The MOF&G Online
Signs of Hope
by Jean English
Copyright 2004 by MOFGA. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in frigid January, the cats crouched on the greenhouse bench, staring down the white, frozen ground through the greenhouse windows as if they’re willing spring to come--the same way they stare at the back door with a faith that sooner or later someone will open it to let them out, or in, or out... January was a good time to sit by the wood stove and catch up on reading, looking for bits of faith-propping news. Here are a few.
Sir David King, the British government’s chief science advisor, warned in the Jan. 9, 2004, edition of the journal Science that global climate change is a more serious threat than terrorism. He pointed out that the United States is responsible for more than 20 percent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases, while the United Kingdom is responsible for only 2 percent, and said that the United States must play its leading part in overcoming the challenges of rising sea levels, melting ice caps, flooding and species extinction. Seems like this would be a main theme of the 2004 election...
Bob Batteese and the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) staff conducted a successful sting operation on the Minnesota pesticide peddler, Aquacide Company. Aquacide was caught red handed when Batteese called in an order for an aquatic herbicide to be delivered to his home--an illegal sale, since Aquacide is not a registered pesticide dealer in Maine, and its sale violated Maine’s rule requiring that aquatic herbicides be sold only by Maine licensed restricted use pesticide dealers and only to licensed pesticide applicators. For more, read Sharon Tisher’s report on the BPC in this paper.
A few of us graying MOFGA members have half-jokingly suggested that MOFGA start an organic retirement center at its grounds in Unity. Maybe we should stop joking. The February 2004 issue of Hope Magazine describes a "farm-based elder community" at Al-len’s Farm in Wells River, Vermont, where elders can maintain a rural, agriculturally oriented lifestyle. The farm includes ideas from the "Poor Farm" of the 19th and early 20th centuries, adding local young people in the day-to-day working of farm and home through a mentoring project.
The same issue of Hope features an article by Sarah Tuff about John Todd of Ocean Arks International (www.oceanarks.org) in Burlington, Vermont. Todd makes these encouraging statements:
"I really feel the most radical start [to help the environment, fight corporate dominance, reduce oil consumption, invest in a family’s health] is to shop consciously for our food and make sure that it’s organic. Find local growers and local food producers as much as you can, and that just starts to change everything. It’s the only way we’re going to avoid corporate dominance--mega-corporate dominance--of the land...Over 50 percent of the chemicals in the environment that are hammering human and ecosystem health are in agriculture. Fifty percent of the endocrine disruptors, the things that go from the mother through the placenta to the child that end up causing problems later, are from agriculture. That’s where I would start, and everything else will follow from there."
Looking at our own lives is a great place to start. Organizing with like-minded individuals and groups is the next step, as Alice Torbert writes in her coverage of the Toxics Action Conference in this paper.
Could Muscovy ducks be part of the solution to West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease? Countryside & Small Stock Journal (Sept./Oct. 2003) carried a letter from a Kentucky writer who hadn’t had a tick on her since she got a flock of about two dozen Muscovy ducks, and another, from Minnesota, who writes, "Our yard is practically mosquito- and tick-free without using any chemicals" since he got Muscovy ducks. The ducks eat grasshoppers too. In fact, points out Countryside, Muscovy’s original name was "musco duck," from "mosquito duck," and one reason they were brought to America was to help control mosquitoes and other insects. They feed on larvae and adults.
Chickens are great bug eaters too, and in the Feb./March 2004 issue of Mother Earth News, apple grower Michael Phillips tells how to use them in an orchard: Spray all but one tree in your orchard with kaolin clay. Spread some corn meal under the unsprayed tree. Plum curculios will come to the unsprayed tree, and your chickens will come to the corn meal and will eat curculios that fall to the ground and pupate in the soil. Phillips also suggests planting comfrey around the base of apple trees. "The bumblebees love the blossoms, the leaves of the comfrey smother the thick sod and the root interaction favors apple trees." Phillips is one of several apple experts who will teach MOFGA’s five-part organic orcharding course this growing season. Read about the course in the news section of this paper.
Stay warm. Sow seeds. Plant an orchard. Stare down (and vote down) the polluters and the global warmers. Have faith.
Concerned about Mad Cow Disease? Look for Organic.
"What we already know is a great hindrance in discovering the unknown." Claude Bernard
I suppose it was only a matter of time until Mad Cow disease (or Bovine Spongiforn Encephalopathy -- BSE) made it to the United States, and now it's here. At least we know about this disease. Let's look at what we know.
Mad Cow is the disease in cows; it's called scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. It is caused by "prions," which are infected proteins. It can be passed by eating the brain, spinal cord, or eyes of an infected animal, or CJD can occur spontaneously in humans. If it comes from eating infected animal parts, it is variant CJD, and follows a different, although still lethal, path than the spontaneous CJD. Well, maybe not. Testing on "humanized" mouse brains showed that of mice injected with BSE, some came down with a CJD that looked like the spontaneous type, not the variant.
Only one case of variant CJD has been found in the United States, and that was contracted in England--but many Americans die of spontaneous CJD every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not specifically track spontaneous CJD, so we don’t know exactly how many people are afflicted every year. If some CJD that is brought on by BSE doesn't look like the variant type, how do we know how many cases are from BSE?
In 1997, American farmers stopped feeding cow parts to cows--or, here again, not necessarily. Rendered cow parts, including brains and spinal cords, are routinely added to conventional feeds for pigs and chickens. Chickens, as many of us know, waste a fair amount of their food onto the floor. Chicken waste (yes, what you scrape off the floor) is routinely fed to beef cows (ewww -- gross), providing an easy way for cows to get feed that was not meant for them. Blood plasma from cows is used as part of milk replacer to feed calves. (Double gross.) So conventionally grown cows really aren't protected from eating infected cow parts.
Pork is safe to eat. Well… lab studies show that pigs can get BSE from infected brains. And conventional pig feed includes those renderings with all the questionable cow parts.
Then there's the obvious question: How do deer get this disease? It's hard to picture them eating the brains of anything. Turns out that some people provide "wild game feed" to deer in the affected areas, and of course, those feeds probably have the same rendered products.
But maybe infected animal parts aren't the main way that deer, or anything else, gets the disease. Clusters of people and animals worldwide get this disease in areas where manganese levels are high and copper levels are low. The high manganese is occasionally naturally occurring, but more typically happens in mining areas, accompanied by airborne mine wastes, or where manganese is used industrially. Sometimes the disease occurs where excessive amounts of organophosphate pesticides (high in manganese) were used. Some people even claim to be able to cure chronic wasting in deer by administering copper to them.
We really don't seem to know much about this disease, but we do know about organic agriculture. Certified organic cows and pigs are not fed any animal parts. At all. End of story. And no case of BSE has ever been reported in an organically raised cow. Local sources of organically raised beef are listed at www.mofga.org. Maybe things aren't that bleak after all.
Finding real answers to everything listed above may take a long time. Upton Sinclair said in The Jungle, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." Plenty of scientists, members of the conventional meat industry, and members of the mining industry have heavily vested interests in proving certain "facts" to be true and other "facts" to be false. Funny how the story comes back to an author who wrote about the horrible conditions of the food industry a hundred years ago. Certainly things have improved since Sinclair's time, and far fewer people die because of problems with our food supply than did at the turn of the last century. I look forward to the day when all people live long healthy lives because of the food they eat, rather than just being glad that our food is causing fewer premature deaths. Buying organically grown food from a local farmer is the best step we can take toward that end.
--Lisa Turner, MOFGA President
Copyright 2004 by the author. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author through email@example.com.
Come Out of the Closet!
by Russell Libby
Copyright 2004 by MOFGA. For information on reproducing this article, please contact the author through firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2002 Census of Agriculture estimates for Maine agriculture are about to be released, and they are likely to show a continuing decline in the number of farms, the acres of land in production, and an increase in the average age of farmers. The 1997 Census estimated $8.3 million in farm-to-consumer direct market sales of food, a number that may approach $20 million with the 2002 report.
Meanwhile, Stew Smith at the University of Maine estimates those same sales at $50 million or more, based on a survey of Maine farmers he conducted last year.
Why the difference? I think it has something to do with our willingness to stand up and be counted.
Since 1990, MOFGA has certified 642 different farms and farmers. In 2003, MOFGA certified about 270 farmers and processors, fewer than half the total. While some of the rest are no longer in operation, due to deaths or discouragement or decisions to not farm, hundreds still are growing and selling food within their local communities. These farms (and my family’s Three Sisters Farm is among them) don't advertise, and have their own family and neighbors as their prime customers. They follow the same model as the farmers in the old stories of rural Maine, like Lura Beam's father in A Maine Hamlet, taking his produce from Northfield to Machias by wagon and always trying to sell out to his regular customers before he reached the store, or Gus Bragdon in Gladys Hasty Carroll's A Few Foolish Ones, setting aside every Friday to take butter and eggs to the grocery in Berwick to trade for the few things he didn't produce on the farm. And as powerful as this model is as a basis for the kind of local, organic agriculture that we, as MOFGA, have been trying to build for the past 30 years, if it's not visible, it still doesn't count in official circles.
Maybe this is the year when we need to be visible. Our communities need to have a sense that Maine agriculture has real possibilities--possibilities that work to supply them with the food they want to eat. As we are counted, ones adding to tens, tens adding to hundreds, I think we'll find that Maine already has well over 500 organic farmers. The increased connections and possibilities will enable others to step forward, again helping to change the dynamics of what is real and possible for Maine agriculture.
Governor Baldacci has talked recently of making Maine the nation's leader in green certification of the forests. We're already one of the nation's leaders in building a local, organic food system--it's just that we've been too busy doing the work to stop and step forward, together.
Be counted this year!
For some of us, getting certified is the right thing to do, especially if we are selling to wholesale accounts (or if we have over $5,000 in sales, when certification becomes a legal requirement for people labeling their food as organic). For others, a focus on letting our neighbors and friends know that we have food available and that we'd like to be their supplier of eggs, vegetables, or meat is the key next step. Most of all, when you hear someone say that agriculture is gone, that it doesn't matter what happens, we all have to be ready to stand up and tell the truth: We all eat, and we'll all eat better when we know our farmer.
P.S. www.mainefoods.net., is a Web site used to make connections by MOFGA and other Maine groups that are promoting local foods. The site has an opportunity for your farm to be more visible to the public. Check out "Our Food, Our Farms, Our Families" for some of the stories that go with farms around the state or to find out how to post the story of your farm.
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