Monday, May 30, 2011

New Research Shows Factory Farms are NOT the Way to Feed the World

   I saw this article last week and haven't had a chance to share it until now. The article mentions the video here (which plainly says "unauthorized use or distribution prohibited", but I'm going to assume that, since it's up on You Tube, it's safe to embed alongside an article promoting it.)

Here's the article, by pollywog on My Auburn California:

Farmageddon...The Unseen War on American Family Farms, produced and directed by Kristin Canty (Google this or go to Mercola doc com to watch the video. Just search for the title of this article)

Conventional opinion is that feeding the world by 2050 will necessitate a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. But this is not always the opinion of scientists whose work takes them out of the laboratory and into farm fields and ecosystems, such as soil experts, ecologists, and development specialists.

One recently published scientific paper urges a fundamental rethinking of the U.S. agricultural-research system, which it calls "narrowly focused on productivity and efficiency" at the expense of public health and ecological resilience. It also calls for a revamping of the Farm Bill, which it argues uses subsidies to "mask market, social, and environmental factors associated with conventional production systems."

According to Grist:

"While conventional wisdom holds that scientists who study agriculture think only lots of GMOs and agrichemicals can feed us going forward, [this research] team has quite a different set of recommendations in mind: 'organic farming, alternative livestock production (e.g., grass-fed), mixed crop and livestock systems, and perennial grains.' They are by no means the only high-level researchers to reach such conclusions."


Grist May 11, 2011

Science May 6, 2011 (PDF)

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

From a purely financial perspective, factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) make loads of economic sense. Large numbers of animals, typically 1,000 or more, are raised in a small area, fed cheap, typically grain-based, genetically modified food, and supplemented with hormones and antibiotics to maximize their growth potential in the shortest amount of time possible.

"Indulgences" like access to pasture or natural foods, sunlight and fresh air are not a part of the equation as they don't positively impact profits.

As it stands, Time magazine reported that 2 percent of U.S. livestock facilities produce 40 percent of farm animals, and these CAFOs have been highly promoted as the best way to produce food for the masses.

But thankfully a ray of hope has emerged.

New Policy Reform Paper Urges Transition to Sustainable Agriculture Systems

A very bright, forward-thinking paper from a group of researchers led by Washington State University soil scientist John P. Reganold, published in Science, has summed up problems with CAFOs and the need for transformative farming approaches that address long-term sustainability.

They say:

"Achieving sustainable agricultural systems will require transformative changes in markets, policy, and science."

To realize this change will involve a transition away from CAFOs and toward innovative farming practices that:

" … integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production."

The paper builds on a National Research Council report released last year – Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century – that reported in 2007 the largest 2 percent of U.S. farms were responsible for 59 percent of total farm sales.

What are the Consequences of Relying on CAFOs for Food?

The trend of large corporate-controlled CAFOs making up the lion's share of U.S. food production has lead to an abundance of cheap food, but not without consequence.

As the report noted:

"Many modern agricultural practices have unintended negative consequences, or externalized costs of production, that are mostly unaccounted for in agricultural productivity measurements or by farm enterprise budgets."

This includes:

Loss of water quality through nitrogen and phosphorus contamination in rivers, streams and ground water (which contributes to "dramatic shifts in aquatic ecosystems and hypoxic zones")

Agricultural pesticide contamination to streams, ground water and wells, and safety concerns to agricultural workers who use them

A decline in nutrient density of 43 garden crops (primarily vegetables), which suggests "possible tradeoffs between yield and nutrient content)

Large emission of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide

Negative impact on soil quality through such factors as erosion, compaction, pesticide application and excessive fertilization

Industrial agriculture also raises concerns about the welfare of farm animals and the farmers themselves. Net farm income received by farmers has remained stagnant for the last four decades, and more than 50 percent of U.S. farmers must supplement their income with additional jobs during the off-season.

A large number of these farmers are slated to retire in the next decade, which means there may be a vast shortage of farmers in the United States, and corporate agriculture could continue to reign supreme.

This is a problem for another glaring reason as well – namely that this system directly contributes to Americans' increasing reliance on processed junk foods – the very same foods that are making us fat and riddled with chronic disease. This is in large part due to the fatally flawed Farm Bill, which is slated to be renewed in 2012.

What's the Farm Bill Got to do With It?

The Farm Bill is renewed every four years. The last version was revamped in 2008, and at that time it set aside $2.3 billion to subsidize small farmers' specialty crops, which sounds promising until you hear that $290 billion was given to big business in the form of corn, soybean and cotton subsidies.

By subsidizing these, particularly corn and soy, the U.S. government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), soybean oil, and grain-fed cattle – all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic diseases.

In a nutshell, the American agricultural system promotes and produces junk food, which is the precise opposite of what we all need in order to be healthy.

Take HFCS, for example. It's actually quite difficult to find a processed food product that does NOT include HFCS, and oftentimes it's one of the top three ingredients. With everything we now know about how HFCS and other sugars create obesity and chronic disease, is it any wonder we have a health care crisis on our hands?

The breakdown of government farm subsidies is really quite eye-opening and clearly correlates with which foods are heavily consumed in the United States:

Meat/Dairy -- 73.8 percent

Grains -- 13.2 percent

Sugar/Oil/Starch/Alcohol -- 10.7 percent

Nuts/Legumes -- 1.9 percent

Vegetables/Fruits -- 0.4 percent

Notice that less than half a percent of food subsidies is for fruits and vegetables! This is precisely why families have trouble affording green peppers, leafy greens and tomatoes, but can get a fast-food cheeseburger for a buck.

The bad news is that the foods receiving the greatest subsidies are the very foods you should avoid or limit, according to federal nutrition guidelines. It's a perfect example of saying one thing but doing another, and then blaming the ill effects on human nature.

The Science report, which is calling for a reform of the Farm Bill, further notes:

"Most elements of the Farm Bill were not designed to promote sustainability. Subsidies are commonly criticized for distorting market incentives and making our food system overly dependent on a few grain crops mainly used for animal feed and highly processed food, with deleterious effects on the environment and human health."

A Better Way to Raise Our Food

The video above is the trailer from a full-length documentary called Farmageddon...The Unseen War on American Family Farms, produced and directed by Kristin Canty. It offers an in-depth look into the escalating fight for food rights in the United States, including the right to purchase raw milk from small family farms.

The growing demand for raw milk is one sign that people are increasingly looking for fresh, whole foods that come from sustainable sources.

Partly in response to this consumer demand, researchers are now calling for both incremental and transformative approaches to make U.S. agriculture sustainable. This includes not only short-term goals like two-year crop rotations and reduced (or no) tillage but also a long-term transformative approach that:

" … builds on an understanding of agriculture as a complex socioecological system. Transformative change looks to whole-system redesign rather than single technological improvements. Examples of such innovative systems make up a modest, but growing, component of U.S. agriculture and include organic farming, alternative livestock production (e.g., grass-fed), mixed crop and livestock systems, and perennial grains.

Such systems integrate production, environmental, and socioeconomic objectives; reflect greater awareness of ecosystem services; and capitalize on synergies between complementary farm enterprises, such as between crop and livestock production."

This sounds very much like one emerging type of farming known as permaculture. The Permaculture Institute defines permaculture as an "ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor."

The word itself comes from "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture," and at its foundation is developing agricultural and other systems that are interconnected and dependent on one another. In other words, they mimic the natural ecologies found in nature. The focus is not on any one element of the system, rather the focus is on the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat -- and how to use these relationships to create synergistic, self-supporting ecosystems.

How to Help Support Sustainable Agriculture

If you want to optimize your health, you simply must return to the basics of healthy food choices and typically this includes buying your food from responsible, high-quality, sustainable sources.

This is why I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area. This includes not only visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs.

Now that summer is almost here in the United States, fresh produce and other wonderful whole foods are available in abundance. Not only is the food so much tastier and healthier when you get it from sustainable, non-CAFO sources, but there is something about shopping for fresh foods in an open-air, social environment that just feels right. An artificially lit, dreary supermarket -- home to virtually every CAFO food made -- just can't compete.

If you want to experience some of these benefits first-hand, here are some great resources to obtain wholesome food that supports not only you but also the environment:

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.

Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.

FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


   Seriously? The U.S. Senate needed sixty votes to proceed with a bill to reduce the deficit by closing big oil tax loopholes and there were 48 Senators willing to vote against it?!? We are fighting two foreign wars, global climate change, an economic crisis, and we desperately need to curb the American appetite for petrol, but 48 U.S. Senators wanted to be sure big oil companies don't have to pay their fair share?!?

   This is exactly what the founders meant when they spoke of "voting the rascals out". We should be paying more for gas because the cost is high. We should be paying more for food produced with petrochemicals and being transported long distances. We need to find a balance with nature and the planet so that it will continue to sustain us, but the U.S. Senate just decided big oil's profits are more important than you, me, and our children.


Motion to Proceed to the Consideration of S. 940; A bill to reduce the Federal budget deficit by closing big oil tax loopholes, and for other purposes
On the Motion to Proceed
Senate Roll Call No. 72
112nd Congress, 1st Session
Rejected: 52-48 (see complete tally)
By 52 yeas to 48 nays (Vote No. 72), Senate did not agree to the motion to proceed to consideration of the bill.

Vote Map: Senate Roll Call No. 72
Votes For :52
Votes Against :48


   I read somewhere someone wrote this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

   We The People need to seriously reexamine our consent!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Money Lessons for High School Grads

   I'm posting a lot today. I suppose that's what happens when you're actually on the computer more...

   Just came across this article, Money Lessons For Every High School Grad, By Zac Bissonnette on MarketWatch. The key points:

1. Debt is slavery
2. College debt takes its toll
3. Rich friends may be broke
4. Materialism is misery
5. TV makes you feel poor

   So true.


Two News Items

   Two news items caught my eye today that I wanted to share.

   First, this article from the BBC World News:

Australia Climate Commission says warming risk is real

The Australian Climate Commission has warned that the world's sea levels could rise by 1m by the end of the century, much more than thought.

In its first report, the commission says the evidence that the planet is warming is stronger than ever.

It said that climate science was being attacked in the media by people with no credentials in the field.

The Australian government has welcomed the report as it seeks public support for its proposed carbon tax.

The BBC's correspondent in Sydney, Nick Bryant, says the commission's report delivers a strong rebuke to those who question that human emissions are causing global warming.

It warned that the window to take action to limit global warming was closing fast.


   Second, was this article in The Times of India:

Tasty, healthy, but pricey: Organic mangoes make a splash in Chennai
Karthikeyan Hemalatha, TNN | May 23, 2011, 01.04am IST

CHENNAI: TS Sujatha, a housewife from RA Puram, loves mangoes. She pays a premium for these fruits at ReStore -- an organic food store in Adyar. The mangoes cost twice as much but they promise to be pesticide-free and healthier. "For me the difference is in the taste. The moment I bite into an organic mango, my mouth is filled with the taste and the flavour," says Sujatha.

Sujatha is among a growing group of consumers who prefer organic produce including mangoes. There are at least 20 shops in the city that sell organic produce exclusively. Other shops such as Pazhamuthir Nilayam in Anna Nagar have sections devoted to organic produce. Officials estimate that the organic mango market has grown from zero to 3% in the last few years. They say that the trend toward all organic food is only growing. "The awareness of healthy organic food among urban consumers was pretty low when the store was launched eight years back and is slowly picking up now," says Sandhya Srikhant from Eco-nut, an organic food store in Besant Nagar.

Sujatha, the shopper at ReStore, prefers organic mangoes not just for the taste and their promise of good health but also because her son's pediatrician has asked her not to buy mangoes from regular shops. The doctor has told her that these mangoes may have been artificially ripened and contain traces of toxic chemicals such as arsenic that will harm her son.

Eco-nut assures that they buy their organic mangoes directly from farms that have been certified organic by the Tamilnadu Organic Certification Department (TNOCD) -- a first-of-its kind government agency in India that is vested with the authority to issue the organic certificate. Some 20 other private agencies also certify organic farms. Certification is given after a rigorous process of record keeping, testing and inspection over three years.


Garden Notes, May 23rd, 2011

   The weather has, thus far, not shown any improvement over last year. The good news is that several peas have started coming up and are doing very well. Three of the four artichokes survived the winter and are thriving. The strawberries also came through and already have several buds flowering. The onions are slowly making an appearance, though I had not anticipated how quickly the artichokes would grown to overshadow the area the onions were planted. The radishes, of course, are doing great.

   We had some squash coming up and looking good, but they all disappeared over night. We don’t know if it was slugs, birds, or wild bunnies, but something ate them. I still haven’t seen any birds get near the garden. After the squash disappeared we put out a perimeter of slug killer. I’m going to have to seek out ideas for the bunnies. Maybe traps? I’m not sure...

   Our indoor gardening has taken a tragic turn as well. We have had a few nice days over the past couple weeks and, in an effort to harden the tomato and pepper starts I put them outside a couple times. They did great the first time, but the second time outside withered them pretty badly. I’m not sure if they’re going to recover and my wife is even less optimistic.

   Today or tomorrow we will be planting some more seeds. Even if the tomato and pepper sprouts do pull through, they are so far behind this late in the season I think we will have to buy some plants if we want to have any tomatoes or peppers this year.

New Computer

   I have some exciting news: I am now the proud owner of a MacBook Pro! I'm not really a tech-geek and in fact I have something of a love-hate relationship with computers. I've been on the internet since the early 90's when I used a Commodore 128 with a 1200 baud modem to log on. I've always had hand-me-down gear because I have tech-geek friends, it's much less expensive, and I just don't (usually) have the desire to have the latest and greatest gadget. I'm the guy who doesn't want a new phone when I renew my plan because I'm familiar with the phone I have. I'm still running Windows 2000 on my desktop because it works, I know how it works, and I don't want to shell out money for a new OS with which I am not familiar and is likely to be buggy.

   So why now? Several reasons. Primarily, my career has evolved to a place where a laptop is almost mandatory. My wife bought a used MacBook about a year ago and has been very happy with it. My son received a hand-me-down laptop last Christmas. Being the only family member without a laptop, I have found myself frequently borrowing one or the other to avoid isolating myself in the back room where my desktop computer is set up. I wanted to go with a Mac because my wife's MacBook is so easy to use, they are great for music applications, and, well, that's where everything seems to be headed.

   So I have stepped out of my comfort zone entirely with my first brand new computer, my first laptop, and all on a platform to which I am relatively new. It's odd knowing that I can't just open the thing up and upgrade hardware myself because I have yet to learn how this beast works. Transferring iTunes has been a long, arduous process that is still not complete. I finally figured out how to import my contacts from my old computer this morning.

   Still, all in all, I am happy with it so far. Hopefully it won't be long before I am up to speed and able to focus more fully on the garden and the next backpacking trip!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Obama's Energy Plan for Dummies

   Here's the "plan" from in jpg form. I really don't mean to criticize...


   when faced with the question of tipping the balance not for a better life for our children...

   or even a life as good...

   but just for their survival...

   What happened to,

   "Yes we can"


The One Percent

   I just watched this documentary, The One Percent, on Netflix.

   It is a film that explores the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. (and the world). The thing I found unique was the perspective -- it was made by Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson enterprise and fortune. The film is his personal exploration and he is able to use his name to get some great interviews.

   Here's part one on You Tube. Follow the links or check out the film on Netflix or your local library to see the whole thing:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jefferson Was Right...

   ...the Tea Party missed the boat.

   Thomas Jefferson subscribed to the idea that, "the world belongs to the living." That means that Jefferson believed that the day's government should be elected and run by today's constituency. However, the U.S. government is historically famous for relying on future generations to solve it's current problems.

   Thomas Jefferson also believed that the Constitution should be re-written every generation. Here is where the Tea Party fails. If this founder had his wish, the foundation of this country would have evolved and adapted ten times (or more) by now.

   The current U.S. system has been outdated for almost 200 years. If not for the Bill of Rights it would be obsolete.

   I appreciate and respect tradition. When it's finest Declaration comes from someone who says it's government should be reconsidered each generation, who am I to argue?

   With that, I believe we have new issues that must be addressed in today's terms, and very soon.

Weekend Update

   Tonight brings to an end a three-night weekend, something of an event of late. The weather wasn't as great as forecast, but this afternoon was beautiful. Our backpacking tent which was washed a couple weeks ago finally got the seams sealed and treated with Nikwax Solarproof. After last week's trip to Mt. Rainier we are talking about a camping trip with day hikes around the Longmire/Paradise area. Since the weather is looking like that won't be in the cards this month I am hoping to put together a backpacking excursion to Upper Lena Lake in the Olympic National Park before we hit Mt. Rainier.

   While waiting for the weather to improve we did some laundry, dishes, picked up the wife's serger from the shop, and backed-up the wife's desktop.We are now ready to start consolidating some hardware, moving some furniture, and making room to create a new sewing/craft space in the living room.

   The pepper and tomato sprouts are doing great inside. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating to move them outside yet. We picked up peat pots and some organic soil for the bigger plants, but have yet to transplant them. 

   I was able to erect the tee-pee trellis for the peas that are starting to come up in the garden, sweep the driveway, do some edging, seed the bare spots in the lawn, fill in some of the larger chicken divots in the lawn, and do a little rough mowing (I'm saving the real mowing for when the grass gets too tall for the chickens).

   Speaking of chickens, the neighbor's dog was inside this afternoon, so we were able to let the girls free-range for a while today. I tipped up some pallets where the firewood was stacked and it was all-you-can eat-buffet.

   For dinner tonight the wife made dough while I picked a couple cups of fresh oregano that is still going strong from last year's garden and we had homemade pizza.


Wal-Mart is Essentially the Distribution Arm of the Peoples' Republic of China

   "Wal-mart is essentially the distribution arm of the Peoples' Republic of China."

   I heard this quote the other day. I looked it up and found at least one source that attributed it to Max Fradd Wolff, economist, GPIA New School University.

   I might have to make a bumper sticker.

   I want to know what all the red-blooded, flag-waving, "My country right or wrong", Wal-Mart shoppers feel about this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

GMOs Pose New Threat

   What?!? We didn't completely test genetically modified crops and take every possibility into account before approving them for mass consumption and contaminating the entire food supply?

   I'm shocked.

Dr. Huber Explains Science Behind New Organism and Threat from Monsanto's Roundup, GMOs to Disease and Infertility from Food Democracy Now! on Vimeo.

Bottled Water with Mold Recalled in Arkansas

Standards for tap water are actually tighter than standards for bottled water in the U.S. The idea that bottled water is safer is is a myth authored by the same marketing firms that sell us soda pop. On top of this, water bottled in plastic bottles consume oil and contribute to tons of waste every year.

Bottled Water with Mold Recalled in Arkansas

Certain lots of Mountain Pure bottled drinking water have been recalled because test results show the presence of biological contamination, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) announced Monday.

More testing is needed to identify the specific type of mold and its origin, and that is expected to take several more days. The affected water was found in a shipment of bottled water ordered by the city of Clinton for use during disaster response efforts there.

In some communities, including Clinton, public drinking water systems are under precautionary boil orders to help reduce the possibility of diarrheal illness. Residents are urged to boil drinking water for one minute prior to consuming it or to drink bottled water.

"We are still saying that bottled water and water that you have purified by boiling is the safest way to provide drinking water in those communities with disrupted water supplies," said Dr. William L. Mason, branch chief for the Preparedness and Emergency Response branch at ADH. While it is unlikely that a healthy person would become ill from drinking the recalled bottled water, Mason said people with a weakened immune system might be at higher risk. For that reason, ADH recommended that the Mountain Pure company recall the entire lot where this sample was bottled.

The recalled bottles of Mountain Pure drinking water are 16.9 fl. oz. (506 ml.) and marked with a four-digit, military time code -- from 2200 through 0400 -- etched into the plastic. Also included is an expiration date code that says either Best By 2-27-2013 MPWA or Best By 2-28-2013 MPWA. Only these specific lots of Mountain Pure are part of the recall.

ADH is recommending that anyone who might have purchased or received any of this bottled water dispose of it or return it to the point of purchase.

Bottled Water with Mold Recalled in Arkansas

(Also, check out this article about reasons to not drink bottled water in Mother Earth News)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lester Brown, Plan B 4.0

   I read Lester Brown's book, Plan B 3.0 about two years ago (as I mentioned in Backstory Part III). It's a difficult book to get through because you have to plow through a lot of doom and gloom (about two thirds of the book) before getting to any sign of hope. Brown does offer solutions to the problems, but the book is a lot of explaining exactly the what, where, why, and how of all of these global issues.

   While I wholly recommend the new book, I found this video series on You Tube that is a pretty good primer. It was recorded at the University of Chicago on November 17, 2009. This is the sort of thing that should be viral and yet part one only has 112 views, part five has less than 50 views.

   If you haven't read the book or are not familiar with Lester Brown's work, I encourage you to take the time to look at this series:

Jevons Paradox

   From Wikipedia:

In economics, the Jevons paradox, sometimes called the Jevons effect, is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.[1] In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.[2]


Reality Check

   The idea that we can continue to grow the economy forever is very much like thinking we can ourselves continue to grow bigger and stronger without aging.

   The truth is, we're going to slow down and grow old. We're going to die.

   No amount of technology can change the fact that we live in a natural world and everything has a life cycle.

Washington State Must Really Be Broke

   I have mentioned the sale of the company I work for here and there. I am now working for the new owners but feel I have had to sell my soul to do so. I am not sure how sustainable it is going to be.

   I also mentioned that the State of Washington came after me for business taxes in there and here. Real quick, here's what happened in a nutshell: I was asked by the company I worked for to whom I was a sub-contractor -- not an employee, despite having to work on their terms ("Do you want to work for me or not")  -- to sign a two-and-a-half-year back-dated form stating that I had my own business and operated as an independent contractor. No big deal, I thought -- I have "owned and operated" this business over the past ten years in Oregon, North Carolina, and now, Washington.

   A couple weeks later I received a notice from the State of Washington saying that I was operating a business without a license and had not been paying small business taxes. I called and said that I had never heard of such a thing and was told, "Yeah, you'll find that Washington does things a little differently." I asked how I was supposed to know about this different way of doing things and was told this was pretty much the normal way -- do business in the state for a few years and eventually they'll find ya and ding ya. Wow! Thanks, Washington!

   So I bought my license (fortunately a small business license is a lot cheaper than exams and licenses for manicurists, estheticians, and hair stylists which cost us hundreds of dollars), filed and paid my taxes. After a couple months of phone calls, mailings, and online interactions, the State of Washington was almost $150 richer. I would almost be willing to bet they paid more than that in time and effort to get that money out of me. Whatever.

   I have recently learned that -- at the same time all of this was happening -- the State of Washington was going after my former employers for whom I was an independent contractor (as were several others) saying that they owe back taxes for us as employees.

   Basically, the state went after the people and the business saying, "These people are employees or they're not employees, but either way we're getting money from someone."

   I also learned just the other day that, if a waitperson in Washington is tipped voluntarily, that's fine. However, if the tip is automatic (i.e. large parties are often have a gratuity automatically added onto their bill), the business (i.e. restaurant, bar, etc.) is expected to pay taxes on that money. What the hell?!?

   Turns out the state has gone after the previous owners for back taxes on automatic gratuities as well.
   I knew that the State of Washington was having financial trouble, but I had no idea it was this bad! It's like they're going through the sofa cushions for loose change.

   In only slightly related news, we had dinner with some friends this evening who have been gradually building a business over almost twenty years in construction and renovation. A few years ago they were worth around $3 million, but they have been spending all their time and money the past few years trying to keep the business alive. Last fall they lost the home they were living in and moved to one of their vacant properties. This week they learned they are losing everything -- including the home they live in now and their retirement property. I am so impressed with their amazing attitude about the whole thing. With what money they had they bought a used RV and are planning to pack up the family and hit the road. They say they've always wanted to travel and now is their chance. Amazing.

   How are things where you are?


Saturday, May 7, 2011

USDA Puts Food Deserts On the Map

   From, by Emily Badger :

In Northeast Washington, in a census tract just two miles east of the U.S. Capitol building, 61 percent of residents are both low-income and have little access to healthy food options. The area does not have a single supermarket. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls this area inside the nation’s capital a “food desert.”

The neighborhood is marked off in pink in an online “food desert locator map” unveiled this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Much of the surrounding area is pink. So, too, is a massive chunk of New Mexico, several patches of Los Angeles and just about the entire southern tip of Chicago. The mapping tool leverages census data to identify low-income tracts where at least one-third of the population (or at minimum 500 people) lives more than a mile from the nearest supermarket or large grocery store (or more than 10 miles in rural areas).

According to the USDA, 10 percent of the 65,000 census tracts in the country — containing 13.5 million people — meet this definition. Almost all of these people — 82 percent of them — live in urban areas where convenience stores, or even liquor stores, offer the best bet for dinner.

These neighborhoods are a byproduct, in many ways, of the country’s shifting demographics into the suburbs since World War II and the consolidating food system that has elbowed out local chains in favor of big-box stores with produce sections (and big-box stores that shy from pro-union inner cities). In the 1990s, in particular, Walmarts began stocking groceries. It quickly became the country’s largest food seller, prompting a wave of national consolidation by smaller regional chains.

“The term ‘food desert’ kind of implies it’s a natural phenomenon,” said Phil Howard, an assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies at Michigan State University, who has done local mapping work of such communities in Lansing, Mich. “What’s really been happening in some areas described as ‘food deserts’ is that they used to have supermarkets or chain grocery stores, and those stores have been shut down as they’ve been opening new stores in the suburbs. It’s not a natural phenomenon at all.”

For that reason, Howard doesn’t particularly like the term, but he’s happy to see the federal government measuring and attracting attention to the policy problem (and doing so through his preferred platform of visually gripping data).

“A desert implies either there’s no food, or there is food, and the reality is a lot more complicated,” Howard said. “Often, people in [these] areas have access to a lot of food-like substances that are not very healthy. Or they may have access to a few types of fresh fruit and vegetables but ones that are easy to store and transport, like bananas. They’re going to have a hard time getting access to other things like fresh spinach.”

Measuring access to food by proximity to a supermarket is also a blunt tool, he cautions. That definition fails to catch food sources like bodegas that often sell high-quality fresh produce. And a family’s access to food is further complicated by transportation options that aren’t factored into USDA’s model (in contrast, they were considered in this study).

As a starting point, though, USDA’s map acknowledges that most Americans now get their food from a Giant, or a Jewel, or a Walmart — and that, in the absence of the square footage and purchasing power of such national chains, corner stores are more likely to stock low-cost, high-profit nonperishables than fresh produce.

In Michigan, Howard and colleague Kirk Goldsberry studied not only the availability of local grocery stores but also what was on the shelves there.

“The diversity of soft drinks relative to the produce offered was what really surprised me — Coke, Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke,” Howard said. In 94 retailers — just counting beverages that were ready to consume in the refrigerator cases — the researchers found 1,000 different varieties of soft drinks sold under 200 brands.

All that soda speaks to the vicious cycle that goes into creating food deserts.

“When we were talking to the retailers at some of the places where we were doing inventories,” Howard said, “they would make claims that ‘people just wouldn’t buy it if I offered some healthy stuff.’ But it’s a cycle where less profitable items get removed, people are not used to having those available, and then they change their purchasing patterns.”

The USDA’s goal in providing the map is to create a source of information for others, not necessarily the USDA, to act upon. It is a tool, said Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, that “will help policymakers, community planners, researchers and other professionals identify communities where public-private intervention can help make fresh healthy, and affordable food more readily available to residents.”

In Michigan, a 2008 state law created tax incentives for retailers to move into underserved areas, or to improve the selection of food in existing stores. That could be a model policy proposal for other communities following the USDA’s efforts to illustrate the problem.

“When you bring fresh produce into an area where it’s been lost, you have to make sure it’s not low-quality produce, cardboard tasting apples that people are not going to choose over a soft drink or something else that’s been engineered to appeal to our taste buds,” Howard said. “The fruits and vegetables that often taste the best are the most perishable, so they’re the most difficult to get into stores that aren’t used to dealing with fresh produce.”


Thursday, May 5, 2011

USDA issues salad recall for possible Salmonella contamination

USDA issues salad recall for possible Salmonella contamination

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The USDA's Food and Safety and Inspection Service has announced a recall of ready-to-eat salads because of a possible Salmonella contamination.

Taylor Farms Pacific, located in Tracy, CA, is recalling approximately 22,000 pounds of ready-to-eat fresh salad products that contain meat and poultry because the grape tomatoes used in these products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The problem was discovered when Taylor Farms Pacific was notified by its tomato supplier, Six L's, that a specific lot of grape tomatoes may have been contaminated.

The products subject to recall in packaging for consumers include:

• 6.5-oz. plastic trays of "Marketside Chef Salad" with a use-by date of "5/2/11," and the case code "10210276."

• 5.25-oz. plastic trays of "Marketside Cobb Salad" with a use-by date of "5/6/11," and the case code "10210277."

• 12-oz. plastic trays of "Signature Cafe BLT Salad with Chicken" with a use-by date of "4/27/11," and the case code "10218631."

• 12-oz. plastic trays of "Signature Cafe Cobb Salad" with a use-by date of "4/27/11" or "4/28/11," and the case code "10218625."

• 11-oz. plastic trays of "Signature Cafe Chef Salad" with a use-by date of "4/27/11," and the case code "10218627."

Each package bears a label with the establishment number "EST. 34013" or "P-34013" inside the USDA mark of inspection and the use-by date as noted above.

The products subject to recall were produced from April 20-24, 2011, and were sent to distribution centers in Ariz., Calif., Nev., Utah and Wash. for further distribution to retail stores.

The products subject to recall in packaging for retailers, who may have assembled the kits and then repackaged the products for retail sale include:

• 96-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe Cobb Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218805" and a use-by date of either "5/3/11"or "5/4/11" and distributed in Ariz., Calif., Colo. and Ore.

• 88-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe Chef Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218807" and a use-by date of "5/4/11," "5/5/11" or "5/7/11" and distributed in Ariz., Calif., Colo. and Ore.

• 96-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe Cobb Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218816" and a use-by date of either "5/2/11," "5/3/11" or "5/4/11" and distributed in Wash.

• 88-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe Chef Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218818" and a use-by date of "5/4/11" or "5/5/11" and distributed in Wash.

• 96-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe BLT Chicken Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218822" and a use-by date of "5/4/11" and distributed in Wash.

• 138-oz. packages of "Walmart Marketside Asian Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10219991" and a use-by date of "5/3/11," "5/5/11" or 5/6/11 and distributed in Ariz. and Nev.

• 136-oz. packages of "Walmart Marketside Buffalo Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10219992" and a use-by date of "5/7/11" and distributed in Wyo.

• 6.07-lb. packages of "Walmart Marketside Chef Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10212096" and a use-by date of "5/5/11," "5/6/11" or "5/7/11" and distributed in Ariz., Nev., N.M., Utah, Wash., and Wyo.

• 6-10 oz. packages of "Raleys to Go California Cobb Salad" bearing the case code "10201360" and a use-by date of "5/4/11" and distributed in Calif.

• 6-11.5 oz. packages of "Raleys to Go Classic Chef Salad" bearing the case code "10201364" and a use-by date of "5/4/11" and distributed in Calif.

• 100-oz. packages of "Save Mart Pacific Coast Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10202161" and a use-by date of "5/7/11" and distributed in Calif.

• 17.39-lb. packages of "Taylor Farms Italian Sub 2 CT Pasta Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10203008" and a use-by date of "5/7/11" and distributed in Ore.

• 84-oz. packages of "Taylor Farms Cobb Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10210193" and a use-by date of "5/5/11" or "5/8/11" and distributed in Ariz.

• 84-oz. packages of "Taylor Farms Cobb Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10210204" and a use-by date of "5/6/11" and distributed in Calif.

• 12.25-lb. packages of "Sam's BLT Chicken Spinach" bearing the case code "10212049" and a use-by date of "5/8/11" and distributed in Calif.

• 7.7-lb. packages of "Walmart Marketside Ranch Cobb Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10212097" and a use-by date of "5/5/11," "5/6/11" or "5/7/11" and distributed in Ariz., Nev., N.M., Utah, Wash. and Wyo.

• 88-oz. packages of "Safeway Signature Cafe BLT with Chicken Salad Kit" bearing the case code "10218707" and a use-by date of "5/4/11" and distributed in Ariz. and Ore.

Each package bears a label with the establishment number "EST. 34013" or "P-34013" inside the USDA mark of inspection and the use-by date as noted above.

The products were produced on various dates from April 20 and April 27, 2011. When repackaged into individual kits, the packages do not bear the USDA mark of inspection or the establishment number.

USDA issues salad recall for possible Salmonella contamination

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mt. Rainier

   It's official, last month was the coldest April on record. In fairness, it was the "coldest average high temperature", but still, I'm ready for spring! The radishes are starting to poke through the top soil in the garden! We have had a couple of nice days already. The forecast for tomorrow looks beautiful!

   Today the family and I decided it was time to stop talking about Mt. Rainier and go see it. I've been looking over the topographical hiking map and hiking book I bought after Easter and it was time to go check it out. We got up, fed the chickens, had some coffee, packed up our hiking gear and hit the road. The first thing we learned is that there is no real direct or scenic route to the mountain. From I-5 we took exit 127 and headed east highway 512. Instead of taking highway 7 south, we continued on to highway 161 in the belief it would be far enough out to be more scenic. Wrong. Turns out that, rather than dealing with suburban sprawl from Tacoma along highway 7, highway 161 pushes south through suburban sprawl from southern Puyallup. Oh, well. The purpose of this trip was to explore and learn -- sort of a mini-version of our Olympic Peninsula trip last April -- and we were learning.

   Eventually the sprawl gave way to farmland and I was happy to be there. We drove through Eatonville, LaGrande, Alder, Elbe, and Ashford before coming to the Nisqually Entrance of the Mount Rainier National Park. Signs were posted that the visitor center at Paradise was only open on weekends, so we missed out there. There was also a notice that Stevens Canyon Road (beyond Paradise) was not yet open. Based on what I read I suspected this might be the case. Having just come out of the coldest April on record I should have known it was overly optimistic the think we might be able to drive all the way around the mountain.

   The other thing we learned is just how much more seasonal Mt. Rainier is than the Olympics. In hindsight this seems obvious, but after spending a couple years camping, hiking, and backpacking in the Olympics, and it's been more than a decade since we lived on Mt. Hood in Oregon, we forgot just what we were dealing with. Good to learn!

   We stopped at Longmire to look around and visit the museum. At this point, The Wonderland Trail crosses the road and it was like shaking hands with a celebrity to take just a couple steps along the path. I picked up another hiking book at the museum and we all enjoyed the information and displays about the Native Americans, wildlife, and geology around the area.

   We made our way up to Paradise, but as we were warned, it was still closed on weekdays this time of year. Visibility was low as well, so we let the boy play in the 18' of snow a bit before making our way back down the mountain.This learning experience reminded my wife and I that long periods in the car followed by short adventures has a peculiar affect on our son that I describe as, "Random thought generator on overdrive and mouth engaged." The boy can get a bit chatty.

   We did stop for one very short hike. The Twin Firs Loop is a quick, 0.4-mile loop right off the road. From my new Falcon Guide, Hiking Mount Rainier National Park, "This short loop takes you through an old-growth, low-elevation forest. Along the trail you will see a variety of flora such as vine maple, skunk cabbage, giant ferns, mossy logs, Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western cedar, as well as numerous squirrels darting across the trail." The book didn't mention large patches of snow still on the trail (did I mention that April was cold?) and a couple of huge, fallen trees we had to shimmy under. I'm not complaining -- it was absolutely fantastic to get out into the woods and breathe in the cleanest air we've had in our lungs in months! The book also didn't mention that much of what is left of old-growth forest in the United States is in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, so there were some of the biggest trees I've ever seen!

   I was wearing my new five-finger barefoot shoes, which reminds me of another learning point. I love the shoes for walking and hiking (I haven't worked up to any serious running in them yet), but they are still a little chilly on snow and very cold, soggy ground. While my soles were well-insulated, the snow and wet got between my toes and my feet were pretty cold after only 0.4 miles. Learning experience.

   We headed for home, taking highway 7 this time and stopping for dinner along the way. I think we may stick to the Olympics for any ventures into the woods this month, but I am looking forward to exploring the area later this summer.

   C'mon spring! I'm ready!