FDA Ignores GMO Labeling Petition; Time to write letters

Just Label It

Many of you may have participated in the Just Label It (We have the right to know) campaign asking the FDA to label GMO foods.  According to the Just Label It website:

Congratulations, together, we have made history. We now stand more than one million strong in asking the FDA to label genetically engineered (GE) foods. Today, March 27 is the date that the FDA is required to respond to the petition and it took us less than 180 days to accumulate a record breaking number of public comments—a testament to the power of our collective voices to demand our right to know what’s in our food. This campaign’s strength is due to the over 500 diverse partner organizations who helped galvanize the American people to this moment.

On March 28, 2012, the Chicago Tribune reported FDA finally responds to GMO-labeling campaign but differs on numbers of supporters.  The Chicago Tribune reports:

Organizers say the campaign garnered more than a million supporters, far more than any other petition brought to the FDA in history. But the FDA disagrees.  By its count the number is: 394.

The agency says that if 35,000 people, for instance, sign their name to the same form letter it only counts as one person or “comment.” And if tens of thousands sign a petition, they are only counted as one “comment,” too.

If 1,000,000 signatures on a petition counts as ONE signature, it looks like is is time to overwhelm the FDA with real letters.  HERE is the contact information for the FDA.  Write letters ATTN: Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg.  You may consider sending a CC to your Senators and Representatives  in Washington, too.

If you are unsure what to write, I copied and pasted this letter from the Just Label It  website:

Dear Commissioner Hamburg,

I am writing to urge the FDA to require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. I have a right to know about the food I eat and what I feed my family.

In America, we pride ourselves on having choices and making informed decisions. Under current FDA regulations, we don’t have that choice when it comes to GE ingredients in the foods we purchase and feed our families. Labeling is essential for me to choose whether or not I want to consume or feed my family genetically engineered foods.

Genetically engineered foods are required to be labeled in the 15 European Union nations, Russia, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world. As an American, I firmly believe I should also have the right to know if my foods have been genetically engineered.

A recent poll released by ABC News found that 93 percent of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. As ABC News stated, “Such near-unanimity in public opinion is rare.”

I hope you will listen to me and the other 93 percent of the American public who want mandatory labeling. Please show your support for the interests of the American people by labeling genetically engineered foods.

SIGN your name

FULL address including city and state

(and any cc’s you may like to include)

You can also act by supporting H.R. 3553, H.R. 3554. and H.R. 3555

It doesn’t matter if the letters all say the same thing, what matters is that we all take a few minutes of our time and send individual letters to the FDA.  Imagine if the FDA receives 1,000,000 letters?  Wow!

Posted in Earth, environment, ethical eating, food, Food Actions, Food Justice, Food Safety, GMO, National Issues, Occupy Food, Occupy Gardens, Occupy Our Food Supply, Occupy Wall Street | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Putting Things Back; Regenerating the Pond and Woods

The pond one year ago (March 2011)

When we purchased our home last year, we liked the land for a number of reasons.  Though only an acre, 2/3rds of the property was very flat.  The backyard received plenty of sun and was a blank slate meaning there were no plants, shrubs, or trees to hinder a vegetable garden.  A third of the property was a wooded north facing slope covered in vines and brambles that made exploring the woods very difficult and impossible in the summer months.

We have slowly been working on the grounds here at our little house by planting fruit bushes & fruit trees and building gardens.  With most of this work completed for now, we have begun re-establishing the woods.

March 2011, the seasonal creek...possibly looking toward the berm.

When we purchased the property, we knew that we had a seasonal creek that flowed through the very bottom of the woods.  The basin area was boggy and, again, filled with brambles.  We waited through summer watching the “weeds” to keep an eye out for any native plants and to see if the brambles would produce any berries…preferably wild blackberries.  In my exploration under a forest of weeds, I noticed a berm with standing water.  It was very hard to reach with brambles and privet blocking the way, but I put on a pair of jeans, boots, and a thick jacket and managed to get to it.  Sitting in a pile on the berm was a pile of interesting rounded rocks and big chunks of sun-bleached coral.  Inside the berm, laid a pile of huge trees that had been cut and thrown in the hole.  There was also a strange cement culvert of sorts that was covered with more cut trees and very hard to access.

March 2011, the mysterious culvert unreachable due to logs laying on it.

I wanted a nature trail through the woods so we could enjoy this part of the property, which was up to this point inaccessible.  After watching the plant life through most the summer, Chad put his trail crew experiences to use and planned a trail.  I walked the proposed trail with him pointing out any plant that may be native. (Many natives to the untrained eye look like simple weeds…and when everything is green and out of bloom, it may be difficult to distinguish between a “good” plant and invasive plants.) I pointed out areas that I knew contained small plants like Little Brown Jug that is difficult to see.   He dug out a trail that gave us access to at least take a walk in the woods, and he established a little meadow on the far side of the creek.

March 2011, the mysterious culvert (and my foot) from another angle.

Curiosity is a ferocious beast.  The berm and the mess in it perplexed me.  To me, it was obvious that it had once been a human-made pond.  There is one just like it, but bigger, on the property right next door that we can see from our woods.  The neighboring pond is filled with singing frogs, and we often see ducks on it.  I’ve always wanted a little pond, human-made or not, and everyone who would visit our home, I would ask, “Do you think that was a pond?”  The usual answer was, “Possibly.”

Well, that just wasn’t much help to me.  A few weeks ago, I asked Chad to scythe the brambles, which didn’t flower into blackberries or anything for that matter, so we could access the berm without bleeding, and an amazing thing happened; we could see the berm, at one time, indeed housed a pond.  Though I had pointed out the berm to him in the past, Chad hadn’t taken much notice, but now, his curiosity awakened.

March 2011, looking down into the woods.

There was a huge dead cedar tree laying on top of the whole mess.  Chad drug it out and cut off the limbs and put the truck aside for later use.  Over the course of the past few weeks, we have slowly begun cleaning out the pond.  Chad pulled three to four huge, rotted, water-logged trees from the pit.  We cleaned out empty (and at least capped) plastic oil containers, old cinder blocks, rubble, pieces of a cement pipe, the metal end of a pitchfork, and a piece of slate that actually was a clue to the mystery.

Our property was once part of a larger property, and I was told by a neighbor that the original owner had a slate breezeway in his home.  We figure that the pond is older than the previous owner’s home.  We know that he built his home about 50 years ago.  On the edge of the pond, but in the pond, is an oak tree that looks to be about 50 years old.  The former owner of the property used the pond and low point of the property as his personal landfill and at least once, there was a fire down there.  The previously mentioned oak has a fire scar.

August 2011, looking down into the woods.

We still haven’t figured out the culvert.  It’s big and made of cement.  There is no way it can be lifted.  There are pipes in it, and a pipe that led into the pond that we have cleaned out.

The soil that we are dredging from the pond is black and some of it reminiscent of biochar or terra preta, and even as wet as it is, the soil is loaded with earthworms.  Chad has begun a hugelkultur experiment at the edge of the berm using the rotted logs and wood then covered it with this black pond dirt.  To further enhance the woods, I have planted mint along the creek and curly willows in the boggy areas.  The path that Chad built during the dry season goes right through the bog…as we found out this very rainy winter…so we did a forest service trail crew bridge-type job so we can access the trail through the bog. We have also planted raspberries on the far side of the meadow.

August 2011, trail going down into the woods.

There is still much work to do, but as you tell from the photos, the transformation is already noticeable.

The pond on 11 March 2012.

Looking down towards the pond on 11 March 2012. The meadow is in the background.

11 March 2012, the mysterious culvert.

11 March 2012, forest service style bridge across the bog.

11 March 2012, mystery pile of rocks used to line the trail leading into the meadow.

11 March 2012, raspberries planted behind sitting log.

11 March 2012, from the sitting log looking across the meadow toward the pond.

11 march 2012, the seasonal creek.

12 March 2012, trail at sunset.

12 March 2012, woods at twilight.

a little creepy at night...

Posted in landscape design, native gardening, Nature, Permaculture, Regenerative Gardening | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eat Play Live (Knoxville): Grass to Garden

On 10 March 2012 was Eat Play Live (Knoxville); an educational forum designed to help “people become directly involved in local food sources and active outdoor spaces in support of their own healthy living” by focusing on teaching participants about food production, active neighborhoods, safer streets, and farm to fork (seed to plate).

Having the honor of facilitating one of the afternoon break-out sessions, I took on: Grass to Garden (Grow Food Yourself).  The description of the session reads:

Would you like to put in a garden but don’t know how to begin? When planning a garden, not all spaces are created equally. Beginning with a less than optimal gardening space, participants will learn how to assess an area, work with existing features, and plan a garden. Finally, participants will assist in planting a garden that will benefit the L&N STEM Academy!

Though the title reads “grow food yourself” there is no (human) food in this garden.  My philosophy when planning a garden and assessing a space is as follows:

  1. Does this location support a place that I can grow food to feed my family?  Yes or no?  If the answer is yes, I plant some kind of edible like vegetables, fruit, or nuts.  If the answer is no (this may be due to lack of sun or too close to a home that may have lead paint)…
  2. Can I plant something here that will support, encourage, and feed wildlife like bees, birds, and/or butterflies?  Yes or no.  If the answer is yes, I plant something to support wildlife, preferably a native species.  If the answer is no (this may be due to lack of proper sunlight)…
  3. Can I plant an ornamental native species here that supports the nature scape of my area?  Yes or no?  There usually isn’t a “no” here, but sometimes I may want to plant an annual or a bulb.

By following this simple train of thought, I am able to create garden spaces that require very low care and support the environment.

The area around the tree with the flagpoles in the background.

The Eat Play Live committee chose the L&N STEM Academy as the location for this breakout session.  Most of the places available for a garden sat in parking lot islands/medians.  I assessed the grounds of the school and choose an island that has high visibility and is used for the school’s flagpoles.  This garden is visible from the World’s Fair Park playground and the Veterans’ Memorial.  The students often pass this area while changing classes or hanging out in the yard.  It’s location seemed to support adding a sense of pride to the school.  Also, the space mirrored similar circumstances that people may contend with in their own yards:  unmovable structures, trees, some undesirable plants…in this case, creeping juniper, and crab grass.

I went through my series of questions:  Can I grow food here?  The answer to this question was, “Yes,” but in this case, there were several other factors to consider.

Most of this creeping juniper stayed, but got a healthy pruning.

School gardens are great ideas because students learn a sense of where food comes from.  They also learn responsibility in caring for plants that, will in turn, give something back…in this case, food.  The challenge with growing an edible garden is that most plants mature in the summer when students are not in school, and no one benefits
from the vegetables.  Even if a Spring or Fall garden presents a challenge.  During the summer months, the garden becomes overrun and the students return to an area that leaves much to be desired and a  lot of work.

Creeping juniper that was removed and lots of crabgrass.

In this case, I needed to consider the quality of the soil.  Before the L&N became a school, lawn crews mulched heavily not taking the time to place the mulch around the plants, but often throwing the mulch directly on top of the plants.  I found plants (dead or half dying) completely buried by the mulch.  Not knowing where the mulch came from, I was concerned about toxins in the mulch/soil.  Taking all this into consideration, I ruled out human edibles.

Area in between the flagpoles filled with crabgrass and creeping juniper that was removed.

On to the next question: Can this space grow plants that will support, encourage, and feed wildlife?  Absolutely.

I met with the beautification club and YES, the school’s environmental club.  When planning a garden for other people, it is important to include  the actual people who will care for the garden in the general assessment.  I can plant whatever I want, but if the population of the school is uninterested, the garden will fail. I explained my thought

Rough draft of ideas and plant choices presented to students of the YES and Beautification club at the L&N STEM Academy.

process to the students who agreed and were interested in a bird and butterfly garden.  I reviewed the native plant list from Overhill Gardens, a local nursery that specializes in native plants and provided fruit bushes that were presented as parting gifts to participants of the Eat Play Live conference.  I took a list of possible native plants and a rough draft of my idea to the students.  The students liked the idea and the plants.  I gave them the option of mixing berry bushes with perennial flowers, and they choose to stick with flowering plants.

After consulting with the students, I went to work designing the actual garden.  I went straight out to the space with my tape measure, and to the best of my ability, got the dimensions of the island.  I measured the location of the tree, flagpoles, and light pole.  After I had the locations roughly drawn with notes marking distances, I sketched in the juniper.  Then I stood back and visualized the space keeping in mind the possibility of native plants.

Landscape plan for the L&N STEM Academy using plants from Overhill Gardens. Adjustments were made to the finalized list due to plant availability. Not to exact scale, but close enough.

Removing the tree was not an option, and though the creeping juniper was unhealthy and dying, some of it was still quite healthy.  I decided to simply prune the dead parts from juniper and clear out the dead and buried stuff.  The plan I showed to the students included a walkway to make the flagpoles more accessible.  I designed the path to flow between the three structures [and now would be the time to come clean…when originally looking at the median, I simply assumed all three poles were flagpoles.  I did not look up (till after the walkway was designed and the landscape plan sent to Eat Play Live to be used as a handout) to notice that one of the flagpoles wasn’t a flagpole at all but a light pole…I considered changing the plan to something simply going from one flagpole to the second flagpole then out of the garden…like the original rough draft, but decided…] The flagpoles and the light post are arranged in a triangle, I made the garden path circular for full immersion into the garden; it adds curves and flow to the triangle; and it aids in sectioning the garden to appear as four smaller intimate gardens within one larger space  (besides, it was just prettier…and sometimes you need to throw practicality to the wind to include aesthetics).

10 March 2012 before planting...proposed walkway set with posts and survey ribbon.

The students assisted after school with pruning and clearing the area of rocks, weeds, and grass (to the best of our ability…it is crab grass).  I fined tuned the plant list picking native plants that are hardy and will spread easily, which will help control and/or mask the crab grass and other weeds.

With the hard work complete, the day of the conference and planting arrived.  With borrowed shovels from Beardsley Community Farm, around 15 participants and two students from the YES club assisted in sinking the plants.

I coached the group how to plant.  Now this may seem like a simple concept, but it is a fundamental step in the process.  When I first began gardening, my only experience was with tomatoes.  Tomatoes are an exception to the rule; plant tomatoes deep, very deep, to encourage root growth.  When I branched out into larger plants, I sank them in the same manor.  I killed a good number of things.  Most other plants like to be planted at nursery level (ground level of the plant in the pot should match up with the ground level), and planting them too deep will smother the crown (where the stem changes to root).  The hole should not be too deep or too shallow and should be two to three times the width of the root ball.  I was taught this by Master Gardener, David Craig, when I worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer for Habitat for Humanity‘s HUG program.  

Many of the plants we received from Overhill Gardens had not begun to crest the soil, which made the planting rather simple.  Though flat in the center of the median, most of the areas we planted sat on a slope.  I instructed the group, after filing in the hole, to pile the remaining dirt on the down slope side to create a terrace or contour effect.  This allows a place to catch the water instead of running straight down the slope…a type erosion control that will help protect the roots.

The group sank 36 plants in less then an hour.  I showed them how to water, which is another integral part of the process.  Had I more than one 5 gallon bucket, I would have had participants take turns watering the plants.  Normally, I also would have explained the group the importance of mulch as well as showed them how to mulch.  Mulching assists in protecting the plant, reduces evaporation, and assists with weed control.  (I hope the group reads this blog because I did forget to talk about it…probably because I didn’t have a pile of mulch to spread.)  I didn’t ask for mulch, because the soil was already heavily mulched, and everyone seemed to replace the soil so the light fluffy mulch was right on top.  After the group left, I checked the planting…something I should have done in front of the participants.  I lightly tamped the soil around many of the plants to minimize air pockets around the roots.  I placed more soil around plants as needed.

After planting...keep plant tags in the ground next to plant. Future Lemon Queen sunflowers, Joe-pye weed, and Autumn Sage salvia.

Overall, I found the experience exhilarating.  The plants will surface as the weather warms.  Hopefully with any luck, by late Summer when the students return to school, they’ll be met with a garden full of beautiful flowers.

Final plant list from Overhill Gardens:  3 smooth pholx; 1 Annabelle hydrangea; 5 purple coneflower, 2 Lemon Queen sunflowers; 3 “Little Joe” joe-pye weed; 1 Maraschino Autumn Sage salvia; 1 beauty berry bush; 9 wild columbine; 4 orange butterfly weed; 4 common milkweed; and 3 Prairie Dropseed native grass clumps.

Future purple coneflower/echinacea.

Future Annabelle hydrangea and smooth phlox.

Future butterfly weed and common milkweed marked with posts and ribbons because plants showed no new Spring growth (yet).

Prairie Dropseed grass clumps will grow to about 2 feet high and wide and produce a magnificent fountain of fine-textured, emerald green leaves. The seedhead has a faint fragrance. The highly nutritious seeds are much sought after by birds.

Posted in birds, community, Contour Gardening, events, Gardening, gardening philosophy, landscape design, native gardening, Nature, neighborhoods, Regenerative Gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop, Abolish, Put an End to the Insanity!

It’s time for my yearly rant, which I haven’t raged about on this blog since November 2010, but once a year, I go complete stark raving mad…each Spring, I go on a rampage preaching and posting about the insanity!

So, it is that time of year…that time to republish Go With the Natural Flow.  If my research isn’t enough to convince you of the insanity, I also found this snazzy little video that touches on topics that I haven’t even thought of…


I highly encourage you to act.  I would like to see this go to D.C., but I am willing to start in Tennessee and follow the lead of other states like Arizona and Hawaii.  This time of year is a farce, a lie, a scam, and I want my time back.

Posted in calendar, Local Issues, National Issues, Occupy Wall Street, Time | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lamb Sausage Quiche with a Brown Rice Crust

In the Winter months when the Market Square Farmers’ Market is closed, food options are limited.  Luckily, Adam and Shelby from Spring Creek Farm come to Market Square twice a month for Winter delivery.  I’ve been buying vegetables from Adam for years, but recently he began carrying meat.  I’ve slowly been trying new things each time he comes to town, and this time I purchased bulk lamb sausage.  Shelby said I could use it anyway I would use Italian sausage.

Oh dear LORD…this was some of the best tasting sausage I have ever eaten!  No lie.  I am a lover of lamb meat, but if you are apprehensive about lamb, this is a great way to start.

I made a quiche with a brown rice crust.  I followed a basic recipe that I found at Closet Cooking for the brown rice crust.  I took photos of the process because once I sauteed the lamb and tasted it, I knew that I had a winning supper recipe on my hands.  Unfortunately, my camera did not want to save the photos, and all were lost…including the final pic of the finished casserole, and it was so beautiful!


For the crust mix: 1 cup of brown rice cooked, 1 egg beaten, 1 handful of shredded Farmer’s cheese

For the filling: 1 lb of bulk lamb sausage, 3 green onions chopped, 4 green garlic tops chopped*, 2 handfuls of chopped Swiss chard*, 3 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 2 handfuls of shredded Farmer’s cheese.

While the rice is cooking, saute the meat.  Turn off the heat.  Add the green stuff to the meat and let it wilt the green stuff.

When the rice is finished, mix it with the egg and cheese as stated above.  Press the rice mix into a greased casserole dish (I used an oval 12×9) and up the sides.  Cook the crust for about 10-12 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  The crust will brown a little.

When that’s done, beat the eggs (I used three eggs instead of four because the eggs from Spring Creek are so high quality, that four eggs would be too much.  If you are using store bought eggs, use four.), and milk.  Mix in the cheese and meat mixture.  Stir well.  Put the mixture in the pie crust then cook for 35 minutes at 375.

The only picture I managed to get was of Blue devouring his quiche. He didn't even know or care that he was eating brown rice and Swiss chard.

The dish was so flavorful that no extra seasoning was needed. Chad ate his with Sriracha sauce, and for once I didn’t.


Posted in food, local food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

H.R. 3555…send an e-mail to your Rep

On 27 February 2012, I wrote Occupy Your Food Supply by Supporting H.R. 3553, H.R. 3554. and H.R. 3555 asking you to contact your Representative in D.C. to support these bills sponsored by Dennis Kucinich (Ohio).  Today I received an e-mail from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) asking for us to contact our Reps in regards to H.R. 3555.

Stop Monsanto’s Harassment of Non-GMO Farmers! Support the Farmer Protection Act!

The form is simple and goes directly to your Rep.  I have further contacted the OCA asking them to do the same for bills H.R. 3553 and H.R. 3554.  I am asking you to do the same.

This is a simple and direct action that everyone online can do.  Please empower yourself and our children.  Fight for our food supply, farmers, and health.

Thank you.

Posted in ethical eating, farming, food, Food Actions, Food Justice, Food Safety, GMO, industrial food, National Issues, Occupy Food, Occupy Gardens, Occupy Our Food Supply, Occupy Wall Street | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Occupy Your Food Supply by Supporting H.R. 3553, H.R. 3554. and H.R. 3555

Today, February 27, 2012, is a day of global action to Occupy Your Food Supply.  If you are wondering why this call for action has errupted, Willie Nelson and Anna Lappe recently published in Huff Post Food:

Why We Must Occupy Our Food Supply

The call to Occupy our Food Supply…is being echoed by prominent thought leaders, authors, farmers and activists including the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Food Inc.’s Robert Kenner, and authors Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Marion Nestle, among others.

Here is something simple you can do:  Support these bills sponsored by Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

H.R. 3553: Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act

H.R. 3554: Genetically Engineered Safety Act

H.R. 3555: Genetically Engineered Technology Farmer Protection Act

Send a letter to your Representatives in Washington D.C. telling them that you support these bills.

If you are reading this message, you are using a computer.  This is a simple and easy action that you can do right now from your computer that can make a difference in our food supply.

Posted in Earth, environment, ethical eating, events, farming, food, Food Actions, Food Justice, Food Safety, Gardening, GMO, industrial food, local food, National Issues, Occupy Food, Occupy Gardens, Occupy Our Food Supply, Occupy Wall Street, Urban Farming | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments