This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Victory Garden. In case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of agricultural history, here’s a quick summary:
Victory Gardens became popular during World War I as a way to ease demand on the public food supply, as well as boost morale for Americans struggling through a major war. The Victory Garden campaign was then resurrected during World War II for all the same reasons, but this time, it spread across European nations as well.
The government, during both wars, encouraged families to grow fruits and vegetables in their yards, as well as in community gardens.
The idea to encourage backyard and community gardens sprung from the need to increase food supply at a time when our agricultural resources were being shifted elsewhere, and transportation facilities were needed for the war effort.
Every family that grew their own tomatoes, carrots, berries, herbs and cucumbers did so because they truly felt like their backyard garden was contributing to a larger cause. President Woodrow Wilson said, “Food will win the war.”
So what does this have to do with us today? Is there a place for Victory Gardens in 21st century America?
Well, let’s think about this: there might not be a great American war raging in the traditional sense, but what about a war against corporate greed? Unsafe farming practices? Chemicals invading our environment and polluting our water supply? An economic culture that forces us to rely almost exclusively on corporations for our well-being? Worker exploitation?
What if we started fighting for the small family farmer? For a cleaner watershed? For an environment with less greenhouse gasses? For healthy soil that won’t erode when the wind blows? For produce grown in an environment that didn’t exploit labor?
The more food we grow ourselves, the less we rely on corporate supermarkets, shipping companies and corporate mega-farms for our food. For every tomato we grow ourselves, that’s one less tomato that had to be trucked across the country in a hot semi from a corporate farm to a chain store.
The more organic fertilizers and soil amendments we use, the less we rely on multi-national chemical companies to feed our plants (and ruin our soil). For every bag of Worm Compost, or alfalfa meal, or biochar, or fish emulsion, we use, that’s less money going into the pockets of billion-dollar chemical companies. Natural fertilizers and amendments also replenish the microorganisms and organic matter in the soil that chemicals destroy.
The more we shop from local farms, co-ops, CSAs and farmers markets, the more of our money stays right here in our own community. For every bundle of radishes you buy directly from the local farmer who grew it, that’s money going to a family that lives, plays, works and goes to school within 50 miles of your own home.
So, you want to do your part to heal the planet? Rely less on corporations for your food. Rely less on laboratories for your fertilizer. Rely MORE on locally-grown organic food—that either you grow or a small family farmer has grown for you. Let’s re-introduce Victory Gardens for the 21st century— the war might not be the same as it was a hundred years ago, but if we lose this one, what kind of planet will we leave for our kids?
If you’d like to grow more chemical-free food for your family this year, check out these Good Sweet Earth products, or (if you live in West Michigan) hire your own personal garden consultant to walk you through the growing season. If you’d like to buy some local produce, here are a few local West Michigan sources we love that you can try out this year as well:
Earlier this summer, residents in Toledo, Ohio and southern Michigan were given the shocking news that their tap water was dangerous– ‘do not drink, do not touch, do not boil,’ is what they were told. Talk about scary! Some people had to drive into neighboring counties to find enough bottled water to support their family through the crisis.
This wasn’t a gas shortage, or a snow shovel shortage before a storm, or a Nutella shortage— those are all annoyances– but this was a serious, serious situation these residents were facing. The water in Lake Erie, scientists told us, was poisoned due to phosphorus run-off which then caused algae blooms in the shallow parts of the water. Most of this comes from neighboring farms, but if you’ve got a yard, you also need to be aware of what’s in the fertilizer you’re using. When too much phosphorus gets into bodies of water, you get these toxic algae blooms. For the most part, on smaller lakes, that means you can’t go swimming there for a few days. But when it happens in larger bodies of water– like Lake Erie– it affects our supply of drinking water.
When it comes to your yard, read labels. Scott’s got rid of phosphorus from their turf builder a couple years ago, but if you use things like Miracle Gro for your flowers and fruits and vegetables, you need to be aware that you’re putting phosphorus into the environment. Plants like turf grasses don’t flower or produce large fruit, so they absolutely do not need any (or VERY little) added phosphorus.
When it comes to phosphorus pollution, going the organic route is no less safe than using chemicals. You need to use things like bone meal sparingly, and if you’re using a seabird or bat guano, make sure it’s a type that’s high in nitrogen, not phosphorus.
Read the labels before you buy organic fertilizers. The nutrient analysis is displayed on the product label is NPK– or Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium. If your plant doesn’t flower or produce fruit, avoid the fertilizers with lots of phosphorus– the middle number on the nutrient analysis should be as close to 0 as possible, and 4 should be about as high as you go.
For instance, this seabird guano is high-phosphorus, so it’s nutrient analysis is 1-10-1– one percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and one percent potassium. Avoid this for the most part, and when you do use it, use it very sparingly and make sure you don’t get any on cement or near bodies of water (ponds, streams, creeks, lakes, etc). On the other hand, this bat guano has an analysis of 8-4-1, which means it has 60% less phosphorus than the seabird guano. You should still use it sparingly, and avoid spillage onto cement or water, but it’s not nearly as toxic to the environment as the seabird stuff.
At Good Sweet Earth, our Worm Compost is largely phosphorus-free. Our Bold Tomato and Dulce Rosa do contain a little high-nitrogen bat guano, so these specialty mixes do have some phosphorus (to help with rose blooms and tomato production), but it’s only a small component of the mix.
So when it comes to your yard, be mindful of what you apply to your lawn and garden– reduce the amount of phosphorus fertilizer you use on your garden plants (and be careful not to spill any on your driveway, sidewalk or pavers), and DO NOT apply any phosphorus to your lawn. Every little bit helps when it comes to keeping our drinking water safe.
When it comes to large farms, you can call your state and federal legislators to urge them to pass legislation to require farmers to implement best-use practices. Farm lobbyists are fighting such legislation, even after this most-recent water scare in the Toledo area, which will allow them to continue putting their own profits over public and environmental safety. And we’re not talking small family farms here– these are the large corporate-owned farms that would rather do things cheaply than safely.
Some cities and counties in Michigan are taking a closer look at the dangers of phosphorus to their waterways as well. Ottawa County has already banned the use of phosphorus fertilizers. Let your local leaders you’d like to see them follow suit.
For more information on what you can do to fight phosphorus pollution, get in touch with us by shooting an email to office@GoodSweetEarth.com.
A new report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology says that by the year 2030, cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. That means for the first time in more than 80 years, a disease besides heart disease will kill more Americans than anything else. Why do you suppose that is?
Well, let’s look at what causes these diseases. Heart problems are heavily influenced by genetics and diet. Cancer is a result of genetics and carcinogens– environmental substances that disrupt or damage cellular metabolic processes.
It’s also no coincidence that as chemicals become more and more present in our lives (cosmetics, plastics, detergents, food preservatives and ingredients, fertilizers,pesticides, smog, smoke, etc.), cancer diagnoses are rising exponentially. These chemical-based products that are found all over our homes are exposing us to more carcinogens than humans have ever been exposed to before. That means it’s more important than ever to reduce the number of chemicals we come in contact with.
Obviously, it’s going to be hard to completely eradicate chemicals from our lives completely, but there are a few really simple ways we can reduce the chemicals we come in contact with.
First, eat more organic foods. Stop exposing yourself and your family to chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and eat fruits and vegetables that are grown “the old fashioned way,” without chemical assistance. Meat and dairy should also be organic.Here’s a list of the “dirty dozen”— 12 fruits and vegetables that should ALWAYS be purchased organic. Or better yet, grow them in your garden. When you grow your own fruits and vegetables– and do it without chemical fertilizers and pesticides— you’ll always know your stuff is organic and healthy. And largely carcinogen-free.
Second, eat more “real food.” Instead of fruit-flavored toaster pastries for breakfast, eat real berries. Instead of chicken nuggets, cook a whole chicken breast. Instead of microwave french fries, eat an actual baked potato. Stop mixing so many flavors into your kids’ drinks. Drink more water and less pop. Instead of potato chips, eat carrot sticks or celery sticks. Anything that’s processed has chemicals added. Those chemicals add up to long-term problems– remember the increasing cancer diagnoses mentioned earlier? The increased carcinogens in our environment are coming from these types of chemicals in our food. Growing a garden will lead to more “real food” consumption for you and your family. Growing a garden with organic fertilizers and compost will yield foods grown the way nature intended, not the way a chemist intended.
Finally, stop dumping chemicals on your lawn every year. Do you really want your kids rolling around on a blanket of grass that’s been treated with toxic chemicals? A turf that’s being kept alive by oil-based fertilizers? Instead, treat your lawn with microbial drenches and organic fertilizers. Plants thrived for millennia without chemicals; your lawn can thrive without chemicals too. But more importantly, your health– and the health of your loved ones– will thrive with less chemicals as well.
If you live in west Michigan, and you’re interested in having a chemical-free yard this year, read more about the services Good Sweet Earth offers, and then get in touch with us at 616-594-0693, or email us at Office@GoodSweetEarth.com
The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) paid out an astonishing and record-breaking $17.3 billion in claims due crops lost to extreme weather last year. And the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says much of that could have been prevented with better soil maintenance.
Too many farmers use shortcuts and bad practices when it comes to their soil. They rely on chemical fertilizers, and ignore things like cover crops and mulch and natural fertilizers to add nutrients to the ground growing their precious crops. This means their soil is rapidly depleted of organisms that help soil maintain an optimal structure. Farmers also till their fields to remove last year’s crop stubble completely, which then removes nature’s moisture retention system. And when the soil can’t retain moisture, or doesn’t have bacteria and earthworms and other critters maintaining a healthy environment, it becomes more susceptible to harsh weather conditions (like drought, heat and wind).
Obviously, farmers can’t control the weather, but they can control how they treat their soil. The NRDC recently issued a report called “Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program should be reformed,” calling for farmers to practice better soil maintenance in order to reduce the need for federal dollars to cover their weather-related losses.
One suggestion is to offer reduced premiums to farmers who adopt a number of practices that will lead to healthier and stronger soil. Three such practices would be:
First and foremost, stop using chemical fertilizers and pesticides like Scotts and Miracle Gro. This is the first and most critical step to healthy soil. Instead, use organic methods of fertilizing and amending your soil, like Worm Compost.
Next, cover your gardens in the winter. Protect that soil from the harsh cold and ice. You can do this by planting cover crops (like winter rye) and mixing it into the soil next spring as a mulch, or even just laying straw (not hay) over your garden soil.
Finally, don’t plant the same thing in the same place year after year. Rotate your crops from one part of your garden to another. Every type of crop needs a slightly different set of nutrients to thrive, and if you plant one thing in the same place every year, the crop will drain the soil of those specific nutrients. Doing this will mean you won’t need to use large amounts of synthetic fertilizer. Compost will usually be enough.
To read more about the NRDC’s report, and find out which states required the most federal dollars to cover crop losses click here.
At Good Sweet Earth, we urge our customers to avoid Scotts products (Miracle Gro, Turf Builder, pesticides and herbicides) for their gardens and lawns at all costs. These products are made from synthetic chemicals that absolutely, positively kill your soil. Using the term “fertilizer” to describe Miracle Gro is terribly ironic because these products actually sterilize your soil when applied.
Oh sure, Scotts claims these products aren’t dangerous, and that fruits and vegetables grown with their products are completely safe for human consumption. But did you know that Scotts recently sold birdseed that was actually poisonous to birds? If anything is supposed to be bird-friendly, shouldn’t it be birdseed? But here was Scotts, selling birdseed that contained a pesticide that was toxic to birds– and the company actually lied about the safety of this product to the EPA!
You can read all about Scotts’ criminal behavior in this brief released by the U.S. Department of Justice last fall, but here’s an especially damning couple of paragraphs:
In the plea agreement, Scotts admitted that it applied the pesticides Actellic 5E and Storcide II to its bird food products even though EPA had prohibited this use. Scotts had done so to protect its bird foods from insect infestation during storage. Scotts admitted that it used these pesticides contrary to EPA directives and in spite of the warning label appearing on all Storicide II containers stating, “ Storcide II is extremely toxic to fish and toxic to birds and other wildlife.” Scotts sold this illegally treated bird food for two years after it began marketing its bird food line and for six months after employees specifically warned Scotts management of the dangers of these pesticides. By the time it voluntarily recalled these products in March 2008, Scotts had sold more than 70 million units of bird food illegally treated with pesticide that is toxic to birds.
Scotts also pleaded guilty to submitting false documents to EPA and to state regulatory agencies in an effort to deceive them into believing that numerous pesticides were registered with EPA when in fact they were not. The company also pleaded guilty to having illegally sold the unregistered pesticides and to marketing pesticides bearing labels containing false and misleading claims not approved by EPA.
This wasn’t a mistake or an oversight on the part of Scotts. This was willful and criminal behavior, all in the name of turning a larger profit. The only thing they cared about was selling their product, even if it meant killing birds in the process. If they lied to consumers and the Environmental Protection Agency about the safety of their birdseed, why should we believe them when they say their fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are safe? When it comes to feeding your family and friends safe foods, do you really want to take that risk?
Scotts had to pay about $12.5 million in criminal and civil fines, as well as perform community service, as a result of their despicable behavior. However, it’s estimated that Scotts sold 73 million bags of this tainted birdseed over the course of three years. My guess is that they made a heckofa lot more than $12.5 million off of these bags of poisonous seed , so there’s a good chance that Scotts will merely see these types of fines as a cost of doing business, and continue doing business as usual.
We’re sticking with Worm Compost in our garden.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.