Friday, April 30, 2010

BP: "...very responsive and responsible spillers"

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry marshaled the Coast Guard, the federal on-scene coordinator of the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast, and said, “BP, from Day 1, has attempted to be a very responsive and very responsible spiller.”

A week later and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls it  “a spill of national significance” and creates command posts in Louisiana and Mobile to manage the impact along Alabama, Mississippi and Florida coastlines.

The US Air Force sends two C-130 planes to Mississippi to await orders to spray chemicals on the spill.

The US Navy marshals more than 1,000 people, scores of vessels and aircraft, plus 50 contractors, 7 skimming systems, and 66,000 feet of inflatable containment boom.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana declares a state of emergency and requests the participation of the National Guard.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar orders an immediate review of the 30 offshore drilling rigs and 47 production platforms operating in the deepwater Gulf, and plans to send teams to conduct on-site inspections.

The White House's senior advisor David Axelrod and Good Morning American announce no new offshore drilling until there is an “adequate review...No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here.”

BP, meanwhile, markets its business: “Beyond petroleum ...sums up our brand in the most succinct and focused way possible. It’s both what we stand for and a practical description of what we do: take concrete actions to push traditional boundaries and meet the challenges of our time in a sustainable way.”

Don't forget that, amid the spreading disaster and unctuous officials, 11 people are still missing, presumed dead – and that BP said the spill would amount to about 1,000 barrels a day, then upped that amount to 5,000 barrels ( that is, more than 200,000 gallons) a day.

Soon we will learn the spill and its effects are far larger than stated ...then we'll learn the monetary costs of the clean...and it will be accepted that We, the people, will foot the financial and  environmental bill.
And, thanks to Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, BP can add another phrase to their brand message: “we are a very responsive and responsible spiller.”

This picture illustrates one good reason to keep the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, and the nuke in the juke.
 Horizon Deepwater Blowout (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Welcome to Ohlone Territory - The Second Event of a Four Year Ceremonial Cycle

Few who live in the San Francisco Bay region know that more than 10,000 people from at least nine Ohlone tribes once flourished here. Or that they are applying for tribal recognition. Or that the largest living Ohlone tribe, with 2,000 members, migrated from Mission Dolores in 1834 and now lives in Pomona California. This tribe, the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel, supports a thriving Ohlone cultural life including a song and dance group and weekly sweat lodge healing ceremonies.
Very few public schools teach much, if anything, these days about the history of the bay's original inhabitants nor do they mention that descendants of these people continue to live, go to school, hold down jobs, and celebrate their heritage in many local communities...or why this story is ignored. Truth is, the actual story is one that can't be shared with small children – or the squeamish. It involves murder, mayhem, and massacres; not the sort of thing a “dominant culture” wants to confront full-on.

Welcome to Ohlone Territory was the second event of the four year ceremonial cycle that began April 15 and, along with the grand opening of the 100 percent off-the-grid Eco-Center, included a ceremony for healing the land at Heron's Head Park in the Bay View Hunter's Point district. In the future, site partner, Arc Ecology, will present a series of classes about the Ohlone ecology that shaped the Franciscan habitat for 10,000 years.

The history of this area is rich and complex. It includes a Department of the Navy shipyard that is now a Superfund site slowly being turned over The City for development. California Senate Bill 18 of 2005 stipulates that Ohlone tribal members whose names are listed with the Native American Heritage Commission are to be included in planning development of Hunters Point Shipyard. Yet, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors amended their General Plan in 2006 to allow for this development no Ohlone representative was contacted. This, despite the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) stating that there are at least four, and probably five, Ohlone village sites within the development boundaries and another 16 within one-quarter mile.

Ann Marie Sayers is Tribal Chair of Costanoan Indian Canyon and the only Ohlone that has succeeded in obtaining title to her ancestors’ land. She said, “The sites affected by the development are extremely significant and are believed to be burial or ceremonial sites. In addition to protecting these sites, we also want to work with the local community to protect their health, the land and the fragile Bay marine environment.”

For some Ohlone attending the event this is the first time they have ever been on this small piece of land that juts into the bay. It is significant that, when those building the sweat lodge prepared to dig the earth to make the pit and to use that earth as an alter the groundsman was reluctant. He suggested the layer of clay with which the Navy capped its toxic contaminants may be breached. That the pit is six inches deep says much about how land has been remediated here...and how little protection there is for the health of humans and other creatures when development beckons. Although the Ohlone builders choose to go ahead with the sweat lodge, this incident encapsulates Ohlone concern: the fragmentation of our Earth, the contamination of what remains, and how to restore balance to the land and it's First People.

Thursday, April 15
The first night of the event begins with fire, fresh air, sea water, and a small group of people descended from those assumed by popular culture to have disappeared long ago.

Daniel and Russel, both Rumsen, drove together to Heron's Head from Santa Cruz. Sixteen minutes before sundown Daniel stopped his van at the entrance to the park. He laughed ruefully through the window and told co-organizer Neil Maclean waiting at the gate, “We made it! I wasn't sure we would when we were stuck in traffic an hour ago. ”
Their van is packed to the gills with gear for the next three days. Right now, though, it is sundown and Daniel must hurry to light the fire that will burn continuously until Sunday. 

Later, a small group sits around the fire on the spit that is the last remaining mud flat on the San Francisco side of the bay.  Daniel faces each of the four directions as he sings and his voice and those of his companions accompany the beat of his drum then swirl with the wind into the dark. Across the narrow estuary of Lash Lighter Basin, seagull chatter almost drowns out the hum of fork lifts in The City's successful Pier 94 recycling center.
It is appropriate that such elements come together in this way on this first night: a piece of land with spectacular views reclaimed for the local community from the Navy, a recycling center that diverts useable consumer goods from waste dumps, a solar generated Eco-Center, and people fired up for another,  more natural, more inclusive way of being.

Daniel tells the Rumsen Ohlone creation story:
An Ohlone man sits on the beach and watches the tide rise. All day long he'd had the feeling that something was different about this day, that something big was going to happen. An object floated toward him and he suspected this might be it. When it was close enough, he saw a feather and reached for it. He fell back as a huge eagle, symbol of his people, rose out of the water, spread its wings, and towered over him. Then the eagle handed him a small hummingbird and told him to take it as his wife. Dumbfounded,the man asked, “How can I take such a small creature as a wife?” 
The eagle said, “Find a flea or a tick on your body and give it to the hummingbird to eat.”
The man did so and, when the hummingbird ate, she turned into a beautiful woman whom he took as his wife. Their children began the Rumsen tribe.

A wise woman once said, “Our new world is already germinating in the shell of the old. When the dying shell falls away, we will see fresh green shoots....”
What she did not say was that seeds are passed down  from the very old world too...What if indigenous renewal is the harbinger of new directions rooted in ancient traditions?

Friday April 17
After dinner a group gathers near the fire within which bake, since sundown yesterday, twenty four lava rocks about the size of cantaloupes. They will glisten red hot when they are removed and placed in the sweat lodge pit.
Willow saplings, bent and shaped into a half circle, form the sweat lodge; the circle completes under the earth. Three layers of heavy cloth lie over the wood frame and are held down with rocks at the base. Heavy fabric covers the entry way.
Upon the altar rests a package of tobacco, sage, two antlers to maneuver the hot rocks in the lodge, and a bear skull.
There is a symmetry to the alignment here: the lodge entrance, the pit, the altar, the fire, and the open space beyond face east. This sacred area is restricted to the fire-keeper and ceremony leaders. Anyone who needs to traverse the area must do so in a clock-wise fashion, no one but the fire keeper can cross the sacred zone between the altar and the fire, the view to the east space must remain open.

Tony Cerda, the Rumsen chief, welcomes the group, conducts the sweat lodge ceremony and leads the praise singing then each participant says a few words, throws tobacco into the flames, and passes, clockwise, around the fire.
This is not a stilted or authoritarian ceremony; an easy camaraderie flows within the rituals, no one grandstands. A large fluffy dog and his owner walk along the spit and the dog bounds into the ssacred area; it is welcome as a spirit visitor.
More people arrive after dinner. Iron Woman – her name is melodic in her native tongue – talks about her evolution toward the Sun Dance... and her participation in 16 of these grueling events that include
fasting, dancing, singing and drumming, and experiencing visions; often the dances culminate in hanging from skin pierced on the dancer's chest. Other Sun Dances join in sharing memories of their experiences. Steve recites his epic poem about Sun Dancing that includes the line, “if I did not dance I would be in jail or dead by now.” Overcome with Steve's words, Iron Woman sobs. Then she talks about being a mother watching her son dance: “it is difficult for us mothers to see our sons and know what they are going through.”
Steve invites those who will enter the sweat lodge to prepare. Tony leads the prayer and sings. Before participants enter the lodge each is smudged with sage – back and front, and under feet – then she or he bends and crawls into the dark dome. 
Two men rake a stone out of the fire, dust ash from it so that it does not contaminate the air within the lodge, and pass it to Steve inside who maneuvers it with antlers into the pit. With six stones placed, a splash of water over the rocks creates steam and the entry way is closed. Voices murmur within followed by singing.

...Other Voices
Michael and Cynthia drove here from Los Angeles. Michael is Rumsen Ohlone, Cynthia is from a Plains Indian tribe. Michael says, “Cynthia is my “wing man” which means she helps me when things get tough. I learn from Tony too, especially about patience. Yesterday, for example, we were supposed to practice drumming for this event. But one man arrived at our home high and drunk. He fell in the bathroom and threw up there; it was a mess. Children were watching this and I was so angry I wanted to throw him out. Instead, Tony talked very gently with this man and showed him so much compassion that I calmed down too. Now I feel I can manage my anger and experience it differently.”
Cynthia explains Michael's wing man reference. “The bear and eagle team up in the Bear Dance that replicates the bear awakening from hibernation in the spring or preparing for hibernation in the fall. The eagle, or wing man, uses its wing to clear dark or negative energy that the bear may accumulate during the dance. The eagle lightly brushes the bear with its wing then flies that energy away and releases it back to the mineral world.”

Henry is sixteen, the youngest of a family of four children; his father died when Henry was ten. The young man gives the impression that he is too shy to talk but he opens up readily when approached. He learned from fasting and a vision quest that he is a bear and, tomorrow night, he will participate in the Bear Dance. AJ is about the same age as Henry and, as an eagle, will be Henry's wing man during the dance. Tonight AJ is the fire-keeper and ensures the fire burns well and hot. Later, when AJ joins the group in the sweat lodge another young man takes over the fire-keeper's duties.

David is Anglo and learns from Native Americans and others about how to honor our Earth. He describes the sequence of ceremonial events in a manner peculiar to his culture – as a linear process with set, measurable steps – yet corrects himself now and again with a brief nod to cultural difference: “Each group honors Mother Earth slightly differently... I'm not sure how this group will conduct its ceremonies...let's see how things develop....”

Saturday April 17
The mood around the fire in the late afternoon is easy. After the ceremonial circle to welcome guests breaks up, Tony shares a joke.
A snail describes to a judge a collision he witnessed between two tortoises. “I could see the two tortoises were on a collision course as they came down the path. They couldn't see one another but I could see  a head-on in the making...”
The judge asks, “And what happened?”
The snail replies, “I don't know. It happened too fast!”

As more people arrive and cluster around the lodge, the earlier small group intimacy gives way to an air of anticipation: the evening's community sweat followed by the dancers'-only sweat, singing, Acorn and Bear Dancing; after the dance the bears will sweat once more before the lodge is dismantled. 

The dancing takes place  in a location some distance from the sweat lodge and delineated by a circle of trimmed grass edged with four flags. Burning logs carried in a brazier from the lodge fire wait in the center of the circle while the dancers prepare. Observes and supporters stand in a circle chanting to the beat of a slow drum while paint is applied to the dancers: black and white streaks on back and chest, arms, chin, and cheeks.
Then a line of singing dancers enters the dance arena at the eastern entryway and spirals around the fire. After several Acorn Dances honoring the tribe's women, Tony invites everyone to join the dance and Steve describes the moves. The circle expands to include all participants then shrinks and grows, shrinks and grows as it weaves in and out and upon itself.
Meanwhile, beyond the dance zone, two Bears prepare: a stretch of a foreleg here, the tying of a ribbon there to ensure the bear head does not move during the dance, a shared joke followed by low laughter.
Then the Acorn Dance is over and four men takes turns around the fire to prepare the space for the bears: each presents a prayer and a handful of sage into the fire. Finally, groaning and roaring, the bears shuffle in and circle to the beat of the drum. Dim firelight plays over fur, deep black, brown, and gold.
Here we are, in the dark, on a spit of reclaimed land around which birds call and a cool wind penetrates jackets while damp ground works its way through boots and shoes. Out there, on the hillside that is Bay View Hunter's Point, behind the defunct power station put out of business by local community pressure, occasional gunshots ring out and echo over the inlets. The bears dance on and on...

Sunday April 18
The lodge is gone. The circle of cantaloupe stones, cold now, stacks in the exposed fire pit. An empty turquoise pack of tobacco lies on the altar in front of the once proud fire. Wind from the east wafts smoke into the faces of those on the western arc of the circle of people around the dying fire that has not been fed since last night's final sweat ceremony. Each person in turn says a few words of thanks; some simply say, “To my ancestors.” One woman expresses her feelings of deep pride and gratefulness that so many young people participate in these ceremonies: “This truly honors our ancestors and gives hope for our Ohlone future.”
The circle breaks. Someone says, “Show time, dancers!”
Those who will perform the public dance at the grand opening of Eco-Center – they already wear ceremonial dress – slowly walk to that venue. Those who remain pack their gear, chat quietly, or say their goodbyes.

Soon the area is empty of people. What remains are a series of circles: green grass defines the area covered by the sweat lodge, brown grass surrounds it, trampled down by the days' activities; the circular pit with a pyramid of stones; the empty altar in front of the fire, another circle created by  celebrants walking, clockwise, around it. The open space beyond is clear and sunny. Birds wheel overhead or forage at the shore.

EcoCenter opens
A long line of visitors waits to tour the interior of EcoCenter, learn about the water use and storage system – only rainwater collected into huge metal tanks is used here – and climb the temporary ladder up to the roof to view the native plant sod roof and admire the view.

Tony Cerda leads a series of Acorn Dances for the public opening of the EcoCenter. Participants and observers that attended last night's Bear Dance might feel exposed in the bright morning sunshine. At the same time, the subtle nuances of the dances can't be missed as are in the enveloping dark. One dancer twitches his feathers as he backs into the circle then swings around to face the center, the angle of another dancer's head and shoulders, so birdlike, brings tears to the eyes. There is gusto and verve to the dances even as some young women dancers project an air of shyness, perhaps even reluctance.

Chief Tony Cerda ends the session with a loud call to recognize this tradition: “When someone tells you that there are no Ohlone left, you tell them not only do they live but that you saw then dance here today!”

Portland Depaves... more GMO .... poetry in Basra

In Portland, hundreds of Oregonians removed pavement and plan to replace it with urban farms, trees, and native vegetation.
Sign the Letter to Keep GMO out of Food - Food Democracy Now

May 3 is another hurdle in keeping GMO our of food. We face the latest assault on our food, or at least on our ability to know what is in our food, and look at how food standards are decided.

Poets Jack Hirschman and Agnetta Falk recently returned from Basra, Iraq where they met and mingled with Iraqi poets and poets from all over the world...all there to share in the creative world of poetry.
Listen to Raising Sand Radio show.... (high bandwidth version - takes a while to download...or cut/paste this link for a low bandwidth version - downloads faster....)

The Green Mayor has Toxic Sludge on his Hands

Gavin Newsom's reputation as “the green mayor” is going down the drain, contaminated by the toxic sludge on his hands.
With Mayor Newsom's blessing, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission distributed 80 tons of “organic biosolid compost” to city residents, community gardens, and the Parks and Recreation Department in 2007.
On May 17, 2008 it conducted its third Great Compost Giveaway – “5 gallons for every green thumb!” – claiming that “all food scraps, garden clippings, and soiled paper that residents have been piling into green bins had been transformed into rich, soil-enhancing compost that is perfect for landscapes and containers.” One trusting resident commenting on the Giveaway's website writes, “I made out like a bandit last year! Garden looks great because of it. When is this year's Great Compost Giveaway?”
Problem is, this substance is not organic! Moreover, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) regulations strictly forbid the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer or soil amendment, no matter if composted or otherwise treated.

John Stauber is author of Toxic Sludge is Good for You and an advisory board member to Organic Consumers Association (OCA). He says, “In the mind of the public “organic” represents the highest standard of integrity, purity, and healthfulness.” 
But the EPA's  January 2009  “Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey” found San Francisco's sludge contains heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, PCBs, flame retardants, and endocrine disruptors.
Stauber adds, “That the sewage industry and the SFPUC misuses the word “organic” destroys ordinary peoples' trust and credibility. It is the same sort of public relations spin that hoodwinks farmers around the country.”
While writing his book, Stauber heard from a worried Water Environment Federation spokeswoman. “We don't call it sludge anymore,” she said. “What's more, it is no longer toxic. It is now a natural organic compost we call 'biosolids'. We work with the EPA and major public relations firms to give biosolids away free to farmers. Your book title will scare them.”
Indeed, the sewage sludge industry had held a contest in the early 1990s to rename sewage sludge; the term “organic biosolid compost” won and has been used ever since. Had the SFPUC called this substance what it is, treated sewage, no one would show up for even a sniff-test. “SFPUC engaged in fraudulent deception and OCA is fighting to ensure “organic” cannot be used this way.”

In 2009 the Center for Food Safety and the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems (RILES) petitioned Gavin Newsom, in his official capacity as mayor, and Ed Harrington, in his official capacity as SFPUC general manager, to suspend the Giveaway program.
Nevertheless, Newsom and notables like restauranteur Alice Waters went along with PUC spokesman Tony Winnicker's statement that, “San Francisco's biosolids compost is safe, tested, and great for plants [and is] tested for metals and other contaminants and meets or exceeds all standards.”
Mayor Newsom went further and claimed the substance is safe and healthy...and that he'd be happy to eat food grown in it. Does this mean his PlumpJack business associates use it for their products?
Unfortunately, the mayor's intractability undermines other successful green programs he supports, including Recology's city-wide paper, plastic, glass, and food scraps recycling programs.
On March 4, 2010 OCA's bay area organizer John Mayer rallied a grass roots action against the mayor and the SFPUC charging they were purposefully duping residents. Mayer says, “San Francisco's “organic biosolid compost” is about one third sewage sludge and two thirds wood chips.”
That same day SFPUC announced they were temporarily suspending the Giveaway. They emphasized that is was not because the OCA team, dressed in haz mat-suits, dumped a load on the steps of City Hall and made national and international headlines.

There is a silver lining to the black cloud over sludge-stained Mayor Newsom: a recognition that public organizations and mayors crying “green” doesn't make them green...or that wishing away toxic realities makes them disapper. Stauber says, “There is little, if any, attention when farm animals die from this stuff. But there is national and international attention when the green mayor of San Francisco is caught fooling urban gardeners and foisting toxics on them.”
John Mayer and OCA concur and support any gardener who wants SFPUC and The City to clean up their gardens. Mayer says, “This is a pretty cut and dry case where people took the stuff because it was said to be  organic; it is not organic and they've admitted it is not organic. The PUC must take it back.”

Trust betrayed
“Ordinary people,” says Stauber, “tend to think of sewage treatment plants as magical places where water from industrial, residential, and medical toxins is treated so people can re-use it. It is true that sewage plants remove as many pathogens as they can: about 50 percents of it. They give the remaining mounds of sewage sludge that is too toxic to incinerate, landfill, or dump in the ocean to farmers – free! –  to spread on America's fruited plains.
Sludge reaches right in to the White House too. After the Obama's moved in, Michelle Obama had the White House garden soils tested; they revealed elevated levels of lead. Previous administration had used sewage sludge there.
Once this substance – containing thousands of hazardous synthetic chemicals from medications to sprays used upon fruit and vegetables – is dumped in any garden it is not easy to remove. 
Extrapolate what went on in San Francisco and at the White House and to thousands of unsuspecting farmers around the country...recognize that only about one percent of our Earth is fertile enough to produce crops capable of feeding the world's population...then consider the far-reaching implications.
Moreover, Stauber says that the majority of progressive environmental groups operating back in the 1990s were so focused on preventing sludge from being dumped into the ocean and were so enthusiastic about cleaning up our water that “they took a dive on this issue and allowed the EPA to spread it on land. Most national environmental groups are still not involved in the fight to stop spreading “organic biosolid compost” on farmland.”
They are not the only ones fooled. Stauber says, “A lot of my friends in the environmental community have drunk the biosolid kool-aid and say, “Gee this is just nutrient recycling.” But this is not just human manure – or “Humanure” as we call it – this is toxic sludge from industrial, medical, residential, and other waste.”

Solutions to Pollutions?
John Stauber concludes that the entire sewage process as now constituted is archaic. “We cannot afford to contaminate our clean water with our waste and send it to plants that pull out the toxics then spread it on our farmlands. We already spend hundreds of billions of tax payer dollars moving this stuff around instead of, for example, separating humanure from the truly toxic stuff and safely composting what we can. We will spend hundreds of billions more dollars to figure this out... and we had better start sooner rather than later.

Despite the clich̩, everything is connected. Humans are smart enough to look at the big picture and integrate generative solutions. We can no longer pretend these problems don't exist...or think we will solve them with more bigger, better, brighter technology... or export our waste to other countries. Ordinary Americans can Рmust insist upon the opportunity Рto confront our mistakes directly...and our elected officials must deal honestly with residents who are ready, willing, and able to collaborate.
In San Francisco a first step toward healing the credibility gap between local government and residents is for the mayor and the PUC to take back their not-so-free Giveaways. 

Listen to the radio show with Organic Consumer Association John Mayer and John Stauber.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Compost: the highest tech method to preserve our planet and our health

Wrote this article to accompany this week's radio show. Listen to the show.

Chateau Montelena vineyard uses compost made from food scraps collected from San Francisco restaurants and city homes. The mustard plants in the tract in the foreground did not receive compost.  The lush tract in the background did receive compost.  (Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Recology.)

Mayor Gavin Newsome passed a mandatory source separation ordinance in June 2009, that requires residents and businesses to separate organics and recyclables from their garbage. It came into effect in October and is the first of its kind in the U.S. Six months later, more than 300 cities and universities across the US are replicating this program and collecting food scraps and taking them to modern composting facilities.

Robert Reed, Public Relations Manager for Recology which is contracted to haul the waste says this “essentially makes sure that no matter where you go in San Francisco, you’ll have opportunities to recycle and compost through the city’s curbside programs.”

As an added inducement, this city is the only one in the country where collection trucks give passersby a view into the truck. Or, at least, the 3-D artwork decorating the trucks give the impression of transparency. “This program, Recycling Changes Everything, encourages people to pause...and look at their garbage. And when they do that,” says Reed, “they see paper, metal, glass, and food scraps, that is, a mixture of resources that should be reused, recycled and composted.”

More than 225,000 households, 4,000 businesses, and about 46 percent of San Francisco’s 8,500 apartment buildings participate. The collections go to Recology's Jepson Prairie Organics in Vacaville, north of San Francisco, where over a period of 60 days they're turned into compost. What's more, this compost comes in custom blends, made with recipes that add different amendments for specific uses and locations.

Reed agrees city dwellers sometimes must learn to overcome the “yuck factor”, that initial reluctance to handle what was heretofore thrown away. “Something as simple as an apple core doesn't simply disappear, it goes somewhere else. We suggest people take a more responsible attitude to that apple core and other waste. It is really a fork-in-the-road moment: toss it away and it goes to a landfill – where it'll produce methane gas; or put it into a compost cart where it can end up doing wonderful things to the soil for 200 vineyards in five different counties.”

Vineyards in Northern California apply compost made from food scraps to grow cover crops such as mustard and beans. Cover crops such as mustard stimulate microbial activity and help turn farms into carbon sinks. (Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Recology.)

Soil scientist, viticulturist, ecologist, and agronomist Bob Shaffer uses San Francisco compost in his daily life and in his work consulting with viticulturists in California's Napa and Sonoma counties. He explains, “Compost is organic matter and water that's been mixed up in a proper ratio that makes bacteria and fungi happy so that they consume organic matter. This produces heat, a little CO2, a little water vapor, and humus, the same humus that is in the soil. Humus holds an enormous amount of water. But it is fragile. It is always being created or destroyed; some of it is two thousand years old and some of it is two days old.”

Shaffer mentions that, in the classic book published in 1936, Soils and Men, the USDA and fifty reputable soil scientists announced that from 1900 until 1936 our nation had lost much soil fertility by not returning organic matter to the soil. They warned, “This is nothing short of an emergency.” They pleaded with cities around the country to recycle food scraps back to farms, stating that it was imperative that we take advantage of this rich resource. Since that time we have lost vast amounts of humus in our farming soils.

Today, a growing number of farms using compost made from food scraps produce better quality food at a lower cost. Only there are not enough such farms. Moreover, Schaffer says, “Even though I love farming it is hard on the environment. The word “care” is particular to how we need to farm now. Good farmers understand how to care for the land and how to care for animals. I travel a lot and I notice that the big farms are difficult to manage and to care for in a way that produces food that is capable of producing human health.”

Humus is still a mystery to science. Shaffer says, “As a forty-year long composter and farmer I recognize that of all the creatures on the earth, only bacteria and fungi can make humus – that mystical substance that also holds water. I can only make the conditions under which I know bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa can make humus for me.”

According to Shaffer, this is a point the chemical fertilizer manufacturers miss. Back in the early days, he says, “Honest men in these companies were simply trying to concentrate the weight to enable shipping the materials. Synthetic triple grade fertilizers were not intended to be used at thousands of pounds per acre as they are used today, or to be used as a primary input. Advertising and marketing told the farmer that this was all he needed. So he stopped making cover crops, he stopped making compost.”

Cover crops are those plants with long roots that heal soil. Beneath the visible plant above the ground the roots take photosynthate and exude about half of that sugar to the soil around its roots to provide nutrients to the bacteria and fungi. These in turn provide available minerals and other materials to the plant as well as prevent disease. Plus, the cycle of living and dying roots maintains humus.

Bob Shaffer displays mustard's long roots that provide nutrients to bacteria and fungi. (Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Recology.)

In a recent radio interview Shaffer admitted, “I love compost. But I can put down compost for a lifetime and if I don't grow a diversity of plants along with cover crops, compost won't work right.”

According to Shaffer, “Compost is nothing short of the highest tech, cutting edge method to preserve our soils, preserve our ability to raise food and to feed ourselves, and to preserve our health in current science. There is nothing that comes close to the necessity for us to learn more about compost as quickly as possible and to apply this technology. Yet we only know a certain amount about humus. It is the enigma in soil. It does not have a regular chemical formula. It is made of colloids, materials so small that we can barely examine them. All the top scientists working in the field agree that it is a highest priority to figure this out given the reality of our current world. We humans do well to remember that only about one percent of the earth actually is rich enough to farm productively.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Signs of the times

Two signs that echo a frightening meta-message: The human community has groups of people that exist simply to service the needs of other groups of people.

In northern Italy: a warning to motorists to look out for prostitutes.
“I saw this sign and had to slow down to get a proper look,” said resident Dino Vezino, 34.
 “Does it mean I have to look out for prostitutes crossing or that they are available around here?” Read more >>

In southern California: a warning that drivers might encounter people frantically darting across lanes of traffic to evade border security. Read more >>

Apparently, we (those of us fortunate enough not to be in these situations) are fine enough with this state of affairs that we accommodate it.

Or is it just me being over-finicky and "idealistic"?

A far ranging solution would be to address the underlying causes of prostitution and "illegal" immigration.

Perhaps human communities and systems that addressed the trade in young women...and addressed why families must leave their homes and seek work elsewhere...

This solution might also surface why the current financial meltdown... and paint a picture that helps ordinary people stand up and against blatant greed.

World Bank Loan update

Today, April 8, the World Bank will decide on the loan to South Africa's Electricity Supply Commission (Eskom). It is a big day as it determines the direction South Africa takes for the next 30 years or so.
We'll keep updating on this story. Meanwhile, here are the voices of Prof. Patrick Bond and activist Desmond D'Sa:

World Bank coal loan to South Africa? No thanks!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MotherSpeak Structure

This blog is part of the MotherSpeak "hub". The nodes are:
MotherSpeak - the center of it all is fiscally sponsored by Peace Development Fund. You are invited to make a donation any time and you will receive your IRS donor credit from PDF.

This blog derives from the book, Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror. (Buy it and help a sister out! or donate $50 to MotherSpeak and receive the book as a premium and an IRS tax credit!.)

The author, Susan Galleymore, is founder of MotherSpeak, creator of the nodes, and host of the weekly radio show, Raising Sand Radio, under MotherSpeak Media...

and the Cato Ridge Environmental Coalition which is one node of MotherSpeak's environmental arm (think of this as Mother Nature's arm of MotherSpeak) Other nodes include keeping tabs on the Restoration and Rehabilitation of the Superfund site formerly Naval Air Station, Alameda, California, learning about and educating on composting, developing green and sustainable communities, and keeping tabs on unsustainable fossil fuel developments.

For those more oriented towards pictures: