Victory gardens?

In the 1940s, during the Great depression and WWII, wages were similarly unequal to today’s current wage system. The war ended up reinvigorating our economy with military jobs being converted into infrastructure and manufacturing jobs. And while war is ALWAYS terrible, a scant few good programs come out of that war. The best one (to me) being the victory garden program. It helped stave off hunger and high food prices all across the nation, establishing a groundwork for self-sufficiency within cities and as a nation.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, right before the victory garden program was being pushed in cities and the nation suddenly found itself growing half of it’s food in cities, suburbs and people’s back yards, another problem had been brewing in the countryside for a decade. Farmers were going broke, unable to sell their crops for more than it cost to grow them. Overproduction was the new norm in much of America. Agriculture was crumbling. So bills were put into place to stop farmers from growing so much food and to regulate prices by taxing the food industry to provide money for the US to buy grain during over productive years and distribute it during lean times. The result helped to stifle the economic disaster occurring in the US, but was ultimately found unconstitutional and was replaced by a similar bill in 1938. The 1938 bill became today’s Farm Bill, and was designed to help farmers grow crops that we needed more of during the war. Farmers were suddenly being paid to grow crops that were in under production at the time (cotton, wheat, corn, peanuts, barley, etc.) so that the nation would not run short on these crops. But also came with stipulations that only so much could be grown and distributed, to avoid the over production problems of the 1930’s. When WWII ended, the nation’s agriculture stabilized and the economy improved.

Between 1970 and 2000, the farm bill slowly mutated. Regulations on how much could be grown and sold were cut massively while the people making the most money off of the farm bill (mostly corn growers) lobbied hard to keep their crops that have plenty of production in the US on the list of subsidized crops. The goal of encouraging farmers to grow under-grown crops to stabilize prices of certain good was lost to the æther. Now a days, despite huge gluts in the market driving corn prices ever lower and corn being the most grown crop in the US, nearly a THIRD of all farm subsidies go towards growing corn. Why? Because there’s where the money rolls into our government from.

So I have one tiny, selfish hope for this steaming tire fire of a presidency.

Among the nonsensical and unconstitutional policies Trump is proposing, in order to pay for his 25 billion dollar wall, is a 20% tax on goods from mexico that was originally endorsed as the probable plan to generate the funds. Now I will start by saying that this is actually a tax on the American public. Because what’s going to happen is producers of goods are just going to (very legally, mind you) pass that price down to consumers.
Because Joe who grows avocados must make $5 off of his avocados to break even and pay his bills, he sells his avocados to us for $5. If the US taxes Joe 20% to sell his avocados in the US, Joe will still need to make $5 off of his avocados BEFORE that tax to continue to pay his bills. So Joe will either A. Stop selling in the US, therefore generating no revenue for a wall. Or B. Will add the extra 20% onto his avocado prices and sell them for $6, because he can’t give 20% of his $5 to that tax, he needs it to pay his other bills. If he does the second, and you, a US citizen buy his more-expensive avocados, Joe still makes the $5 he needs to pay his bills. You, the avocado buyer, just paid the tax. Not Joe. Because Joe still has bills to pay, and needs his $5. It just LOOKS like it’s coming from Joe. This is a system of exploitation that’s been going on for a very long time and is inherent in our society.

Now that wouldn’t amount to much if it were, like, Tibet where our imports kind of don’t exist. But the US imports 10% of it’s food from Mexico, a large amount of which is fresh produce. Which means 10% of food imported to places without much fresh food (especially inner cities, suburbs and food deserts) is going to get 20% more expensive should this policy go through. Inner cities already struggle massively with problems relating to food scarcities, specifically good, local, fresh, healthy foods like lean meats, vegetables and fruits. It’s hard to spend $5 on a bag of apples that you may or may not get around to, when $5 will get you 5 sandwiches and feed your whole family something with enough calories to get them through the day. Since many people in our nation’s poor urban centers also don’t know how to cook and handle whole foods, since food prep is a skill that was cut from public schools because of budget cuts, and is only able to be taught at home by people who have generational wealth and knowledge, (something that contributes massively to classism and racism) there’s not many options available to them, and it’s not really a wonder that poor people end up fatter while still being hungry and starving. And it’s about to get 20% worse for those people, leading to even more stigma for being in that situation as options for low-priced high-nutrient value food dwindle away and most of America carries on as usual.

So somewhere buried in that big pile of poo is my desperate little hope. A hope that this will spark some agricultural reform, possibly in the amending of the Farm Bill to suddenly stop producing tons of excess corn (which is bad for the environment as corn is awful on soil to grow) that goes into animal feed and corn-based plastics, fuel, and any other market they can desperately dump our massive corn glut into… And instead, it will subsidize farmers to grow the vegetables we need to support inner cities and food deserts with our own American farms with a lower overall footprint. Or, it may spark the urban agriculture movement to work towards urban centers, Victory-Garden style, because with a little help and rising prices on behalf of tariffs on Mexican imports it makes both urban agriculture and victory gardens that much more feasible and financially viable.

And I would be very excited for one (or both) of those things to happen.

So hey, maybe if we don’t descend into a war because of this massivehorriblesoul-crushingunlawfulfear-mongering political bonfire… Maybe farmers in the US and the state of our nation’s food security will be a little bit better for it.

(Please feel free to generally fact check my post, don’t take anyone’s word for anything. I didn’t bother with citations for most of this, but you can always look it up in your own time. Don’t spread fake news.)

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Nature magazine study finds “Roundup-Ready” corn to be substantially different from regular corn

That title sounds so click-bait-y. Normally I don’t like to share other people’s articles… But I think this one is pretty important to read about. Nature magazine published a peer-reviewed study in their magazine that tested a variety of roundup ready corn and found it to contain more toxins than regular corn. They also showed that the proteins within the corn are significantly different, and that toxins in the corn could also trigger a stronger allergic reaction than normal. The corn processes energy differently than regular corn and the corn basically suffers from oxidization damage. Ultimately, rats fed GMO corn for two years compared to the control group fed the nearest-genetically-similar non-gmo corn.

Here’s a link to a study summary.

Here’s a link to the actual article.

Incidentally, according to gmoanswers.com, a generally pro-GMO site, the longest safety tests required for corn like this is 90 days.

Now here’s the run down on some things that I think are important to consider about this study;

  • This is a test done on a single variety of corn. This does not speak for all types of genetically modified crops, nor even all types of modified corn.
  • The toxins produced are naturally formed in nature. This does not make them safe, but they are “naturally occurring”. It’s not like Mad Cow is jumping to corn suddenly because an amino acid from cow genes was added or something like that.
  • This study does not state whether similar toxin levels could result from doing a more natural hybridization of plants or from standard development of vegetable varieties.
  • The reason the FDA would not notice this is simple. The FDA requirements are a 90-day safety trial and a glorified nutritional analysis (pro-GMO source). Basically they say if it looks like a corn, has the nutritional content of corn, and feeds for 90 days like corn, then it’s corn.
  • This study HAS been peer reviewed prior to publishing and (so far) has held up to scrutiny. (This could change, but the study seems legitimate as of writing this article.)
  • The person who preformed the study has been an anti-GMO and anti-pesticide advocate for some years, but holds the appropriate degrees and scientific background to comment on it.
  • One study, alone, does not debunk dozens of other studies that show GMOs to be generally safe. However, if the study is repeated and shows similarly higher levels of kidney/liver damage, then the study must be considered valid. A good scientific study is hallmarked by repeatability. If a study cannot be replicated by someone else and get the same results, it’s just a single study in a sea of studies. (This is a phase of research we often lack in the scientific community. Studies are rarely repeated.)
  • A pro-GMO source claims that findings like this which are “pleiotropic” (or, essentially, are complicated and cause multiple problems) would show some sort of significant plant damage elsewhere and therefore would be noticeable at a glance (ex; the plants would grow poorly, which is bad for business). The study published in Nature found plant damage on a cellular level from significant oxidization. Oxidized tissue looks normal at a glance, but the tissue later dies. Plants may not live long enough to die from oxidization.

(This is just very interesting to me because of it’s links to cancer and so it’s something I know a lot about. For example, oxidization is one of the causes of cancer. It’s also one of the cures of it. To help prevent cancer we’re encouraged to consume “antioxidants” to remove oxidization from our cells, because oxidization can damage them. Damaged cells can mutate into cancer cells. If you have cancer and are receiving chemotherapy or radiation you are NOT permitted to consume anti-oxidant rich foods, because you are trying to kill cells because cancer cells die faster than regular cells. So you just kill all the cells and hope the non-cancer cells survive longer than the cancer cells. This is also why you loose your hair and get sensitive skin and lack immune responses, because those sorts of cells also die very quickly. You kill them, in part, by making them super-oxidized. So consuming anti-oxidants makes chemo and radiation less effective. No citations here other than this wiki link about it, but you can look it up. This is just stuff I learned from the five years of caring for my mom while she had cancer. So the tl;dr is, these plants had invisible cellular damage that, if left long enough, may have killed the plant. But plants don’t live that long.)

So in conclusion, this study alone is inconclusive. But it does draw whether GMOs are safe into further and legitimate consideration. Studies like this address concerns that haven’t been well researched in previous GMO studies. For better or worse, it gives a solid piece of science, a real leg to stand on for anti-GMO groups, if it holds up to scrutiny and replication.

(In case you were wondering, I read through the “methods” and “results” part of the actual study myself to confirm that, in my own opinion, it seems legit and that I’m reporting as accurately as I can. But I’m no PHD in biochemistry.)

For me, it’s one of the concerns I have stated in the past that has led to me to support labeling laws and have been attempting to move away from GMO products myself. For example, a different protein structure as shown in this study may mean that a person can develop an allergy to GMO corn that they would not otherwise have developed (and because of the way allergies work, that reaction may spread to regular corn) and now someone can’t eat corn at all. A different set of toxins may cause an animal that normally feeds on corn or corn pollen to refuse to eat it or experience health problems from it. A different set of nutrients (like sugars, which are processed differently in GMO corn according to this study) may cause an animal that normally avoids corn to try to eat it more often, causing behavior changes in wildlife. Frankly, we don’t know all the multi-faceted and subtle (or “pleiotropic”) ways GMOs could effect our lives.
And perhaps most importantly, they have led to a multi-billion dollar industry that regulates itself, relies on illegal labor under nearly slave-like conditions and holds the keys to our nation’s food security. We are limited lifespan creatures and will die someday whether GMOs are helping us along or not. But the nation’s food security, sustainability, and our compassion for other humans, is a legacy that carries on long beyond our lifespan. I’d like to see the next generation own the keys to those things, not a self-regulated company.

So give the study a gander, take it with a grain of salt, and come to your own conclusions about it. It’s a very interesting read.

Reeling and Seedling

Well, yesterday the hammer dropped and every single republican told 30 million people like me to go and die quietly please so they could save some money for rich folks, OK?

Not farming stuff incoming. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom if you don’t like the uncomfortable reality that at least some of you probably voted in the people that voted to try to kill me today. I’m looking at you rural farming America. Thanks for that. (Or, you know, if you’re too overwhelmed by the awfulness of it to hear about it again or you might go shoot someone. That’s an OK reason to scroll down too.)

It sounds like some sort of bad black humor, or some sort of dramatic hyperbole, but the vote to dismantle the ACA (including popular programs like protection from denying healthcare based on pre-existing conditions, coverage for pregnant women, and allowing young adults to stay on parents insurance for a few extra years) was clear. 51-48, not a single democrat voting to dismantle. In case you’re wondering, the senate is 52% republican and 48% democrat. I’d love to have the ability to vote republican sometimes, I do believe that the democratic party is corrupt, but the concept that republicans care about my human rights or my wellbeing or the wellbeing of anyone but themselves at this point is unfortunately a joke. They would genuinely rather I just die instead of spending money.

I have a family (and personal) history of female reproductive problems. Case in point; my mother who died of uterine cancer. Preventable uterine cancer that she did not have treated until it was about to kill her because she was one of the 30 million people that couldn’t get insurance without the ACA. Preventable uterine cancer that the only reason she was able to receive any treatment at all for (extending her life for 5 years which were happy and filled with life and joy, and having end of like palliative care, IE: letting her have pain killers and a hospital bed) was because of the ACA being passed soon after her diagnosis, protecting my dad’s ability to put her on his insurance after he finally found employment.

My family is what even republicans usually think of as a “good family”. We’re about as far from the ultra-racist “welfare queen/baby daddy” stereotype as you can get.  We’re white. My family came from a southern catholic farming background on my moms side. My dad’s father ran a cardboard box factory that made him significantly wealthy. Mom raised seven kids, cleaned, couponed, cooked, and made sure her kids were well educated and raised with integrity. My dad currently is nearly 80 years old and works for NASA. He designs lithium batteries that can handle outer space and are charged by solar panels. He holds a patent for some of the first neurological interfaces to allow people with paralyzed limbs to move their arms. All of us kids got jobs at 15 years old. We’re not uneducated, unmotivated,  have poor parenting or even just plain stupid. My family is gritty working types. And my mom died because there was no program like ACA when she got sick and my father was unemployed due to the Bush-induced recession. We live in the rust belt. The economy here has been awful for decades.

Now we’re looking at facing that all over again.

My partner owns his own retail store. It’s extremely successful for a retail store, going on their 3rd year anniversary with profits in the black. Over 95% of retail stores close their doors in the first 5 years and almost none make profits. He’s a small business owner. He built that.
He’s about to fall into the medicare gap. And without the ACA, he will not be able to afford health insurance.

I run this tiny urban farm. I work hard at it, I love it, it helps massively with my depression and I think few people this will reach would be able to tell me that farming isn’t a respectable job. But I will laugh in your face if you even consider the possibility that it makes enough money for me to afford insurance outside of the ACA. My healthcare is about to be gone. And best of all, the medication that keeps me able to function and could save my life is probably not going to be covered by most insurance any more. People still think birth control is only so people can have lots of sex that offends their religion. Little do they know that it’s probably slowly saving my life, not just from cripplingly painful cycles that prevent me from working normal jobs… But also from the genetically-inherited uterine fibroids that nearly killed my oldest sister and were probably inherited from my mother. Did you know that, if left untreated, uterine fibroids can develop into uterine cancer? Did you know that birth control prevents uterine fibroids for 1/10th the cost of a single surgery to treat them even before the become cancerous? Two and two fit so nicely together here if you care to look at facts.

So yes, when I say that republicans voted to literally end peoples lives today, I was not being hyperbolic. I was being frank. My mom would be alive today if healthcare reform went through in the 90’s. I or my partner, hardworking Americans, may not be alive someday because of the vote that just took place. Sorry if that’s too much of a burden on your taxes. I’m sure you needed that fat holiday bonus more than I needed my life. It’s cool.

And if you voted republican this past year? Fuck you. If I (or any of the 30 million other people insured the the ACA) die in the next four years, it is probably your fault.

 

Ok, you can pull your head out of the sand now. We’re back to farming.

FARMING AHOY.

So instead I’m trying to immerse myself in the potential spring hold for my homestead… Despite the fear and the potential for my untimely demise, I want to try to look forward to spring. This year we’re placing a new seed order. We grow heirloom organics, which allows us to save seeds from each plant each year. Still, not everything grows correctly and genetic diversity is important in plants AND animals, so we like to bring in new seeds.
We buy from high Mowing Seeds, and we’re not paid to say nice things about them. I just happen to like their seeds, prices, and polite customer service.

Here’s a list of what we’re getting and why.

Thyme
Every year we try to grow a new herb. I used a lot of thyme this year as it’s great on, well, everything? So we thought we’d give it a shot.

Bellstar tomato
This year the tomatoes did great, but they had some problems. We grew amish paste and san marzino. The amish paste did not produce well. The san marzino were nice, but they came in haphazardly, only allowing me to put away several jars of tomato sauce despite huge numbers of tomatoes growing. They just all ripened at different times, so we’d have 10 tomatoes here and 15 there, all year. They were also surprisingly watery for paste tomatoes and the plants were VERY thin and spindly, they needed trellises badly. Hopefully this variety will provide what we need a bit better.

NuMex Joe Anaheim and Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper
We grew an anaheim and a jalapeno from plants we bought at the garden center this year and they did very well. I use a lot of hot peppers and if we get these to grow and the tomatoes, it means jars of salsa!

Purple Beauty Bell Pepper
I have never gotten a bell pepper to live in my lawn. So I am kind of just grasping at straws here and hoping that because this pepper looks so different it might grow. Eh?

Kentucky Wonder (green beans)
These did great for us this year, huge plants, 8′ tall. We’re getting them because we liked them so much we want more of them! We have seeds saved from this year and last, but we’d like to establish a little more diversity in our genetics and we’d also like to grow LOTS of them this year!

Red Russian Kale
This is another favorite. It grows very well in our cold climate and has a nice flavor. But saving seeds is tough and often the plant grows as a biennial. So we haven’t saved seeds from this yet. I still had seeds, but they were a couple years old and I gave them away as part of a Yule gift to a fellow gardener.

Painted Mountain Corn
We’ve tried growing corn for three years now to no success. We’ve been trying to grow Roy Calais flint corn, but since it hasn’t done well, we decided to try a new kind. Fingers crossed this does better. We want a flint corn for cornmeal, grits and animal feed.

Cascadia Peas
We’ve had sub-par results with out peas as well. Often they get really spindly and sometimes they grow too tall for our pea trellises. Cascadia are a dwarf variety where the pods stay big but the plants are small. I hope they do better than our other ones.

Costata Romanesco zucchini
I used the last of these seeds this year, to great success! The biggest of these reached 7lbs 10oz this year and wasn’t fully grown. Wow! But because they never grew all the way, we couldn’t save seeds. Since they did so well… Again! Again!

Table Queen Acorn Squash
Winter squash has consistently done great up here. We’ve had acorn squash seeds volunteer out of our compost in past years and this year we had great success with a desperate last-second planting of Buttercup squash that had germinated in their seed packet mid-summer. This year we’re trying acorn squash deliberately and we’re hoping for equally good results.

De Cicco Broccoli
This is the vegetable that’s new to our garden this year. We’ve had some half-hearted attempts to grow brassicas but never tried very hard and never had them grow more than a few leaves before being mowed down by plants. Every year we try to add a new vegetable to our garden, and this year broccoli is it!

Flowers
We’re gonna try to grow some flowers this year. Echinacea, butterfly mixes, chamomile, sunflowers. Maybe we’ll get some pretty (and useful) flower this year for… Our…

 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

I received a cedar warre bee hive for my birthday this year from my extra-generous MIL! Which means BEEEEEEEEES! I am extremely excited to have bees! We’re looking for our nuc right now and I am just floored and thrilled.

Despite the world being pretty dark for me (and most everyone I love) right now, I’m excited for the weather breaking and it being spring. Lots of exciting things will be happening and I am looking forward to it.

Wish me luck!

A proper update

I’ve been stuck indoors for the past few days with a second degree sunburn plaguing my shoulders. It started as just a normal sunburn. We went to observe some potential lands for the ecovillage, and the cloudy day when it was supposed to rain turned out to be sunny. So my pale skin turned into red skin. Then, the day after that I helped my sister with some minor home repairs and property cleanup. That day I wore sunblock… To no avail. The next day I woke up with shoulders covered in blisters so hot and angry that I could not dress. The pain is still there as the skin started peeling off before the skin underneath was ready, and now it’s like my whole shoulders are covered in a thin scab from being rug burned. It hurts.

This really set me off as we had a village meeting that evening. It really highlighted my frustration with a certain point of sexism in our society, the free the nipple movement. It’s not that I’m immodest and wanna shake my titties in front of guys, it’s a matter of comfort. If it’s extremely hot out or I have something like a second degree burn across my shoulders I shouldn’t have to strap something across my boobs (and sub sequentially, my shoulders lest it fall down) just to make a bunch of guys feel better about their lack of self control. Heat is hot. Burns hurt. These are practical, physical realities for men and women. But women are required to toss some fabric on under these conditions anyhow, and that bugs me in a big way. And while the group I was part of probably wouldn’t have cared much if I went topless, I felt uncomfortable about it anyhow. I ended up just tying some fabric around my chest in a band so it didn’t touch my shoulders… But the whole thing felt dumb.
(Fun fact, men weren’t allowed to show their nips either until the 1930’s. Prior to that, men were required to wear swimsuits that covered their chest for modesty reasons. In fact, in the 1910’s men were required to wear swimsuits that didn’t cling too tightly and may have even been required to wear skirts over their boxers so they weren’t so indecent!)

Because of the burn, I was forbidden the outdoors until I could wear a shirt without flinching again, which was about 3 days. When I came out, I found my garden beds were starting to grow with a gusto…. And so were the weeds. The birds had gotten big seemingly overnight and so had the rabbits. Turns out that being absent from your farm for half a week has big impacts!

So I finally got to go weed my garden and take some photos (my camera is still broken so I borrowed a smart phone) this week. There are some exciting updates on the farmstead itself!

Remember the sad, sad tomatoes?

tomatoes.png

Surprisingly, they all made it! Some of them are still a little on the smaller side, and some are still recovering. But there’s a huge patch of tomatoes getting bigger by the day growing in my back yard! I have started pinching suckers and blossoms from them. I’m looking to get a crop that I can harvest for canning instead of having them to eat fresh, so I’d like the plants to get extra big before they start fruiting. (I did leave a few blossoms on one plant so we could have a few to eat.)

onion

I have some onions that got planted very late, but are starting to grow energetically. The patch looks bare from about 10′ away, but if you get close you can see literally dozens of onion sprouts peeking through! I’ve had to remind my helpers that these are onions, not weeds.

corn

Somehow the corn made it. But with only two stalks, I’m not sure that they’ll actually pollinate and produce. They were pretty weedy. This whole bed has since been weeded.

beans

The beans and peas are on the northmost wall of my garden bed, but because my lawn isn’t on a true North South line, they are shaded for a few hours in the morning. They’re still growing robustly despite that and are very thick. They’re starting to shade out weeds growing near by.

kale

And speaking of shading out weeds…. The kale! The kale is growing so thickly and is producing some strong, healthy leaves! We’ve started to eat the occasional leaf on a sandwich. The weeds are struggling to grow under these crowns!

We have a few other plants not shown. The watermelons are starting to recover and spring back with lots of new growth and the strawberries are flowering again. The zucchini is flowering as well, which means delicious vegetables are right around the corner! We’ve had some very serious issues with blossom end rot in previous years… This year we planted the zucchini with a handful of crushed egg shells in the hole. Hopefully we won’t see those problems again this year. And the more wild plants like the shiso leaf, the mint, the lemon balm, the plantago and the dandelions are doing well… But they are struggling against the other, less beneficial weeds in the lawn like the cats foot. I hate that stuff.

We also have a few new faces on the farm!

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Two leghorns and two australorps came to us from another farm recently. It’s been about a month and they have finished their quarantine period.  We waved goodbye to the old leghorn (who wasn’t laying), our newest chick and our chick from last year to make room for these new birds. They’re all pullets still, under 24 weeks, but the leghorns are already laying strong and their eggs are starting to normalize in size. Soon they will be in the pen with all the other birds.

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We also have seven little chicks from some eggs we stuck under our broody. We set a dozen eggs, but like every hatch, there were some problem chicks that didn’t make it. We may even loose one of the ones we have now. It appears to have some unabsorbed yolk, or a small hernia. We brought it indoors to try to recover. Only time will tell. But six chicks is a nice number to have. And our broody hen, a blue Ameraucana, could not be prouder!

IMG_0439

IMG_0440

We had our NPIP certificate renewed last month. NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you read my post about vaccines, you’d know that flock health is a pretty important topic to me. NPIP is a simple test provided at a low cost to check for avian influenza and pullorum typhoid. These are both very serious conditions that threaten flocks nation wide. NPIP certification is easy… A tester comes out to test your flock. You get the pullorum result immediately with a simple blood prick test, and a throat swab goes to a lab to check for bird flu. The tester does all the work, you just hand him your chickens. In a flock of a dozen birds they may test 4 or 5 birds. Then you get a certificate.

If a test comes back positive your flock may get destroyed or permanently quarantined to keep these serious diseases from spreading.

Aside from having an official lab test and government agency reassuring buyers that you have a healthy flock (and are willing to risk the entire flock on that fact), NPIP certification is required to ship birds or hatching eggs to most states. The regulations vary a little, but if you don’t have NPIP it’s illegal to take your bird across state lines or to most poultry shows.

Our tests came back clean which means we’ll be able to offer hatching eggs for sale again! Hooray!

So, a lot of exciting and positive things are happening on the homestead this week, despite my arms screaming in pain whenever I lift them above chest level.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go strap some fabric that will assuredly catch on the dry, painful, cracking skin all across these burns to appease the masses while I travel to get some chick feed.

The Raw Milk Debate and Why It’s Dumb

Recently I’ve been chatting in a thread online about raw milk that sprung up after some people got sick in WV after drinking raw milk. Of course, correlation does not equal causation and a lot of people (including reporters and people who were there) are saying there was a stomach flu (a virus, not bacteria) going around and that they got sick from that. It was just very bad timing.

This led to a huge debate I’ve seen over and over again; is raw milk Good for you or Bad for you. Is it a horrible disease causing monster like the FDA claims, or is it some cancer curing miracle drug the way pro-raw-milk people claim?

This is a fun, hot-topic political debate. And really, it has nothing to do with should raw milk be legal or not. It’s exclusively about stupid labeling for petty people. Because, you see, if raw milk is GOOD for you, then all the pro-raw-milk people can claim superiority over the anti-raw-milk people and say “Raw milk is good for you! We support raw milk so we are Good People! And you are anti-raw-milk so you are Bad People.”. The same is true for the other side as well of course. Anti-raw-milkers are just as much on a political superiority feel-good power trip as pro raw milkers.

How often have you witnessed raw milk debates? I find that most raw milk debates follow this sort of a format;

A:”Raw milk is bad for you. Here is a reasonable, intelligent, well-done study that I am going to cite that shows raw milk is many times more likely to make you sick.”

B:”Raw milk is good for you. Here is a reasonable, intelligent, well-done study that I am going to cite that shows raw milk is good for you and more likely to improve *insert health issue here*.”

A:”Your study is biased, and inconclusive. My study is the better one! But you’re too dumb to see it! That means I’m smarter than you!”

B:”No, it’s YOUR study that is biased! Raw milk is good so you are dumb because you are anti-raw-milk and that is bad and being dumb is bad! I’m smarter!”

Etc. Etc.

And it doesn’t matter how well-thought-out the arguments are, because this is the shocking conclusion I’ve come to. BOTH sides are dumb. Because they’re debating the WRONG THING. You see, raw milk, like many things in this world, probably has the potential to be both Good and Bad AT THE SAME TIME. (!!!) Shocking, I know.

You see, the Good Vs Bad argument can be made about many, MANY things. I have taken to using Motorcycles as a great example. Motorcycles are twenty six times more likely to kill you than cars. In fact, one in ten people who rides a motorcycle will sustain a serious injury from it. Nearly half a million people a year buy motorcycles which means nearly 50,000 of those people will sustain serious injuries and of those around 4500 people will DIE from it. Those are pretty scary statistics. And best of all, just like raw milk there’s a far-safer alternative to motorcycles. Cars.

(To put this in perspective, US has a population of around 320 million people. The CDC says that 3% of the population drinks raw milk, so about nine MILLION people.  Also according to the CDC an average of around 200 of those people get sick each year, 15 of those people are hospitalized, and perhaps one person dies every year or three.)

So the debate could easily look something like this. This might ring some bells if you’ve ever read anything about raw milk from either side of the debate;

A: “Motorcycles kill one person for every 100,000 that are sold. That is an indisputable fact. We should not allow companies to sell motorcycles. It could risk all motorists.”

B: “Motorcycles are great for transportation. We should keep motorcycles legal. If all motorists followed better safety laws it would reduce the risks to all motor vehicles.”

A: “You can get the same transportation from a car, which is twenty six times safer. Why put that burden on car motorists? Just ban motorcycles. They’re inherently unsafe.”

B: “Cars don’t give the exercise, reduced stress, fresh air, etc. that motorcycles do! In fact here’s a great article on how stress can help cancer grow, here is one linking stress to autism, and here is one about fresh air. I even have this article that cites a study done in Tokyo and talks about how it improves physical strength and brain cognition, meaning it could help prevent joint damage or Alzheimer and diabetes!”

A: “That’s nonsense. Look at how many people it kills! You can obviously get the same benefits from riding a motorcycle through safer activities. Just go for a walk or something! Besides, that study is biased and done just to try to promote motorcycles. Motorcycles are dangerous and have NO health benefits that can’t be gotten with a safer alternative!”

B: “Are you kidding me? The place that produced those accident numbers is an insurance website! Of course they want people to not ride motorcycles. They don’t want to pay out the fees! And everyone knows that insurance companies are in cahoots with big pharma to drain taxpayers dry! Of course they want to spend less on us and take our money with diabetes drugs! How dumb can you get!?”

A: “The place that produced those numbers is a national information institute that only provides factual numbers and averages to the public and doesn’t do anything else. They have no reason to lie. All of this is just a conspiracy theory! You are so dumb for believing it!”

B: “I’m not dumb, you won’t even look at a university study! You probably wouldn’t even understand it if I posted some more in depth studies! You’re dumb! You must want people to get diabetes or something then! You’re a horrible person!”

A: “You want people to die in car accidents from your ignorance! You’re awful!”

Etc. Etc.

Replace all the info relevant to motorcycles with info relevant to raw milk and you have the EXACT same debate I’ve seen a dozen times now. And the fact that something can cause illness or injury is NOT mutually exclusive to it giving health benefits or helping disease. Because you most certainly can benefit from increased cognitive function from riding a motorcycle, and you most assuredly do move your body more from riding a motorcycle and that doesn’t change that it’s riskier to ride a motorcycle than to drive a car because the benefits of riding a motorcycle actually directly correlate to the fact that it’s riskier for you.

And you can literally make the argument about anything. I could cite the health benefits and risk on injury of owning a BATHTUB to the same effect! Or of owning exotic animals, or large dogs, or working on a farm or drinking alcohol, or eating chocolate, or raw eggs, or living off-grid, or being vegan, or walking down the street, or, or, or…

Life has risks. Life is full of them. Some (like motorcycles) are extremely risky (1 in 10 chance of having a bad time, 1 in 110 of dying). Some (like raw milk) are less risky than that (1 in 45,000 chance of having a bit of a bad time, 1 in 600,000 of having a very bad time). Some are even less risky than that (About 1 in 1,000,000 chance of being bitten by a shark while surfing in the USA).

In fact you have about a 1 in 11,000 chance of dying from falling down. Which is higher than your chances of dying from motorcycles, surfing shark attacks and raw milk combined. Should shoes should come with giant warning labels reminding us to always tie our laces? Should we ban shoes? Could wearing shoes possibly reduce fall deaths?

And the real question is not “Should we ban shoes?” or “Should we ban bare feet” because one might contribute to fall deaths, because that’s a Really Dumb Argument. The raw milk debate is Dumb.

The question is really, should we ban ANYTHING that has a certain threshold of risk? What is the appropriate conditions for a governmental agency to BAN something? Is is a safety threshold? Is it when it becomes dangerous to people other than the direct consumer (like a gun or a car or an airplane)?

What are the parameters where it’s OK for the government to prohibit a product or activity?

In my opinion, you can require labels on things, you can require basic safety testing standards, you can even require hefty sin taxes on things that are particularly risky. I don’t care. But frankly, as long as you can risk a 1 in 110 chance of dying on a motorcycle, or a 1 in 18 chance of dying from lung cancer from smoking tobacco, we should be allowed to take the 1 in 9,000,000 chance of dying from raw milk if we want to.

If you’re arguing that we should ban things based on health risks there are FAR riskier things to advocate against then raw milk.

And if you’re still trying to prove that it’s Good or Bad, that’s dumb.

Raw milk is not a debate about health benefits or risks.

Because the question is much simpler.

What right does the government have to say what is an acceptable risk for me to take?

And what will I lose the right to do if they are allowed to decide what is OK or not.

Vaccines!

Today I thought I’d make a quick post about Mareks in chickens and my thoughts on the Mareks vaccine, when I realized that my thoughts on this subject spread over into my thoughts on vaccines in general. This is a touchy issue for some people. My information is factual, hard science. My opinions and actions are just that. Opinions and personal choices.

So first, some facts about Mareks. You can find most of this info right here in a well thought out article that I do not care to replicate… But here are some of the cliffnotes.

Mareks is a highly contagious and fatal virus with no cure and is not zoonotic or dangerous to other animals in the environment. The chicken version is contained to chickens and it’s really bad in chickens. It lives outside the chicken for a minimum of five months, and possibly years. It kills chickens in a horrible way, with paralysis, tumors, diarrhea, starvation, blindness and breathing issues. The symptoms fade in and out over months and kill very slowly. A chicken typically starts shedding the virus after 10 days post-exposure and shows symptoms after a month, and typically dies shortly thereafter. It can take up to six months before symptoms show after exposure to the disease in certain rare cases, though.

Now here’s some info about the vaccine. The Mareks vaccine works by offering the body something similar to Mareks to target and “learn” to fight it off. What is introduced into the chickens is the “turkey version” of Mareks, which has a similar makeup to the chicken version but can’t infect or be shed by chickens. It must be administered within 36 hours of hatching. The Mareks vaccine is NON STERILE, not to be confuse with terms like live/dead vaccines which is irrelevant. A non sterile vaccine means the vaccine does not prevent the virus from infecting the chicken, stop or slow the shedding of the virus nor cure the virus. It instead means that if the bird develops the virus, its immune system will be able to fight back and not develop the life-threatening symptoms that the virus creates because it already knows that it is a threat. All it stops is the symptoms, NOT the actual disease. A vaccinated bird can still be infected with Mareks. The vaccine used to be considered about 90% effective at stopping symptoms but more recent studies have shown that Mareks is mutating faster than vaccination can keep up with and that number is slowly dropping. In some places it’s now considered less than 80% effective, which is below herd immunity levels.

This last part is very similar to the way some human vaccines work and it’s one small piece of the puzzle of immunology. It’s part of why even if someone is vaccinated they could possibly still catch a disease, and it’s why even if we vaccinated the whole human population for 100 years we may never get rid of contagious diseases because all it takes is one asymptomatic person to spark a whole outbreak. The reality is, we may never show a symptom, but the disease might still be around. It’s why they still suggest vaccines for “eradicated” diseases that we’ve been vaccinating against since the beginning of vaccinations.

That being said, I am pretty firm on my stance. I believe in the power of natural immune systems. They’re incredible, they have the power to fight diseases like crazy and they are also genetic. If you never vaccinate a population of chickens you arrive at two outcomes. Either; A) The population of chickens catches Mareks, it’s super contagious and fatal and they all die; or B) The chickens keep living, either by having built a total natural immunity to the disease or by the disease having run it’s course long ago and no longer having had any prey the disease dies out. It may take a very long time indeed to reach one of these outcomes, but a little dose of selective breeding goes a long way. Animal husbandry is our own little micro eugenics program to breed bigger, faster, better, stronger and more immune chickens. We can also know when a disease is in our flock and eliminate all of the diseases “food” (in this case, chickens) so it dies out before it can spread. That’s what breeding IS. It is deciding who lives, breeds, and dies based on arbitrary traits and goals. Selective breeding IS eugenics.

If you vaccinate a population of chickens against most diseases you have to keep vaccinating them against it forever. This happens in humans sometimes too. We vaccinate against a disease, and maybe it is a sterile immunity, most human vaccines are sterile under the correct circumstances, which means that the immunity prevents the disease from infecting the body and the disease will never shed from the body even if they are exposed to it. Maybe some aren’t and that disease gets passed around asymptomatically forever. Maybe some people have weaker immune systems and what is normally a sterile vaccine is instead one that produces an asymptomatic carrier. Maybe a disease has animal carriers and is hard to eradicate from the environment, like flus. But the Mareks vaccine is NOT sterile EVER. If we vaccinate against Mareks we have to ALWAYS vaccinate against Mareks the way we ALWAYS vaccinate against tetanus. And the reality is that at best the Mareks vaccine works 90% of the time. The same thing goes for avian diseases like Newcastle, which is also carried by wild birds. We have to vaccinate forever, and still expect losses.

So here’s how I see it. I vaccinate myself and my dogs against fatal and common diseases. I don’t vaccinate my livestock unless the vaccine is a sterile vaccine.

By doing this I am guaranteed of one of two things in my birds… A strain of chickens with total immunity to Mareks or a flock that is completely free of Mareks. And what happens if my flock gets Mareks? The same thing that happens if my flock gets bird flu. The whole flock is killed in a comprehensive disease eradication program, all my equipment gets burned or torched and I do not put chickens on that land again for at least one year. Is that harsh? Very! It’s also the reality for people who are monitored for Avian Flu. And because of that, the Avian flu has not been spread across the whole nation killing half of the USAs chickens, possibly infecting and killing people, putting countless farmers out of work and sending the price of chicken meat skyrocketing. It’s about being responsible for the good of everyone.

But there is surprisingly no such program in place for Mareks, Newcastle or other severe and contagious chicken diseases. I’m committing myself to these actions willingly even though it may mean I loose everything for a year or more. I have done this for avian flu by becoming NPIP and I’m doing it for other diseases because I would like to see our birds in the USA either have a natural immunity to Mareks or I’d like to be able to proudly say that my flock is 100% clean. If my birds get sick, I cull them. Your vaccinated birds? Who knows if they carry Mareks or not? Am I going to bring home your supposedly “clean” bird, that acts totally healthy, and it’s secretly a ticking time bomb? I’m really concerned by the idea that 90% of vaccinated birds could be carrying Mareks and nobody would ever know it until my whole flock dies. The best part is that there’s no way (in a flock of all-vaccinated birds) of proving to me that your Mareks vaccinated birds DON’T have Mareks! And that is fine if the vaccine is dirt cheap and I want to vaccinate every single chick I raise out at hatch for the rest of humanity’s existence with no chance of eradicating the disease or growing birds that are immune to it and accepting that at least 10% of our birds die to this disease, and another 10% die to some other disease there’s a vaccine for, etc. But I think we can do better.

The price of such a program is steep, but the prices when it’s not followed are even steeper. There are countless people with their precious backyard flocks of PET chickens that come down with Mareks and they couldn’t imagine culling them, not even to protect the entire rest of the chicken population in the united states. This behavior was the start of a severe Newcastle outbreak in 2002 in California. Official reports state that it was a backyard flock with inadequate health management programs that was the source of the outbreak that spread to commercial flocks, other states, and cost farmers millions of dollars. People’s flocks of pet chickens were seized by government officials for destruction after a state of emergency was declared. All because one person didn’t cull unhealthy birds and report sickness in their flock. If someone moved in next door to me and got chickens, there would be nothing stopping them from putting unhealthy Mareks-laden “vaccinated” birds next to me and I’d never know it until my flock started dying. And if we worked together, agreed to BOTH remove our flocks for a year, and then get healthy birds a year later, we could eliminate Mareks in our neighborhood. Programs like this could eliminate Mareks from the USA entirely in a decade. And it’s simple; if your birds get Mareks, cull them. Follow good sterilization procedure, don’t put birds on that land again for at least a year, and we could see a massive eradication of a disease in a way that we will never see with the non-sterile vaccinations.

Unfortunately, too many people want to cling to their pet chickens. There are topics all over the internet about how to keep disease laden chickens alive, how to fight the government or other chicken facilities that are calling for your flock to be culled, and how to keep your chickens in hiding so that they can’t find your sick birds to kill your sweet little poopsy woopsies that happen to be costing all of the farmers around you lots of money and lives. The refrain of “Why should my vaccinated birds have to die just because you don’t want to vaccinate yours!?” is often heard and sometimes it gets countered with “Why should my healthy birds have to die for your sick ones!?”. People find themselves at an impasse with nobody to enforce or regulate a disease. We COULD do better, but unless there’s a national program for Mareks like the NPIP for avian flu, we can’t because there’s nothing TO enforce. So for now I will continue to cull for health and anyone who buys from me can be guaranteed that they are getting a healthy bird that is 100% Mareks free.

But I vaccinate my dogs and myself. Why? The first reason is because, like I stated earlier, most human vaccines are sterile, which means that even if I am exposed, the disease will not cause me to catch and shed the disease. That means that by vaccinating against the disease we are essentially seeking the natural solution of denying a disease its food source without killing people who get the disease. We are starving the disease out, and someday if every single person is vaccinated consistently for a time, we may actually see the diseases removed from the planet. This cannot happen with vaccines for things like Mareks, Newcastle and tetanus because of outside influences.

And yet I still tell people to get their tetanus shots. I got mine. My dogs have rabies vaccines and not just because of the law. The reason is because chickens are, in a way, disposable. They’re the goldfish of the avian world. You may love them, they may be smart, but ultimately they’re a small bundle of birds worth MAYBE $100 each if you have some extremely rare flock. Most people could find replacement hens for $15 a pop that are younger, healthier and produce more eggs. A year without chickens is not the end of the world. They live and die fast. A 6-month-old chicken is an adult. A 4-year-old hen is old. A 10-year-old hen is probably dead. Most people replace their hens within 3 years. What is one year without your hens? And further more, we raise them for food. No matter how much you love your mouse, chicken or goldfish… Ultimately the species is primarily raised to be eaten by something else.

But my dogs are not disposable. We chat together, they keep me sane, they are wildly sociable and designed by nature to attune themselves to my every request. They give me exercise and joy, they are robust and personable. I have thousands of dollars invested in each dog solely as a companion animal. I expect them to do what jobs they have (the occasional cart to be pulled, guarding my house, herding chickens, or carrying a backpack on a hike, etc) and eventually retire peacefully to my home. They are not disposable, replaceable animals. They may stay with me for 20 years, or a fifth of my whole life on this earth. They are not a $15 animal raised en masse for food that I would likely replace in three years anyhow.

And people fit the “disposable” bill even less so. So yes, I have avoided some vaccines for non-fatal conditions (flu shot is silly IMO) and gotten others for conditions that are more likely to hurt me (tetanus comes to mind, given my work). For me to endorse not getting vaccines for serious conditions for people is like telling someone to treat humans like disposable chickens. The price of seeking factual natural immunity is awfully steep to pay. The price is eugenics. And if you’re supporting nature and natural systems, you can look at chickens to see how much it would take for that to be effective. I’m willing to cull fifteen birds, or even one hundred birds, or a thousand, or a million, to keep a disease from spreading without vaccines. So unless you endorsing mass genocide for a species (which in the case of chickens, I am), you might wanna consider vaccinating. Because that’s how immunity works. Immunity is bred in, not magically obtained. So please, always use sterile vaccines, and you might want to consider non sterile vaccines as well. The one in a million chance of having an allergic reaction is probably worth not requiring genocide for the human race.

To Make An Ecovillage

Ecotopia

Ecotopia; A vision for the Future

Well, that’s the goal anyhow… Actually producing one is another matter entirely.

Let’s start with some clear definitions on this project. I was rather vague about what an ecovillage even is and what the project we’re pursuing is last time I posted so I shall be more up front this time.

An Ecovillage is an intentional community (a group of people with a desire to deliberately come together to support one another as a community under similar belief systems as a society) where the focus is on being sustainable and ecologically responsible. Ours would be a large plot of land, many aces, in northeast Ohio. People could come and build sustainable, community, and tiny houses on our land, grow plants and animals, collect water in rain barrels, hunt for deer, use kilns to fire clay, wander into a shared root cellar and generally homestead. Resources would be shared, from food, to money and cars and decisions would be majority vote or even consensus. Ours would be an egalitarian society, a sort of utopian socialism that puts both communism and capitalism to shame. The sort of society that is praised and lauded and exists in the most egalitarian and democratic places in the world with the lowest poverty rates and highest job satisfaction percentages. Places like Norway and Sweeden which have the highest rates of happiness for their citizens ever seen anywhere. Nobody would ever get rich or become powerful in our village, but nobody would ever go hungry either. Nobody would ever be without a job, a home, or medical care. Nobody would be standing on the shoulders of the poor, rising above… But so too would nobody be those carrying that burden of the rich and powerful.

Utopian idealism? Maybe. But tell that to the Nordic countries who consistently rank highest on objective surveys for the best places in the world to live and work and have children. Tell that to Bernie Sanders, who is now one of the top presidential candidates for THIS country who hold the same idealism, when nobody thought he could win. Tell that to the statistics that show that getting an education is the most affordable in socialist/democratic places like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand and France. Tell that to an America that is the third WORST developed country to try to afford an education in. People want that life. And we’re not stupid, we know there will be problems and concerns. They’re things we’re already working through. But we are sick of income gaps and the creeping power of the government. We want something better, something more fulfilling, something that’s more natural and speaks to the heart. Most of all we’re willing to give up gas stations, fast food and HD flat screen TVs with a DVR and Blu Ray to get it.

In reality, many Ecovillages exist world-wide and are already practicing various forms of this utopian idealism. One of the most famous in the US is Dancing Rabbit in Rutledge Missouri. Two hundred and eighty something acres of nothing in the middle of nowhere, deliberately removed from society in the creation of something new. An egalitarian and sustainable commune filled with 50+ college age kids, families and open minded people interested in experimenting for the future. Another is The Farm, one of the largest communities around with a focus on religious and spiritual aspects, wrapped up in a church-like setting akin to a new-age Amish lifestyle. The Amish themselves could be said to like in a sort of ecovillage, and indeed, certainly consist of an intentional community.

Each of these places has some aspect about them we don’t like. Strict religious requirements that lead to a cult-like feeling, a separation from the modern world that leads to questions about openness and a lack of publication or lifestyles that are extremist that could cause a lack of effectiveness and membership. And most importantly? We love our city and our area, our hometown of Cleveland Ohio, one of the most impoverished major cities in the US. And we want to be able to effect the people here most of all.

To that extent I brought together a group of people that may be interested in the project; friends and family, people passionate about gardens and animals, about recycling and social change, about composting and peace. And we talked. And we talked.

And slowly we started to see something take shape. Mission statements were drafted, tossed out, and re-drafted. Technologies were considered. Research on crop yields, on building and agricultural laws, on natural building techniques, on emissions calculations, on natural biocides, on water management, on holistic animal management, on forestry… The list goes on and on and the amount that just I have learned over the past year would not fit into a dozen text books. Numbers were calculated and calculated again, adjustments were made, costs projected…

And thus fell our harsh reality. We just don’t have the immediate start up capital that we want to achieve our current goals. Not that we’re sitting on nothing, and don’t have plans the generate more. But we are pondering the purchase of 40 acres and a mule, here, not 5 acres near a suburb. Because there are nearly 10 of us that want to bring the project together, that want open spaces and forest, that want to garden and raise animals, that want to live in the socially just society we are trying to build, free of sexism and classism and racism, and all the other “isms” that plague our society… We just can’t get a small property, not if we want to truly be a village. Not if we want to open up applications for other people. Not if we want to change the world.

To solve this problem, we’re going to be holding a crowdfunding campaign and separately seeking out other people interested in our idealism who want to help us fund the project in exchange for a place in our society. We have enough to put the down payment on a property. A big one, 50-100 acres of land to house a small village worth of people. The kind of place I can invite my readers or fellow homesteaders to come live with me on, in our own little slice of heaven. We could even break ground THIS year! Imagine for a moment the dream; growing food, living in a home in the woods with a wood burning stove, and having a client base right next door who always wants to buy them from you. Well, that’s what it’s going to be like. That’s what I dream about at night while falling asleep; getting to grow food and feed people and as a result of that work my needs are taken care of. I couldn’t care less if there were green slips of paper involved in the middle of it or not. Who cares? If my needs are met and I am happy, what else matters?

But we do not have the money for the infrastructure to really achieve our goals… Solar panels, cooking oil cars, electric tractors or draft animals, start up herds of anything we want to raise at all… Chickens, goats, cattle, pigs… Plant heirlooms and feed people who live on the land with us. Create community spaces, buildings to serve as places of worship or learning, or to hold meetings in. That’s what we want to do. We want our life to be abundant and flowing and natural and beautiful. Hopefully we can get the ball rolling on funding the project. We’re certainly willing to put our money where our mouth is!

What about you? What do you want out of life? Would you live in an ecovillage? How would you raise the money to fund your dreams?