America has the finest high-tech medical care in the world. If a person is in an accident, the emergency care is exemplary. We also have dedicated, energetic scientists working hard to develop new treatments every day.
I think one area we have not fully accessed is nature and indigenous knowledge. There is still a place for science within this realm, working in harmony with the natural world and people who live in close communion with it to learn from them how we too can do so more gracefully. Preventative health care begins with focusing on sustainable agriculture. This will also help stabilize the climate and prevent war, as hungry people are more belligerent. If you think I am joking, try fasting and working at the same time, and see how long you last.
Traditional crossbreeding of plants is safer and wiser than genetic engineering. Researching and testing the most reliable healing plants and fruits in each region of the earth provides a fertile field for academic and commercial institutions. If we try to leave nature behind, we will not get far, as evidenced by our current state of crisis.
For example, blackberries are incredibly healthy. They grow wild all over the Pacific Northwest of the United States. There is a wonderful blackberry breeding program at Oregon State University that has developed a number of delicious (thornless even!) blackberry varieties. If everyone in this region had a blackberry bush or free blackberries available, many health concerns could be assuaged. Daily berries (in season) really do make a difference in health. Blueberries could be cultivated freely throughout the Northeast. Mangos, avocados, and peaches can be grown in the warmer regions of the country. People’s health is in part determined by the quality of their food and drink. Organic farming will restore the land.
Before you protest and say this will never happen—asserting that we have public space set aside for nature and parks, but only planted with ornamentals—get a load of what the city of Seattle is doing!
In the neighborhood of Beacon Hill a seven acre plot is being planted with grapes, apples, raspberries, blueberries, pears, plums, pineapple, guava, persimmons, and other fruit trees, as well as herbs, chestnuts, and walnuts! It is called the Beacon Food Forest, and was designed in 2009 by students in a permaculture class. beaconfoodforest.weebly.com
The trial plot of two acres is being planted this summer, with the remaining five acres to be completed at a later date. This will be a true, sustainable food bank! Here is a video showing the first plantings:
The founding members of the project hope to educate the community of the benefits of permaculture through the site. Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect, states, “This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park!”
Jenny Pell, permaculturist, explains, “People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season then it means we’re successful.”
Local residents have been enthusiastically pitching in and signing up with comments like, “Put me to work – I can’t wait to get my hands dirty,” and, “Let me know when I can show up with my wheelbarrow.” Help with propagating, mulching, and pruning is welcomed. “People will come in and for example help cut the raspberries back and then be able to take home five or ten raspberry plants to put in their own backyard!” proclaims Pell.
“When we met with all the different people from the community, what they wanted actually was fruits and berries and big nut trees- that was their biggest request. So, we’re looking at paths with berry bushes on both sides, and we’re going to have mixed fruit orchards, and big nut orchards. It will be the largest food forest on public lands in the United States.”
A couple of other folks worldwide have been at the forefront of this movement to get free produce to everyone while reforesting the earth. Kenya’s Queen of the Trees Professor Wangari Maathai inspired the planting of 47 million trees in Kenya and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Her vision of environmental stewardship rather than plunder of natural resources (which has been the accepted norm) has inspired many people. She especially encouraged women to plant trees, beginning the www.Greenbeltmovement.org in 1977.
When she started her work, Professor Maathai saw that “behind the everyday hardships of the poor—environmental degradation, deforestation, and food insecurity—were deeper issues of disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and a loss of the traditional values that had previously enabled communities to protect their environment, work together for mutual benefit, and to do both selflessly and honestly.”
Simply put, Professor Maathai said, “If you destroy the forest then the river will stop flowing, the rains will become irregular, the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation… We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.”
Anthony Anderson of www.growparadise.com states, “When we realize that we can quite easily and quickly begin to grow paradise right where we live, our power returns to us! Growing paradise requires nothing but the spirit of love and growth within us. We invite you to become a part of this, whether directly or by spreading the ideas and growing paradise in your own backyard and local community. Grow paradise. It is ours if we really want it.” He has seeded food forests in Minnesota, California, Arizona, and Cape Town, South Africa.
David Wolfe started the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation www.ftpf.org, which is a nonprofit charity dedicated to planting 18 billion organic fruit trees to “benefit the environment and all its inhabitants!”
“We envision a place where one can have a summer picnic under the shade of a fruit tree, breathe the clean air it generates, and not have to bring anything other than an appetite for the healthy fruits growing overhead. A world where one can take a walk in the park during a lunch break, pick and eat a variety of delicious fruits, plant the seeds so others can eventually do the same and provide an alternative to buying environmentally-destructive, illness-causing, chemically-laden products.”
A pioneer in community agriculture, Farmer John of www.angelicorganics.com states, “Agriculture is an underpinning of our culture. The irrepressibility of life on a farm continually manifests in myriad splendid expressions of life. This glorious unfolding provides us with the sustenance of food, while endlessly nourishing the creative spirit.”
I am very grateful for the amazing hospitals and health care workers we have in this country. They are overburdened, however, because of a lack of preventative and conservational care. With a focus on collective, populist, sustainable agriculture to grow healthy food and medicine for all, chronic disease will diminish, as much chronic degenerative disease is caused by diet and stress related to survival. Food is our first primary need. A plant-based diet is advocated as a foundation for health by leading physicians like Dr. Oz, Dr. Weil, Dr. Chopra, and Dr. Mcdougall.
Combining the skills of doctors, nurses, herbalists, midwives, doulas, shamans, gardeners, farmers, artists and other healers in the community, medicine can evolve beyond a solely symptoms-oriented approach to exploring the source, the roots of imbalance and disease. To do this we must look for help toward our origin and our sustenance – the earth.
For those interested in getting closer to the earth in the LA area and visiting the local farms, go to www.pickyourown.org/CAla.htm.
By Ashley H.
1. Blazing a Trail for a Better Bounty of Oregon Berries. (2011, July 26). Retrieved from www.oregonlive.com.
2. Seattle Food Forest. (2012, March 9). Retrieved from www.loe.org.
3. Husted, K. (2012, March 1). Seattle’s First Urban Food Forest will be Open to Foragers. Retrieved from www.npr.org.
4. Leschin-Hoar, B. C. (1, February 2012). It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’s First Food Forest . Retrieved from www.takepart.com.
I pruned back an overgrown bush in my back yard last fall and now the soil around it is covered in dandelions and other weeds. Is there any way to get rid of these weeds without resorting to RoundUp and other chemical herbicides? — Max S., Seattle, WA
Weeds are nothing if not opportunistic. While you may not have bargained for getting one form of eyesore (weeds) by clearing another (an overgrown bush), dandelions and other fast-growing, quickly spreading plants know no bounds when some new territory opens up. They will colonize and spread out given the slightest opening-after all, thats what defines them as weeds.
Of course, conventional herbicides such as Monsantos RoundUp will take down the weeds in a jiffy, but the negative effects on people, animals and the environment may be both profound and long-lasting. Independent studies of RoundUp have implicated its primary ingredient, glyphosphate, as well as some of its “inert” ingredients, in liver damage, reproductive disorders and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, as well as in cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nerve and respiratory damage.
Californias Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that, year after year, RoundUp is the number one cause of pesticide/herbicide-induced illness and injury around that state. RoundUp is also blamed for poisoning groundwater across the U.S. and beyond, as well as for contributing to a 70 percent decrease in amphibian biodiversity and a 90 percent decrease in tadpole numbers in regions where it is used heavily.
Given that youll have to manually remove dead weeds from your yard after applying RoundUp (or any other “post-emergent” herbicide), why not just pull them up by hand in the first place? No doubt, the most eco-friendly way to get rid of weeds is to yank them out without the aid of poisons. Unfortunately, many weeds have long deep roots which need to be pulled completely if you dont want them to grow back; if need be, use a metal weed puller with a hooked end or a mechanical grabber-available at any local garden supply or hardware store-if you dont want to have to pull those very same weeds next year.
Garden expert Dean Novosat of the Garden Doctor website suggests giving the weed beds a good watering the night before you pull weeds. “…the soil will be softened and will yield the entire weed plant, root and all,” he says. Another way to kill weeds, he says, is by pouring boiling hot water over them.
Of course, once youve killed or pulled up all those weeds-and make sure youre thorough or else its waste of time-youll want to make sure new ones dont start showing up in their place. Planting some regionally appropriate and ideally native plants in place of the removed weeds would be a good first step-check with a local nursery about what some good choices might be for your neck of the woods.
Once the area is cleared (and replanted), cover it with three to six inches of mulch. Mulch forms a barrier between the soil and the sun, depriving any new germinating weeds of the sunlight they need to photosynthesize. Mulch is composed of large chunky material such as wood chips and bark nuggets, and works well for weed control also because it is low in nutrients and thus wont fertilize plant starts below.
SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; email@example.com.
Plastic water bottles = bad news. I am a total culprit here. I LOVE having water bottles nearby, and in large amounts. I was that lady at the grocery store buying 36 packs of water bottles every couple of weeks. I thought it was a great thing because I was drinking all that water instead of soda or juice. I am kind of a water snob, also.
Reason and emotion, mind and heart, are the regulators of the bodys response to whole food medicine. It has been demonstrated millions of times and for thousands of years that whole food diets, colonics, mono diets and fasting restore disturbances in metabolism, the immune system, respiratory function and mental outlook.
As I understand it, hair salons are pretty toxic enterprises on many counts. Are there any efforts underway to green up that industry? — Paula Howe, San Francisco, CA
Hair salons have long been criticized for the pollution they generate. Traditional hair dyes and many shampoos contain harmful synthetic chemicals that are routinely used on customers scalps-and then washed down the drain where they can accumulate in waterways, soils and even our bloodstreams.
While there doesnt appear to be an industry-wide, coordinated effort to green up these operations, green-friendly salons are popping up all across the country, leading the charge by taking matters into their own hands. A simple Google search for “green hair salons” followed by your two-letter state abbreviation may well turn up one or several within driving distance.
Not surprisingly, Southern California seems to be ground zero for the green hair salon movement. For example, Beverly Hills Shades Hair Studio prides itself on its chemical-free atmosphere. Spurred on by her own health problems related to working with conventional hair dyes, owner Susan Henry-so-called “colorist to the stars”-first created her own line of natural hair colors that contain no harmful ammonia, and then transformed her Shades salon into a model for environmentally friendly hair care.
Across town, Noris EcoSalon in Encino is making waves in the industry for its non-toxic permanent hair color treatments and 100 percent botanical henna using home-grown formulations. To boot, Noris interior features energy efficient lighting, recycled denim insulation, low-VOC paints on the walls and sustainably sourced bamboo on the floors, along with a number of other green touches to keep indoor air quality high. And up the coast, San Franciscos Descend Salon goes to similar lengths, and then steps it up a notch by recycling its hair clippings for use in absorbent mats used in oil spill clean-up efforts.
Not just for California anymore, eco-friendly hair salons occupy just about every major North American city, many operating in the same spirit as Shades, Noris and Descend in making use of non-toxic and/or organic ingredients while greening indoor surroundings for an overall healthy experience. Then theres the granddaddy of them all, Aveda, which in addition to operating some 200 of its own spas, supplies natural hair care and personal care products to 7,000 professional hair salons and spas in 29 countries.
Another way to get a greener hair treatment is to search on the websites of green hair care product makers such as EcoColors, Aveda, Modern Organic Products or Innersense for salons that use their products.
Of course, if none of the salons in your area have gone green, take it upon yourself to encourage them to make the transition. You can start by showing them this article and suggesting they begin to carry some all-natural products, perhaps by first contacting companies like EcoColors, Aveda, Modern Organic Products or Innersense to see whats out there that they could easily transtion to.
CONTACTS: Shades, www.shadesnaturalcolor.com; Noris EcoSalon, www.norisecosalon.com; Descend salon, www.descendalon.com; EcoColors, www.ecocolors.net; Aveda, www.aveda.com; Modern Organic Products, Innersense, www.innersensebeauty.com.
SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What effects do fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used on residential lawns or on farms have on nearby water bodies like rivers, streams-or even the ocean for those of us who live near the shore? — Linda Reddington, Manahawkin, NJ
With the advent of the so-called Green Revolution in the second half of the 20th century-when farmers began to use technological advances to boost yields-synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides became commonplace around the world not only on farms, but in backyard gardens and on front lawns as well.
These chemicals, many of which were developed in the lab and are petroleum-based, have allowed farmers and gardeners of every stripe to exercise greater control over the plants they want to grow by enriching the immediate environment and warding off pests. But such benefits havent come without environmental costs-namely the wholesale pollution of most of our streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and even coastal areas, as these synthetic chemicals run-off into the nearby waterways.
When the excess nutrients from all the fertilizer we use runs off into our waterways, they cause algae blooms sometimes big enough to make waterways impassable. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water. Fish and other aquatic species cant survive in these so-called “dead zones” and so they die or move on to greener underwater pastures.
A related issue is the poisoning of aquatic life. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Americans alone churn through 75 million pounds of pesticides each year to keep the bugs off their peapods and petunias. When those chemicals get into waterways, fish ingest them and become diseased. Humans who eat diseased fish can themselves become ill, completing the circle wrought by pollution.
A 2007 study of pollution in rivers around Portland, Oregon found that wild salmon there are swimming around with dozens of synthetic chemicals in their systems. Another recent study from Indiana found that a variety of corn genetically engineered to produce the insecticide Bt is having toxic effects on non-target aquatic insects, including caddis flies, a major food source for fish and frogs.
The solution, of course, is to go organic, both at home and on the farm. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic farmers and gardeners use composted manure and other natural materials, as well as crop rotation, to help improve soil fertility, rather than synthetic fertilizers that can result in an overabundance of nutrients. As a result, these practices protect ground water supplies and avoid runoff of chemicals that can cause dead zones and poisoned aquatic life.
There is now a large variety of organic fertilizer available commercially, as well as many ways to keep pests at bay without resorting to harsh synthetic chemicals. A wealth of information on growing greener can be found online: Check out OrganicGardeningGuru.com and the U.S. Department of Agricultures Alternative Farming System Information Center, for starters. Those interested in face-to-face advice should consult with a master gardener at a local nursery that specializes in organic gardening.
“Like the resource it seeks to protect, wildlife conservation must be dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective.” –Rachel Carson, Silent Spring