Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Apples and the Art of Detection by John P. Bunker Jr.
Farming on the Wild Side by Nancy J. Hayden and John P. Hayden
Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science by Carey Gillam
 

Apples and the Art of Detection
Farming on the Wild Side
Whitewash
Many Small Hammers

 


Apples and the Art of Detection
Tracking Down, Identifying and Preserving Rare Apples
By John P. Bunker Jr.
Out on a Limb, 2019
407 pages, large paperback
$30 from http://www.outonalimbapples.com/store, https://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees/ or John Bunker, P.O. Box 12, Palermo, ME 04354

Fruit explorer and pomological preservationist John Bunker’s new book, “Apples and the Art of Detection,” is a fascinating and very personal account of his decades of work tracking down, documenting and preserving heirloom fruit from around Maine and New England. This is part memoir and part how-to guide for aspiring fruit preservationists. Using his search for specific apples to illustrate how he has tracked down some of the rarest apples in the state, Bunker simultaneously educates the reader about everything from apple identification and historical research techniques to fruit propagation and the art of making applesauce.

Using Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes as an interlocutor, Bunker provides insights about the habits of mind and ways of observing that have informed his own journey from homesteading neophyte to a full-on, obsessive fruit detective. The examples he gives are indeed revelatory of what it takes over years by way of a combination of serendipity, determination, collaboration and sheer coincidence to achieve what has been one of the most significant fruit identification and conservation efforts in the country.

This deeply personal account blends his homage to many of the elders and mentors who have inspired him over the years with shout-outs to a wide range of collaborators and fellow travelers who have contributed to the treasure hunt. It documents how dogged and single-minded one needs to be to unlock the mysteries of what the apples are that sit in relict orchards and behind barns all over the state and America. Bunker manages to communicate the precise and systematic approach it takes to discern which of the many lost or unknown apples sits before you on the kitchen table. Nonetheless, throughout the book he is able to convey both the art and the science of identification and pursuing the fruit he identifies as an incalculably important legacy passed down to us by people we never knew.
Bunker’s illustrations and photographic record of his decades of fruit detective work are perfect complements to his exhaustive account in 38 chapters of his escapades. He manages to convey the joy and whimsy of the search for each apple he pursues both visually and in words. This is no mean feat. In fact, the joyous and whimsical aspect of Bunker’s relationship with apples is where the analogy to fruit detective work and the brilliant yet neurotic Sherlock Holmes breaks down. The book reveals that the slow, step-by-step solving of mysteries left as cold cases for decades and centuries takes heart and passion as much as tenacity and obsessive attention; it leaves no doubt that it takes some of both. His illustrations are masterful reductions of information to its essence. Bunker’s riffs on the music of Sun Ra, Jazz technique, and baseball leaven the account and give readers ways of thinking about what they know and how we know things, such as which song that is, so that we can apply that knowledge to apples and life. While the book intends to convey the how-to of fruit exploring and apple identification, it also charts a much more ambitious project of thinking about how we live in the world and why things like old apples matter.

For dedicated fruit enthusiasts, amateur pomologists, homesteaders reflecting on their own path and all of the people who have brought Bunker apples over the years at the Common Ground Country Fair, this book will provide hours of entertainment and food for thought. When following him down the rabbit holes of his career, we are met with lessons about the role of mentors, how to attend carefully to people and the world around us, and the art of living passionately. In that sense it is a great read even for people who somehow have not yet been bitten by the heirloom apple bug. But beware! Bunker’s account is a seductive invitation down the rosy path of fruit exploring.

– Todd Little-Siebold
Ellsworth, Maine

 


Farming on the Wild Side
The Evolution of a Regenerative Organic Farm and Nursery
By Nancy J. Hayden and John P. Hayden
Chelsea Green, 2019
272 pages, paperback; $29.95

In 1992 Nancy and John Hayden moved to a former dairy farm in northern Vermont after Nancy was hired as an environmental engineering faculty member at the University of Vermont. John had been a pest management consultant, extension agent and educator. “Farming on the Wild Side” traces the development of their Vermont farm, The Farm Between, and the increasingly ecological operation that they have cultivated over almost three decades.

That development began with grass-fed livestock and organic vegetable production, followed by a switch to draft-horse-power and perennial fruit production – prompted partly by climate change and, in 2011, Hurricane Irene. To make their farm more ecologically and economically resilient, they started a retail nursery selling fruit trees, berry bushes and conservation plants.

Their book covers their experiences with raising various types of crops (including common and uncommon fruit and nut trees and fruiting shrubs) and livestock (including a rescued potbellied pig); terms and concepts associated with resilient agriculture (agroecology, permaculture, organic, rewilding, etc.); soil building; adapting to climate change (partly through moving to no-till practices, and planting fruit trees instead of tomatoes in a hoophouse); agroforestry and more.

Black currants, one example of the fruits they grow, go to local wineries and breweries, and into their own fruit syrups, jams and other value-added products. Elderberries are another specialty crop for The Farm Between – although spotted wing drosophila (SWD), a fruit fly, now causes elderberries to drop before the whole panicle is ripe, so the Haydens focus more now on harvesting and selling elderberry flowers. They also pick elderberries every few days to try to keep ahead of the fruit flies; and they focus on varieties that produce before the fruit fly buildup or after cool fall weather knocks down SWD populations.

The Haydens discuss converting a 14-acre pasture into a pollinator sanctuary, full of milkweed, goldenrod and asters, and with a willow labyrinth. A chapter on rethinking pests and invasive species is fascinating, as is the following chapter on native bees and honeybees.

Their experiences with agritourism and with their farm name (they were able to change crops without having to change the farm name) can inform new farmers. Changes they’ve made as they’ve aged and tried to make a reasonable life and living from the farm can inform new and experienced farmers. Everyone can benefit from reading their thoughts about the disadvantages of “biggering.” As they say, “We encourage all farmers, homesteaders, and home gardeners to stay flexible, resilient, and to persevere. We need more small farms and gardeners in this world, not fewer.”

They note the importance of having enjoyable off-farm jobs to support the family farm – to pay the mortgage, have health insurance, pay kids’ college tuition and take vacations. Nancy had her research and teaching; John had coaching (lacross), teaching and consulting. They mention “edgrowth” – the philosophy and political, economic and social movement that encourages downscaling of production and consumption.

This thoughtful book can benefit new and experienced farmers, gardeners and homesteaders.

– Jean English

 


Whitewash
The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science
By Carey Gillam
Island Press, 2017
320 pages, paperback, $23

Erin Brockovich wrote the cover blurb for this book: “Whitewash reads like a mystery novel as Gillam skillfully uncovers Monsanto’s secretive strategies.” That sums up Gillam’s expert and fascinating reporting on Monsanto’s development of the herbicide Roundup (with the active ingredient glyphosate), its subsequent development of Roundup-Ready (herbicide resistant) crops – a codependency that was convenient when Monsanto’s patent on Roundup ran out – and all of the attendant problems with that whole system.

Gillam begins and ends her book with the story of Jack McCall, who died in 2015 at age 69 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The California farmer shunned pesticide use on his farm, writes Gillam, but he did use Roundup, marketed as having extremely low toxicity. McCall’s widow, Teri, is now among more than 11,000 people who have brought wrongful death lawsuits against Monsanto since the International Agency for Research on Cancer said that its review of many scientific studies showed a positive association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Gillam discusses many other farmers and landscapers who used Roundup extensively and developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Even the McCalls’ 6-year-old dog died of lymphoma.

Gillam traces the history of glyphosate to the ‘50s, when Swiss chemist Henri Martin discovered the chemical while looking for a drug. Its mineral-chelating property was discovered later, as was its ability to disrupt an enzyme needed by plants (hence its herbicidal property) and microorganisms.

By the 1980s, EPA scientists had noted links between glyphosate and cancer – but their warnings were overcome by pressure from Monsanto, along with the EPA’s dependence on industry studies (some based on data from fraudulent labs) rather than independent, peer-reviewed studies. Most studies looked at glyphosate effects alone, rather than glyphosate combined with the not-so-inert inert ingredients in weedkilling products.

Farmers now grow herbicide-tolerant corn, soy, cotton, canola, alfalfa and sugar beets. The herbicide is also used to dry down grain crops, including oats, just before harvest, and it’s used between rows of crops such as oranges and almonds – not to mention its widespread use in landscaping. To accommodate all of the uses in food crops, Monsanto asked for and received greater tolerance levels on crops – yet the FDA does barely any residue testing for the potential carcinogen. Gillam covers the consequences of those actions and inactions, including the widespread contamination of air, water, soil, food, drinks and even mothers’ breast milk with glyphosate; and the potential effects of residues in humans on  genes, cells and organs.

She tells of academics – “people employed by taxpayer-funded institutions” – who worked with and were paid by Monsanto to put a positive spin on genetically engineered crops and Roundup, often without revealing their association with the company – and the blacklisting, threatening and even, reportedly, attacking of scientists who dared publicize their findings about problems associated with these products. Gillam herself has been attacked, with one taxpayer-funded scientist calling her a “hideous human” and “disgusting.”

“Whitewash” covers “a poisoned paradise” – Hawaii, where, given its great climate for crop growth, big agricultural companies have established research and production farms that have rendered some of the land “one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.” It covers the 90 percent increased use of pesticides, including a 185 percent increased use of Roundup, in Argentina as the country adopted genetically engineered crops – and the simultaneous increase in health problems, including miscarriages, birth defects and cancers. It reports on glyphosate applications in Colombia to kill opium poppies and coca crops. All of this was promoted by U.S. taxpayer-funded diplomats pushing the herbicide for Monsanto.

Gillam relates the more precautionary regulatory environment in Europe. Despite that, all members of the European Parliament who had their urine tested for glyphosate tested positive.

She also covers the effects of glyphosate on monarch butterflies and other nontarget organisms, on soil erosion, on creation of herbicide-resistant weeds (“superweeds”) and the subsequent use of other, more-toxic herbicides on soil microbes and plant diseases, the false claim that genetically engineered crops are needed to feed the world, and more.

As Gillam says in her book and said during her keynote speech at MOFGA’s 2019 Common Ground Country Fair, these are not fun facts. In her final chapter, “Seeking Solutions,” she discusses potential alternatives such as biopesticides and biostimulants, use of cover crops and crop rotations, encouraging diverse native plants around crop fields, shifting subsidies and research funding from agro-industrial monoculture to small farm agroecological methods, and, perhaps most critically, she says, reforming our regulatory system so that the EPA uses independent science to evaluate products, tests combinations of products and cumulative effects of pesticides, tests for endocrine disruption, tracks pesticide residues, and is guided by the precautionary principle.

Gillam ends her book with an epilogue about Teri McCall’s experiences with breast cancer after her husband died, and her son’s tribute to Jack McCall at his memorial, which will bring tears to your eyes.

“Whitewash” won The Rachel Carson Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists, an Outstanding Book of the Year award from the Independent Publishers Book Awards, and took top honors in the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Awards. It should have a place of honor on all bookshelves and on high school and college reading lists because, as the final three lines of the book say, “The evidence is overwhelming that our regulators are not protecting our interests. We must educate ourselves, help inform our neighbors, and engage in the search for solutions. Our children are depending on us.”

– Jean English

 

Resource

Many Small Hammers
Practices and Resources for Northwest Growers

Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides
June 2019
Free download

The concept of using “many small hammers” to effectively address pest management problems – rather than the “big hammer” of a pesticide – is an approach grounded in a view of the farm as a living, diverse and dynamic system. This report provides an overview of several of these “small hammers” for growers who wish to implement alternative methods for pest management.

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