sounds harmless enough, right?
The canola is a derivative of rapeseed (the word 'rape' here coming from the Latin for turnip). However, it was high in euric acid, which is dangerous to a certain amount of the population.
Canola was bred in Canada, where it is primarily grown (now the majority of it is GM, 90% is GM to be resistant to Round-up), and is lower in euric acid. The term 'Canola' is supposed to mean Can(ada)+o(il)+ l(ow)+ a(cid). The original name was supposed to be an acronym for Low Euric Acird Rapeseed, which is lear. It was decided that not having 'rape' or 'lear' in the name would make it much less insidious sounding.
How, we know pretty much all Canola we consume if GM, but what are the other dangers? It's how the oil is made.
First, the tiny seeds are sifted out. The chaff and other plant material is sold as animal feed. Then the seeds are pressed. However, this only gets so much oil out. After, the pressed byproduct, called 'cake', is washed in Hexane, which is quite toxic, for 70 minutes. This helps pull oils out. After that it's bathed in sodium hydroxide, which has a danger rating of 3 out of ten for cosmetic use. It is a known human toxic and carcinogen. There are 'natural' waxes produced by this cycle. They are collected to make vegetable shortening. The oil is taken and bleach is used to lighten the color. Then it gets steam injected to remove the bitter canola smell. To top it off, the high heat causes the canola to become nasty. 4% of the trans fats in Canola oil are toxic because of this process.
This video is an in depth look. Enjoy!
By Bernadina DeVita
Everyone has heard of the horror that is bird flu, A.K.A avien influenza. The strain that is lurking around the U.S and even Europe is known as H5N8, the nasty, stronger descendant of H1N1. H1N1 has it's start in the flocks of China in 1996. It quickly spread to people. It burst across Asia by 2004 because of the poultry trade. By 2006 migrating birds had taken it to Europe and Africa. It was also rampant in domestic flocks of poultry, especially those immunized, because they carry it without being sick.
It has bounced back an forth, being carried by mallards, which are usually immune to it, and carried by flocks that were infected but nobody knew. It has actually mixed with other kinds of flu. It is extremely pathogenic and communicable, meaning it's extremely contagious and people can get it. A total of 452 people have died of bird flu.
This hell spawn of which we speak is H5N8. It came out of China in 2014, and spread across the globe. It was stamped out in the United States, after devastating many poultry farms.
Unfortunately, it isn't the case for much of the world. In November, 9000 turkeys were culled on a farm in Hungary. Turkeys are extremely sensitive to it. In January this year, turkey farms in Indiana were infected. Nine out of ten were infected. A massive turkey cull ensued, and it was stopped.
There is even fear for penguins. It has been flown in by migratory birds, and now even the best dressed birds are in danger. Bird flu had previously been detected in Antarctica, in 2013, but the new strain had been found by Australian scientists in 2015. It's already in Antarctica.
They even think it can survive in the ice over winter.
Another Example of the Dangers of Monoculture
By Bernadina Lucia
Bananas. Some are yellow, some are pink. We know the desert bananas. There are also plantains, or starch bananas. It's the fourth most cultivated plant in the world.
Here's an interesting fact for you today: the banana flavoring you eat doesn't even remotely taste like the real bananas you eat, because it's imitating the flavor of the Gros Michel, or Big Mike, banana. Big Mike was the main banana cultivator until the fifties, when it was wiped out by Panama banana disease.
We eat the bananas we eat today, the Cavendish, because it was immune to Panama Disease.
Specifically, the variety of Cavendish we eat is called the Grand Naine, or giant dwarf. Yeah.
It's known as the Chiquita banana, because the Naine is the primary product of Chiquita. They are big, yellow desert bananas, the kind everyone thinks when they hear banana.
However, they do have some problems. They are part of the AAA group of bananas, which have 33 chromosomes. All produce seedless fruit, and spread through their vegetation. They send shoots, in other words.
However, this makes them vulnerable because they can't really change. They don't have the rapid adaptability that seeds do.
There is, as often in these cases, a new strain of Panama. Now the Naine is in danger of going extinct, just like Mike.
This is just one of the many examples of how monoculture has had to shift rapidly because of a disease. They chose quantity over adaptability.
Why You Don't Free-range Chickens With Large Animals
By Bernadina Lucia
You may see your chickens digging through the poo of larger animals, goats, cows, pigs, horses, if you have them. You think, 'why not? They are looking for bugs and seeds etc.'
Actually, many diseases are transferred through feces.
Mad Cow disease persists throughout the agricultural industry. Most animals are killed before they are two years old, so it is difficult to accurately test. But one thing you should not do is feed animal products to other animals, and indeed this has been banned by the WHO, or World Health Organization.
But guess what? American industry has broken this rule! Recycled cow parts are fed to chickens, and then the waste is fed BACK to the cows. Then the milk and meat is fed to people, while waste and remains, the brain, spine, and other parts that can't be legally fed to people, are fed to chickens.
Of course, a responsible farmer won't feed animal products, like floor litter or feces or meat scraps to their animals.
But, if you have two kinds of animals out together, say horses and chickens, and the chickens eat the feces of the horse, isn't it plausible that whatever the horse had may be picked up by the chickens, and then passed onto people?
There are things called 'communicable diseases', where the disease, worm, any ill, can be transferred from one species to another. Even if one animal does not carry the symptoms, and doesn't get ill, the animal can be a carrier. There is a bat in Africa that carries rabies but does not get sick from it. Chickens can transmit a diseases known as blackhead to turkeys, even though they don't show signs of it themselves.
While you can free-range animals together, if they are healthy, there are a few things to note:
don't free-range chickens with animals that have been recently medicated or de-wormed. The poo may be toxic.
Don't house different kinds of poultry together, ducks require too much water and will make a mess, turkeys and ducks can be, well, jerks, and peacocks need 80 square feet per bird, more if they are mating because they basically become introverted and moody, like an emo teen.
Pigs are omnivores, and may try to eat smaller animals. They should have their own area.
But free-ranging has many benefits, animals do best and are happiest when they are allowed to run around. Milk, meat, and eggs (hopefully not from the same animal) is best from free-range animals.
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