Originally published in The MOF&G, September, 1999
Payson Landscape Design Collection at Univ. of Maine
She is considered a pioneer of American landscape architecture. Her prominence in the "Golden Age of American gardens" was acknowledged in some of the leading publications of her time. As a woman practicing in what historically had been a male-dominated field, she helped redefine the character and qualities that established the distinctiveness of American gardens and estates.
Ellen Louise Payson, better know to friends as Louise, was one of a small group of women credited with a legacy of design excellence in American landscape architecture. Her artistry and creativity earned her praise from colleagues and clients alike--and, more recently, from those engaged in the revival of classical American landscape design.
A recent donation of Payson’s professional designs will elevate her profile among students, historians, professionals and hobbyists with the creation of the Ellen Louise Payson Collection at the University of Maine. The collection will complement other research and educational endeavors conducted through the university’s Landscape Horticulture program, including a collaborative project being undertaken in Bar Harbor, Maine, based on designs of the legendary Beatrix J. Farrand.
The Payson collection, currently being catalogued, will be housed in the Special Collections section of the university’s Raymond H. Fogler Library.
Born in Portland, Maine, in 1894, Louise Payson gained widespread recognition during the 1920s and ‘30s as an accomplished landscape architect and as a professional who, by virtue of her gender and the times, challenged and changed the nature of her profession. In 1933, she and five other women were honored as "Hall of Fame" members by ***House &Garden Magazine,*** which selected Payson "for the soundness with which she applies to her gardens the principles of landscaping and architecture...and for the sympathetic feeling for varying material which her work always shows."
The Payson name is well known in Maine. Since the mid-1800s, family members have been prominent in medicine, finance, religion, commerce and philanthropy here.
For decades the whereabouts of many of Payson’s original plans, drawings and other works were unknown. Shortly after her death in 1977, however, family members discovered a sizable collection of originals stored in a large chest at a family home in Portland.
Through the generosity of her family, much of Payson’s work will soon be available to those interested in understanding her influence on American society. In June, Dr. Hugh Payson Robinson of Falmouth, Louise Payson’s nephew, and his wife Patricia, donated over 500 of Payson’s original drawings, blueprints and photographs to the University of Maine. The works will be of special interest to those in the university’s Landscape Horticulture program, which is studying and recreating the American-style landscape architecture of another pioneer in the field, Beatrix J. Farrand (1872-1959), who, like Payson, worked and resided for part of her life in Maine.
"With the development and expansion of use of computer-assisted design, the form of graphic expression featured in the Payson Collection is quickly disappearing," says David B. Melchert of Stroudwater Design Group in Yarmouth. Melchert brought the collection to the attention of Robert and Catherine Barrett III of The Bar Harbor Institute. The Barretts have a strong interest in landscape architecture and in the university, having established a scholarship fund in landscape horticulture there in memory of Beatrix F. Farrand, and supporting a living landscape horticulture research lab on the grounds of Atlantique in Bar Harbor, in conjunction with the university, Melchert, and Melchert’s wife, Patricia Boothby, a landscape architect.
"The University of Maine has carved out a special interest in the works and achievements of women landscape architects," says Robert Barrett. "Maine has been blessed with daughters such as Beatrix Farrand and Louise Payson, and for over 50 years the university’s faculty in Landscape Horticulture have taught the lessons of the ‘Golden Era’ in its classrooms, greenhouses and gardens. With its increased access to the works of Beatrix and Louise, the university continues to expand understanding and respect for the historical place of these and other women as highly successful leaders, artists and role models."
CorrectionA letter from Arthur Harvey in the June-August issue of The MOF&G said that four organic corn producers could combine their samples and have them tested for contamination by genetically modified organisms for $2,000; the figure should have been $200. We regret the error.
Maine Toxics Action Coalition [MTAC] is a group of approximately 20 organizations that has worked for several years on the behalf of Maine citizens to highlight and resolve environmental issue pertaining to toxics. It started as the Coalition for a Dioxin Free Maine, which was formed to pass legislation that would remove dioxin from the papermaking process. While that bill eventually failed, the pressure we brought regarding that issue ultimately forced the state to pass [albeit a watered-down version] legislation on dioxin that is the toughest in the nation.
Since that time we have educated citizens about the hazards of eating fish in Maine that are contaminated with dioxin, PCBs, mercury, and other chemicals. We have posted Maine waters statewide with advisories regarding toxics in fish and have created a brochure on the hazards of eating Maine fish. Since the state has not followed through on warning people of its findings that fish are harmful to eat, especially for the most vulnerable of our population--children, nursing mothers and mothers-to-be--we have taken on that responsibility.
But the answer, in the end, is not to restrict one’s intake of contaminated fish. We ought to be able to eat the fish from Maine’s waters without having to weigh the risk. There should be no risk. We should be eliminating the sources of the problem, not our choices. Prevention is far more effective than any attempted cure.
MTAC is working on preventive measures in conjunction with educating the public. While we address issues such as toxic use reduction, which go to the heart of the matter, we will continue to expand our education to all segments of our population. Our brochure on the possible hazards of eating Maine fish went out to 900 health care professionals who treat people in the vulnerable population. We will expand both the information that we disseminate and the population to whom we distribute that information.
The Coalition is committed to bringing about a genuine reduction in the use of toxins. The Toxic Use Reduction Act that came up for renewal last year was defeated. A less effective form of the bill was passed this year. However, even though not as stringent, it does allow for more careful monitoring of businesses that use and emit toxins. This can be very helpful to the public and will enable us to pressure businesses to use alternatives to products that pollute our environment. For many companies, the conversion to non-toxic substances has not only been effective, but has also saved money.
While MTAC will further its work on statewide toxics issues, we have invited the Toxics Action Center [TAC] to open an office in Maine. The TAC helps small and large groups fight toxics issues by gathering information, educating, providing organizing assistance, group building assistance and networking and providing experts. The TAC hopes to open in September.
Maine Toxics Action Coalition includes: Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, MOFGA, NRCM, Maine People’s Alliance, AARP, Forest Ecology Network, Trout Unlimited Maine Council, and others. For more information, call 666-3372.
No Hibernation for Black Bear Food Guild
The Black Bear Food Guild, a vegetable growing operation run by students at the University of Maine at Orono, just keeps getting better. This year, using funds saved from the last two years of produce sales, it purchased a 30' x 50' Harnois greenhouse and has been able to extend its growing season as a result.
The Guild's seven student workers (and numerous student volunteers during the school year) raise crops on land at Rogers Farm and sell them through a CSA group of 60 shareholders (a shareholder is a household, usually a couple or family or a few roommates). They also bring crops to the Orono Farmers' Market and to local restaurants and markets. The Guild also produces a pancake mix.
Farming and schooling can be a demanding mix. Planning for the growing season takes place from January through March, then comes greenhouse production, followed by production of warm-season crops outside. "It gets tricky in May during school," says Michael Gold, a senior this year and head of the Guild. Fall is also busy, with school and raising and harvesting greens from the greenhouse.
Gold was pleased to meet Maine's Commissioner of Agriculture, Bob Spear, when Spear visited the University this spring. Gold presented him with the Guild's pancake mix and a flyer about the Guild.
Gold will finish at UM this year and then "will do more of the same somewhere else--small scale organic farming," while the Guild goes on...
Old Stage Farm and MOFGA Earn Palette Award at 1999 Portland Flower Show
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Old Stage Farm were honored to receive the Palette Award at the 1999 Portland Garden Show. The Palette Award is given to the garden that best demonstrates skillful use of color. Flowers and plants used to create the display garden were organically grown by Susan and John Belding of Old Stage Farm in Lovell, Maine. This was the second year in which MOFGA and Old Stage Farm, a certified organic farm, worked together to create a display garden for the Portland Flower Show. (This was also the second award: In 1998 we won the Lyle Littlefield Commemorative Award for the garden that best introduced new or under-used plants in its design.)
"Insight in the sanctuary of the garden. Seclusion within flowers. The grace of fragrance and beauty. Insight found through the senses in a mirrored image to the soul. Integrity of organically grown flowers and herbs." These are some of the phrases that designer Susan Belding used to describe the garden.
In addition to being the only organic garden in the show, this garden displayed another unique and extraordinary aspect--most of the flowers were raised from seed grown and saved at Old Stage Farm. Seed saving started as a personal interest and has grown into a business for the Beldings, who now raise over 50 varieties of flower seed.
All of the plants and flowers were grown in a pit greenhouse at Old Stage Farm, some having been started as early as September. Considerable planning was required to have everything in bloom for the exact five days in March. Moving the plants to the show was the next challenge--they had to be moved from the tropical conditions of the greenhouse, through the cold March weather, to heated vehicles, and then to the show site where, even inside, temperatures can vary tremendously.
Finally at the show, the fragrance from MOFGA's garden attracted many people who remembered the wonderful smell of gardens from years ago, when everyone grew "heirlooms." They were pleased to see "old friends" that they haven't seen or smelled in years. Favorites at the 1999 show included: parlour maple (Abutilon), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii mis), beach bells (Kalanchoe manginii), Indian pea (Lathyrus sativus), toad flax (Lineria), Dutch iris (Oriental beauty and white wedgewood), and sweet peas.
MOFGA and Old Stage Farm will work together again to create a garden display for the 2000 Portland Flower Show.
Summer Cleaning at BPC Meeting
At its June 25 meeting in Bangor, the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) took advantage of a leisurely summer schedule to clear up a number of housekeeping matters.
A February planning session finally came to fruition, as the Board delved into a list of discretionary tasks for future action. The Board's primary concern was minimizing the state's reliance on pesticides, in compliance with a recent unfunded mandate from the Maine Legislature. The Board has been tapped to compile data on "high risk and use products or situations" in order to measure whether pesticide reliance has dropped. Discussion suggested that monitoring all high risk products would be formidable with current BPC resources. "You have 6,000 products. It becomes fairly cumbersome," BPC staff member Henry Jennings said. "The absolute numbers are impossible, at least not without a lot more bodies."
The Board decided that a reinterpretation--meeting the spirit, if not the letter, of the pesticide legislation--would suffice. "Rather than trying to figure out a way to accomplish the impossible, might it be better to ask what kind of information is really significant?" asked BPC chair Alan Lewis. Jennings suggested a goal of introducing integrated pest management to the greater public. Board member Vaughn Holyoke suggested that the legislation revolves around public awareness. "I think there's a huge category of homeowners who think if they're not using insecticides, they aren't using pesticides," he said.
Pesticide sales data are the traditional means for reporting pesticide use, but the Board was hesitant to rely solely on industry numbers. You don't get reliable sales reports from homeowners or out of state retailers, said BPC staff member Gary Fish. Tracking a handful of specific pesticide uses (for example, spraying for aphids on potato plants) through a study of sales and application data seemed a reasonable means of determining whether reliance on pesticides for a particular subset of pests is changing, because, as Fish pointed out, a reduction in the sales of one product may be cancelled by an increase in the use of a competing product. "If you don't get complete data on a particular class of products, you're going to miss the boat," he said.
The Board was to consider BPC staff recommendations for specific uses to study, as well as each member's definition of the legislation's goal, at its July meeting.
The BPC voted to amend commercial applicator and spray contracting firm licensing guidelines to extend a license to two years, with no loss of fees, following a proposal by Fish. Fish also proposed tightening the language of the guidelines to require a licensed applicator to keep full visual and audio contact (not via electronics) with an uncertified assistant at all times. The Board split on the stricter language, with some members, such as Dr. Carol Eckert, supporting a strict rule to force all applicators to become licensed. "The ultimate goal is to get more people licensed," she said. David Bell of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission feared that tightening would unfairly target agricultural applicators who often use radios to communicate over the roar of machinery, or momentarily lose visual supervision in the field. The Board decided to consider a new draft of the regulation to lower the amount of abuse, without alienating small farming operations.
A proposed Environmental Risk Advisory Committee (ERAC) was defined by staff member Lebelle Hicks. The Committee will be composed of four standing and two ad-hoc members, representing different facets of the committee's mission of helping the Board reduce potential adverse environmental effects of pesticides used in agreement with their federal guidelines. Members of ERAC will be appointed by the Board in staggered three-year terms. The Board unanimously approved Hicks's recommendations. Resumes for a terrestrial or aquatic entomologist, a terrestrial or aquatic biologist, an environmental toxicologist and a citizen with a "demonstrated interest in environmental protection" were to be considered for the four permanent positions at the Board's July meeting. Ad hoc members will be selected intermittently to provide expert scientific or policy analysis of specific issues under the committee's discussion.
In other business:
The Board tabled discussion of an enforcement action against Wisdom High School of St. Agatha. According to a June 1998 inspection, an unlicensed employee of the school department used a boom sprayer to apply herbicide to the school grounds, and the Board has proposed fining S.A.D. 33 for the violation of Maine law. District superintendent Jerry White was unable to attend the June meeting, so the Board voted to consider the issue at its July meeting;
The Board determined that standardization of buffer zones for pesticide application along right of ways ought to be considered. Under current regulations, autonomous contractors submit their precautionary measures to the Board for approval, and variances traditionally have been granted. However, universal standards for spraying were supported by a majority of Board members. Maine Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection standards for buffer zones were to be studied and amended as potential BPC policy at the July meeting;
The Board's consideration of petition to designate a Critical Pesticide Control Area around Debbie and Bruce Brown's property, thus isolating them from the pesticides applied to the neighboring Crabtree Blueberry Farms, was postponed until September. The property owners have struck a verbal agreement stating that the Browns will be informed of pesticide treatment until the issue can be considered by the Board;
BPC Director Robert Battesse, Jr., announced that the Maine legislature voted to permit the use of $10,000 in federal funds for a printer that will create licensing cards. Battesse also announced that the staff's Planning Research Associate 1 position has been upgraded, but that the legislature declined the Board's request to renew a support position for data management.
May 14 BPC meeting
Update on Hexazinone Well Water Contamination
Do best management practices influence the concentrations of hexazinone in groundwater and well water? Previous reports were inconclusive, but the latest report, presented to the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) on May 14, was cautiously optimistic. The report, prepared by BPC staff member Julie Chizmas, compared hexazinone concentrations in well water sampled in eight counties in 1994 with those from 1998 samples. Forty-eight wells were tested in 1994 and 42 four years later. The sampling locations were not identical, since staff could not access 11 wells tested in 1994 and, therefore, substituted other locations. In the 1998 tests, hexazinone contaminated 42.8% of the wells–23.1% with higher concentrations of hexazinone than in 1994, and 76.9% with lower concentrations. This compared quite favorably with the 1994 data, when 75% of wells tested positive. This study was prepared pursuant to the Hexazinone Special Management Plan, drafted after an unsuccessful citizen petition drive to ban hexazinone in 1994. The plan requires that well water be sampled every four years to monitor contamination.
Chizmas was unable to explain why the data showed such a favorable trend, whereas previous analyses of well water testing presented by Cooperative Extension Blueberry Specialist David Yarborough had shown no discernable trend (see ***The MOF&G*** ,March-May '98). Chizmas noted that Yarborough did not test the same wells as the BPC, although some overlap may have occurred. Yarborough’s wells were primarily test wells dug near blueberry fields, not private wells.
Chizmas also noted that another major study of pesticide contamination of well water in Maine is due to be reported in July or August. One hundred and ninety-seven wells were tested all over the state, with locations focused on agricultural areas using highly leachable pesticides. Concentrations of 38 pesticides were measured. This replication of testing done in 1994 will attempt to determine trends in detecting these pesticides.
The BPC expects to obtain the raw test data by the end of June, and to report preliminary analysis by the July or August Board meetings.
Also at the May 14 meeting, David Yarborough presented a draft revised Hexazinone Best Management System. The revisions are intended to address the problem of the reported tendency of granular hexazinone to run off with rains and to concentrate in low areas, where the herbicide reportedly injures or kills blueberry plants (***The MOF&G,*** March-May '99). The revised document (Coop. Ext. Fact Sheet No. 250) recommends that growers "use reduced rates on slopes that do not have good blueberry cover" and "use other weed management strategies adjacent to or on portions of a field that slope abruptly toward sensitive areas such as wells, reservoirs or waterways." Although the System is intended to help farmers apply hexazinone "so that potential impact on surface and groundwater is minimized," the System follows the approach of the BPC’s general regulations on sensitive areas and doesn’t require any buffer zones for surface water. It calls only for (as specified on the hexazinone label) a 50-foot buffer from any wellhead or water reservoir. Perhaps the question of no-pesticide buffer zones for streams, ponds and lakes will be examined by the newly formed Environmental Risk Assessment Committee of the BPC, whose first order of business is addressing the issue of risks of pesticides to Atlantic Salmon.
In related developments, blueberry grower Bill Guptill has sued the manufacturer and distributor of the granular hexazinone product Pronone, alleging that the product substantially damaged his blueberry fields (***The MOF&G ,***March-May '99), and the manufacturer, Pro-Serve, Inc., of Memphis, Tennessee, wrote a letter on Feb. 4, 1999, to the editor of the BPC Communicator, vigorously denying suggestions that damage to blueberry plants "is a result of a problem unique to granular Hexazinone." Pro-Serve also denied reports that sales of the product had fallen off in Maine as a result of these reports: "The reduction in use of granular Hexazinone in 1997 and 1998 is virtually negligible and if the rate of active ingredient for all formulations of Hexazinone has leveled off at one pound per acre, it may in fact suggest that more acres of blueberries are being treated but at a lower rate."
Pro-Serve’s comments raise an interesting issue: While the level of contamination of specific wells may, as the latest BPC data suggest, be declining, are more wells in the state being contaminated as more fields are converted to "wild" blueberry cultivation? The BPC study would not answer that question. Perhaps the new, larger survey of well water will.
Hope Family Petitions for Protection Against Pesticide Applications
When Camden area natives Bruce and Debbie Brown found a 35-acre farm, nestled in a valley in Hope, flanked by Hobbs Pond and Fish Pond, they thought they'd found their dream come true. Now, eight years later, they're wondering if it was more of a nightmare. The hillsides on three sides of the Brown's valley home are flanked by four actively cultivated "wild" blueberry fields owned by neighbor Everett Crabtree, all within a half mile of their home, and two new fields, even closer, are under development. A stream runs from the fields onto the Brown's property and seasonally floods to within 25 to 50 feet of their well. The first year in their new home, 1991, a helicopter flew low, directly over the Brown's home, while spray was still visibly coming from it. Bruce and their four-year-old daughter, Codey, were directly sprayed. Codey vomited the following morning. In the years since, the family has experienced increasing episodes of illness, including vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and white puffy face, associated with aerial applications of pesticides to the blueberry fields. The worst spell followed a July 14, 1998, application of the organophosphate Sniper 2-E (azinphos-methyl, or Guthion). The smell of the pesticide permeated the Browns’ home as well as their yard. Bruce, in the garden during the spraying, experienced numbness of his lips and gums, burning nose, and headache. Codey’s symptoms including a puffy face, teary eyes, a facial rash, and headaches that continued for 10 days following the spraying.
Azinphos-methyl (Guthion or Sniper) was just reevaluated by the EPA pursuant to the Food Quality Protection Act. According to the EPA’s website posting of May 19,1999 (http:www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/op/azinphos/azmsum.htm), Azinphos-methyl can "cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans; which at high doses results in nausea, dizziness and confusion, and at very high exposure...respiratory paralysis and death." The EPA rated worker risk from exposure to the pesticide as "very high:...for mixers, loaders, and applicators, risks for all exposure scenarios evaluated are of concern even with maximum engineering controls," and rated dietary risk, based on an assessment of all the azinphos-methyl residues on food in an average American diet, as 99.9% of the acute Reference Dose for children–or just 0.1% away from a level that could cause adverse health effects. The EPA also concluded that "risk to aquatic organisms is very high and risk to terrestrial organisms is also of concern."
Debbie Brown was already sensitive to chemical exposures, after having worked for years in a factory with improperly vented chemicals. The plight of their daughter, however, led the Browns to seek relief from the seasonal exposures to "wild" blueberry pesticides. Ever since the Sniper exposure last summer, Codey has had severe reactions even to household chemicals, perfumes and chemical smells. She would develop headaches in response to attending her school for a few hours; this ultimately led her to miss most of the last year of school. Codey's regular physician, Dr. Dirk Vandersloot, has reported that "since July, 1998 the headaches have increased in frequency and intensity, most likely triggered by exposure to blueberry field spray." Codey was referred to Portland physician Joseph Py, a specialist in environmental medicine, who performed blood tests and a detoxification profile on her, and diagnosed Codey as having "Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)"--an acute sensitivity to low doses of chemicals which would not affect the average person. Py concluded that "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty...Codey's condition is related to her exposure proximity to insecticides and herbicides. I believe that her continued exposure is likely to cause serious or long lasting impairment of health."
After conferring with the BPC staff, the Browns decided to file a petition for declaration of a Critical Pesticide Control Area–an area where the BPC sets special restrictions on the application of pesticides. These petitions can, according to BPC regulations, be brought to protect fish and wildlife habitat, as well as in cases where pesticide use "is likely to cause serious and/or longstanding impairment of the health of sensitive individuals...who normally occupy such areas." Although this regulation has been on the books for years, and was once invoked to protect the Deblois Fish Hatchery, it has never been used to protect a chemically sensitive person.
The Browns' application first came before the BPC at its April 9 meeting. Debbie Brown did not appear in person, out of concern about exposure to chemicals in the unventilated motel conference room, but was represented by MOFGA's Sharon Tisher.
Although the Browns had filed a completed application form with detailed statements about the history of their exposures to pesticide spraying and their adverse reactions, as well as the written report of Dr. Py regarding Codey's diagnosis, the BPC agreed with arguments of Crabtree's attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, that the application was not "complete." It tabled the application, pending receipt of the underlying lab reports on which Dr. Py based his opinion, and of Codey's pediatric records.
At the May 14 BPC meeting, after having received the requested medical records, as well as documentation of the link between organophosphate pesticide exposure and the development of MCS, from the 1998 book Chemical Exposures–Low Levels, High Stakes, by Ashford & Miller, Board member Carol Eckert, M.D., concluded that the application was "marginally complete," and other Board members agreed. Tisher then asked the BPC whether it could schedule its action on the petition in time to give the Browns relief from the regular July spraying of organophosphates, and other pesticide applications that occur in the summer (the Critical Pesticide Control Area petition is treated as a regular rulemaking proceeding under BPC regulations, requiring a notice of public hearing, comment period following the hearing, and a separate meeting to act on the petition following the hearing and expiration of the comment period). Tisher pointed out that even given the delay from April 9 to May 14 in the acceptance of this application, the Board could have a rule in place before July by allowing the shortest possible (10 day) comment period and treating the enacted regulation as an emergency regulation immediately effective to protect public health. Tisher noted that the Browns were extremely concerned about the immediate and long term effect of continued spraying on 12-year-old Codey.
The BPC made it clear, however, that it would not abbreviate its usual procedures for this case. Thom Harnett, BPC attorney, stated that he "would never advise the Board to make a promise or guarantee that they would do anything in less than the maximum time allowed by the Administrative Procedure Act, including the 120-day comment period for proposed regulations." He said this was particularly the case where this was a case of first impression. Eckert stated that she wanted time to have five or six medical experts review the application and comment. She said that she had "no reason to doubt that the family has the symptoms they describe" but that "reasonable people may disagree as to the cause." She said it would be "wise for the applicants to consider other resolutions, as it is difficult to prove cause and effect." Alan Lewis, chair of the BPC, said that "for me the issue is so complex that I would not be prepared to take any less than the maximum legal time available to decide it."
The BPC tentatively set a hearing date for June 25, to be deferred if the Browns and the Crabtrees could come to an agreement regarding this summer's spraying.
Subsequent to the May 14 meeting, the Browns received confirmation from the University of Maine lab that both their dug and drilled wells were contaminated with low levels of the blueberry herbicide hexazinone (Velpar)–well below the official health advisory limit, but enough, the Browns believe, to have caused adverse reactions to the chemically sensitive in the family. Crabtree has not, the Browns believe, applied hexazinone for two years (a new application was scheduled for this year), and they wonder what the contamination concentration was soon after application. The Browns have elected, in view of the impossibility of getting regulatory relief for this summer, to defer their hearing until the fall. They have discussed with Crabtree’s lawyer various measures that may reduce the risk of their exposure, although Crabtree will not cease aerial spraying altogether.
Vaughan Holyoke replaces Richard Storch on Board
Vaughan Holyoke, Ph.D., Extension Crop Specialist Emeritus, and previous Chairman of the BPC for five years, is returning to the BPC to replace Richard Storch, Ph.D., a retired professor of entomology at the University of Maine.
Update on Hexazinone...
BPC Asked to Promote Real "Wild" Blueberries
Beedy Parker, a MOFGA member and resident of Camden, sent the following letter to the Board of Pesticides Control in response to the health problems that the Browns are experiencing.
To the Maine Board of Pesticides Control:
The Brown family of Hope is applying to the BPC for Critical Pesticide Control Area Designation because of the family’s documented sensitivity to pesticides sprayed on blueberry fields near their home. I would like to suggest that this is a difficult but appropriate opportunity for the Board to follow its legislative mandate to "minimize pesticide drift" (1982) and to "minimize reliance on pesticides" in the State of Maine (1997).
I hope that the skeptical wording of the BPC meeting agenda concerning the medical effects suffered by this family--they "allege" adverse effects and "claim" to be extremely sensitive--does not reflect a dismissive attitude toward the family’s request. Chemical sensitivity is neither imaginary nor rare. Most pesticides are toxic to people.
The agenda summary mentions that 38 different property owners would be affected by protecting the Browns. This indicates that there are many other people who are being "impacted" by blueberry spray, in the air, soil and water. These people would also be protected by the Browns’ critical area designation.
According to the same item entry, Crabtree Farms has been growing blueberries for over 80 years. However, neither Guthion, nor Velpar, Orbit, Imidan, nor any other pesticide was used when the farm began to sell blueberries 80 years ago, and the surrounding properties had not then been marketed to unsuspecting home owners or camp renters. These sprayed blueberries are now marketed worldwide, often at low, third-world commodity prices, as "wild blueberries," with the implication that they grow by themselves in the wild rather than being sprayed by helicopter or ground rig.
With increasing contamination of our food and growing public suspicion of our food industry, now would be a good time to assist these blueberry growers to switch back to real "wild" blueberry growing, to produce berries that could be marketed to the expanding organic market. This populated blueberry area would be a good place to start. I challenge you to do so.
Vanadium: Nature's "Junk Food" For Plants
Gardeners and farmers who are used to checking the N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) levels on their fertilizer bags may someday be checking N-P-K-V levels in their soil. That's V for vanadium.
Vanadium "impersonates" phosphorus and can confuse a plant into eating it instead of phosphorus. That can cause the plant to experience a phenomenon akin to that of people who eat junk food in place of a nutritious meal, reports soil scientist Alan F. Olness with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.
"The hunger goes away but the nutrients never arrive," said Olness, with the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minnesota. "Phosphorus is an essential nutrient plants need for growth. But vanadium, a trace element abundant in soils throughout the world, is useless to many plants, including corn, soybean, tomatoes, impatiens and petunias."
Olness plans to study different soil types this summer to see if any relationship exists between soil type and high vanadium content.
"During a growing season," he said, "plants may have only two or three time windows during which they can take in phosphorus. If they fill up on vanadium instead, they miss out on phosphorus, because their root cells can't tell them apart. Their growth and development--and yields--suffer. The more vanadium, the more the plant slows down and the lower the yield. For ornamentals, the slowdown could result in less beauty and hardiness."
Vanadium captured Olness' interest about a decade ago, when he discovered that it mysteriously reduces soybean yields. "Studying the vanadium effect has been some of the most exciting work of my career," said Olness, who has worked as an ARS soil scientist for 32 years. In the past three years, he and his colleagues have confirmed earlier work showing that plants do confuse this little-known soil trace element with phosphorus.
Plants may not be the only organisms misled by vanadium. "Vanadium may be the missing element causing lapses in the accuracy of soil phosphorus recommendations given to farmers and gardeners," Olness said.
Standard soil tests don't measure vanadium. Ten years ago, Olness developed a test that does. It also measures the ratio of vanadium to soil phosphorus and other nutrients. Olness said this test could be used to calculate new phosphorus recommendations. The optimum economic amounts of phosphorus then would have to be determined again through research. Scientists would have to consider the ratio of vanadium to phosphorus when they correlate phosphorus concentrations with plant growth.
"This could lead to higher phosphorus recommendations in soils that are very high in vanadium--probably over 150 parts per million," Olness said. "But it could also lower phosphorus recommendations in soils with low levels, perhaps under 100 ppm.
"And the test can identify soils so high in vanadium that it wouldn't be economical to add the high levels of phosphorus required to boost yields. In that case, the farmer or gardener might want to switch to a crop that needs less phosphorus or a crop variety that blocks or neutralizes vanadium within the plant."
There's even hope for the vanadium-befuddled soybean, according to Olness. "We know vanadium 'immunity' can be bred into plants, because we found a soybean variety that is rather unaffected by vanadium. This provides us with hope we can extend the ability of this variety to other crops. One of the next steps is to determine how this variety is controlling vanadium."
He plans to expand his soil testing to other states in the Mississippi River Valley. He also plans to develop a phosphorus advisory so that farmers can account for the vanadium effect.
Source: Agricultural Research Service news release; scientific contact: Alan E. Olness, ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, Morris, Minn., phone (320) 589-3411, fax (320) 589-3787, email email@example.com.
Science Project Ideas for Kids
Elementary to high school students can visit the web site http://www.nal.usda.gov/ttic/misc/juvag/htm for a list of 140 publications full of ideas for science projects--most related to the agricultural sciences. The site, "Projects and Experiments for Young Scientists, was set up by the Technology Transfer Information Center of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) National Agricultural Library. The publications list hundreds of project ideas on subjects ranging from Christmas tree farming to Samoan fruits and vegetables.
Also for kids ages 8 to 13 is a web site produced by the ARS Information Staff, "Science for Kids:" http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids.
Source: Agricultural Research, May 1999; contact: Kate Hayes, USDA-ARS National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Maryland; 301-504-6875; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mechanism of Cancer Link to Excess Beta Carotene Supplements
Why did high doses of beta carotene supplements apparently increase lung cancer rates in smokers in two large intervention trials a few years ago? A study of ferrets may have found an answer. These animals absorb and metabolize beta carotene much as humans do. In the study, excess beta carotene stored in the ferrets’ lungs became oxidized into byproducts that decreased a tumor suppressor and increased a tumor promoter. The Agricultural Research Service and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the research.
The findings emphasize the advantage of getting important nutrients through foods, rather than supplements.
Several studies have suggested that people who eat abundant fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta carotene and other carotenoids have a lower incidence of cancer, particularly lung cancer. Body cells convert some beta carotene into a vitamin A-like compound, retinoic acid, that may dampen cell division. It is being used to treat skin cancer and leukemia. But the new study suggests that an excess of beta carotene, if exposed to high oxygen levels in lung cells and oxidizing effects of cigarette smoke, could thwart its protective potential.
In tests, some ferrets received beta carotene in amounts proportional to the 30 milligrams per day given in large trials on humans by NIH and researchers in Finland. For six months, one group of ferrets received both the supplements and exposure to cigarette smoke that was equivalent to a person smoking 1 1/2 packs a day. Two other groups got just the supplements or the smoke; a control group got neither. Gene products that promote cell division were highest in the group that got both treatments--three to four times higher than in the control group.
Source: Agricultural Research, May 1999; contacts: Robert Russell and Xiang-Dong Want, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, Boston, Massachusetts; phone Russell at 617-556-3335; Wang at 617-3130; email email@example.com; Wang_CN@hnrc.tufts.edu.
Funds Available for Grassroots Organizations
Does your group need funds to pay postage, print fact sheets, cover phone bills, buy office supplies or retain a trainer to guide organizational development? Is your group problem-solving through organization and community outreach? Are you trying to change a local practice or public policy that’s doing more harm than good? Do you need financial help to continue your work?
The New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) is a small grants program that supports groups working at the grassroots level to solve environmental problems. It makes $500 to $2,500 grants to fund a range of needs, including general organizational support, volunteer and staff training, communication and office equipment or outreach campaigns. It also fosters networking among groups and hosts annual retreats for its grantees.
When your pockets are empty and your morale challenged, contact NEGEF, which takes on the job of assuring you that your work is indeed the engine driving real change in your community and which wants to help. Grants are made three times a year. Application deadlines are Jan. 15, May 1 and Sept. 15; reward notification is eight weeks after deadlines. For more information, contact NEGEF, Cheryl King Fischer, Fund Coordinator, PO Box 1057, Montpelier, VT 05602; Tel. 802-223-4622; Fax 802-229-1734; email firstname.lastname@example.org; website www.grassrootsfund.org.
Chicory Is a Biological Plow and Sponge, All in One
by Don Comis, ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, (301) 504-1625
Chicory, a hardy plant that can survive the sidewalk jungle, may be just the thing for pastoral rigors as well, according to a scientist with the Agricultural Research Service, USDA's chief scientific wing.
With its carrot-like taproot, chicory can plow its way down to great depths through hard, marginal soils--and even cracks in a sidewalk. In a pasture, it relentlessly recycles excess soil nitrogen into protein for livestock before the nitrogen can pollute groundwater. The deep rooting could also explain how chicory stays green and leafy in hot, dry summers--to keep feeding sheep and cattle after most pasture plants have stopped growing. Chicory's nitrogen appetite seems endless. David P. Belesky, ARS agronomist, found that this biological sponge can soak it up even at commercial fertilizer rates as high as 425 pounds an acre.
At the ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center in Beaver, W.Va., Belesky and colleagues have been testing three varieties--Grasslands Puna, Forage Feast and Lacerta--on Appalachian pastures for the past four years. Now they're checking the plant's appetite for nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in composted turkey litter cleaned from turkey houses. This litter could become the preferred fertilizer for pastures in West Virginia, because it is inexpensive and readily available from nearby turkey farms. British United Turkeys of America, a turkey-production firm with breeding operations in southern West Virginia, is helping with the tests.
Belesky and colleagues are testing the chicory in a pasture mix of orchardgrass and white clover. They want to see whether the deep-rooting chicory and orchardgrass can soak up any nitrogen and water missed by the shallow-rooting clover.
For more information, contact: David P. Belesky, ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center, 1224 Airport Rd., Beaver, WV 25813-9423; phone (304) 256-2841, fax (304) 256-2921 .