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Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

Cold Frame

Posted by tinako on October 3, 2012

Not wanting to say goodbye to my garden in the fall, I’ve been building a cold frame to go onto my new raised bed.  You don’t at all need a raised bed for a cold frame, and as a matter of fact it might make the soil a little colder or dryer over the winter, but I was just sick of dealing with the clay here (back story).

My mom had a cold frame once, but I think she used it differently than I’m going to.  I think she just used it to give seedlings some extra protection and lengthen the tomato season a bit.

But I’m going for it.  I bought a book called Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman.  Here’s the web site for their farm.  This book is great, with interesting stories but also crammed with data, such as last planting dates based on your zone and what you’re covering your crops with.  They garden in Maine, one zone north of me, which makes me hopeful.  Even though nothing much grows in the middle of winter, they’re able to harvest year ’round.

So.  Based on the recommendations in the book, I went shopping.  There were several things I couldn’t find locally despite a lot of trying.  I bought some Phosphate Rock from Wayfair, 28 lbs. for $30 total.  All these prices include shipping.  I bought Greensand from Gardner’s Supply, 5 lbs. for about $15.  Those two are all the soil amendment they recommend beyond compost, and I figured I didn’t want to have the discouragement of bad results from poor soil my first year.  I’ll need 2.5 lbs. per season, probably twice a year.  I appreciated that both the recommended products were vegan so I didn’t have to figure out a substitute.  In looking at the local garden or hardware stores, all the fertilizer stuff is these mixes you don’t know what it is, or it’s all blood and bones and fish and stuff.  It struck me as “processed food” like muffin mixes and frozen burritos.  There’s always a problem or a mystery in a mix; just sell me the ingredients I want and let me do my own thing.  So I had to buy online.

I also bought an automatic venting arm from ACF Greenhouse Supply for $60.  This will lift up (open) the “light” (clear cover) on the cold frame when it gets too warm.  It works just by heat expansion, no electricity.  And I ordered some obscure seeds from Bountiful Gardens: $8.25 for a packet each of Claytonia (Miner’s Lettuce, Montia Perfoliata), Corn Salad (Mâche, Valerianella locusta), and Tatsoi.  All are really good at standing up to winter.  I put on the phosphate and greensand and planted the seeds as soon as they came in.

My cold frame waiting on the lawn.  It looks turquoise here but is actually a dark grey green.

My cold frame is almost done.  I followed the plan in the book.  The lumber is plain Douglas Fir; I bought a 16 foot 2 x 12 and an eight foot 2 x 8 and had Home Depot cut them down to two seven footers and two four footers, to match my raised bed.  I think that was $35.   My husband helped me cut the short side pieces so they slant from 12″ (back) down to 8″ (front).  And he helped me rip a scrap 2 x 4 into the three braces, and then cut gaps in the front and back for the braces to rest in.  Even though the book said not to bother, I painted it with leftover house trim paint both to make it last longer and to make it more heat absorbent.  And I screwed it all together this morning.  Ta-da!

Now for the lights (the clear covers).  The best is probably glass, and you make wooden frames for them.  But I wanted this project to be something doable in a short time period, so I planned on something simpler.  I kept my eye out for discarded storm windows, but no luck.  So I figured I’d use plexiglass, but Holy Smokes, the price!  Why is a 2 x 4 sheet of plastic over fifty bucks??  I was going to need four!  Plus nothing was the right size.  I’d already made the raised bed 7′ x 4’3″ (including the overlapping ends), and unfortunately 4′ is the max on most stuff, with 3′ being more common.  D’oh!  Hope was draining away in the back aisle of Lowes when a guy went whistling past me pushing a cart of those flimsy corrugated plastic roofing panels.  They were available in crystal-clear: eight footers were $20, twelve-footers $30!  Unfortunately the whistling customer had nabbed the last of what I needed, but I’ll forgive him.  They should be in soon.  I’ll post again when I have them and the venting arm installed.

Posted in Garden | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Standard American Diet’s Effect on our Environment and our Health

Posted by tinako on July 20, 2010

Leo Horrigan

I read this accessible paper, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human
Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
” (by Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker
Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore), which delivers a crushingly broad indictment of the effects of our industrial diet.

Robert S. Lawrence, M.D.

It concisely discusses the unsustainable and often irreversible effects on the environment of intensive use of water, energy, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, and genetic manipulations, and modern agriculture’s astonishing increases in topsoil loss, water pollution, animal waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The paper also makes the point very clearly that eating meat intensifies all these industrial uses and effects by its inefficiencies.  Ruining the environment doesn’t just mean messing up our nest, it also means messing up our food supply – if we don’t take care of the land and water, inevitably there will come a day when we can’t grow enough food – in the past farmers just moved on to new land, but what happens when even the marginal land is useless?

Then the paper moves on to the effect of all these chemicals and the foods themselves on our bodies.

They sum up:

These phenomena are due, in part, to production and processing methods that emphasize economic efficiency but do not give sufficient priority to public health or the environment.

Some things that surprised me:

The average U.S. farm uses 3 kcal of fossil energy in producing 1 kcal of food energy (in feedlot beef  production, this ratio is 35:1), and this does not include the energy used to process and transport the food.

Thirty-five calories of fossil fuel to make one calorie of food energy!

Barnard et al. estimated that meat consumption costs the United States roughly $30–60 billion a year in medical costs. The authors made this calculation (which they considered a conservative one) on the basis of the estimated contribution that eating meat makes to the diseases discussed above, plus other chronic diseases common in affluent countries and foodborne illnesses linked to meat consumption.

The United Nations has estimated that about 2 million poisonings and 10,000 deaths occur each year from pesticides.

One meta-analysis found that in nine comparison studies, vegans had an average cholesterol level of 158 mg/dL, vegetarians 182 mg/dL, and omnivores 193 mg/dL….  Whereas the average cholesterol level among heart attack victims is 244 mg/dL of blood serum, heart attack risk falls to virtually zero when the cholesterol level is less than 150 mg/dL.

The authors make the point that unsustainable farming is nothing new – many civilizations have collapsed because of their farming methods.  Sustainable methods will consider long-term effects on topsoil, biodiversity, and rural communities, instead of just short-term profit.  Sustainable agriculture will change from place to place and over time.  Sustainable methods might include crop rotation and soil conservation, among others.

So why don’t we do this?  Because farm input required by modern agriculture methods (think fertilizer, pesticides, and the kind of seeds farmers can’t save and replant)  is a huge, powerful business that influences government subsidization of large-scale unsustainable farming.

One thing that would help, they say, is to convince farmers that sustainable farming can be just as profitable, and they give a large-scale example in Gallo Wine.  Urban agriculture is good, and this is about the fourth paper I’ve read that says that farm markets and CSAs are a really important way consumers can make an impact.

They conclude:

Coupled with energy- and resource intensive food production methods, rising population and rising per capita consumption are bringing us closer to the limits of the planet’s ability to produce food and fiber for everyone.

These problems are complex and have no single solution, which leaves many people feeling powerless to affect them.  One personal act that can have a profound impact on these issues is reducing meat consumption.

The Center’s book “Putting Meat on the Table” is available for free download.  Lawrence and Walker offered a course, “Food Production, Public Health, and the Environment” through John’s Hopkins which sounds similar to the Yale course I’m auditing (and from the same semester).  Although JH’s course is less user-friendly (you have to synchronize MP3 audio lectures with PDF slides), it does have a list links of readings which seemed different than those required by Yale.

Posted in Disease, Environment, Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Local vs. Vegan – Battle of the Greenhouse Gases

Posted by tinako on November 3, 2009

In 2008, Engineers at Carnegie-Mellon issued a report comparing the greenhouse gas reductions attained by eating locally, compared with changing what we eat.

They found that a totally “localized” diet, difficult in many parts of the country, reduces GHG emissions per household equivalent to 1000 miles/yr driven, while shifting just one day per week from red meat and dairy to a vegan diet reduces GHG emissions equivalent to 1160 miles/yr.  Shifting totally away from red meat and dairy toward a vegan diet reduces GHG emissions equivalent to 8100 mi/yr.

For vegetarians, it turns out that dairy is the number two GHG emitter, right after red meat.

Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States

Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
Environ. Sci. Technol., 2008, 42 (10), pp 3508–3513

Posted in Environment, Musings | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »