A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Why We Grow and Eat "Organic" Food

Organics - Better for Health!
We recently came across an article that revisited the incredible results from a 2019 study of four families who radically reduced the traces of insecticide, fungicide and herbicide residues found in their urine from switching to an organically-grown diet for just six days (study linked below). And, while this is a very small sample of people to test, the results are striking!

Chris and I eat almost exclusively organically grown foods when we're at home. At 71 and 58 years old respectively, we are both very healthy. Neither of us has seen a doctor for any reason since we met 13 years ago! We take no prescription medications and, in fact had a bottle of aspirin pass it's expiration date in our medicine cabinet because we were too slow in using it for occasional muscle soreness or headaches! We each have had two colds in the last 13 years but no other illnesses that caused us to be bed-ridden for even a day. Our food is our medicine (along with other healthy lifestyle practices including the practice of generosity, meditation, stretching and exercise practices and limiting electronics usage) and we feel strongly that a societal shift towards an organic, whole foods, plant-based diet would have significant positive effects both on people's personal health and the health of the natural environment as well.
Image credit: Maria-Marlowe
We are at an advantage over most people as our large gardens provide a high percentage of the foods we eat but for many years we have made it a priority to let our food-budget reflect our values and we only buy groceries that are organically grown. The only times we don't eat organic are when we eat out at restaurants or are visiting friends, which amounts to one or two times per month.

This post offers an overview of what we feel to be the most important reasons to shift to an organic diet. For those readers who have the financial means to make this shift entirely, we encourage you to jump into an organic life-style whole-heartedly. We also encourage you to cultivate relationships with local farmers through shopping at farmer's markets and co-ops that feature local, organic foods or joining a CSA. See also: Seven Tips for Shopping at a Farmer's Market

We realize that, for many people who are living close to the edge financially, that committing to buying all your groceries organically-grown may be impossible at this time. If that is the case, consider making smaller incremental changes such as committing to only buying organically and humanely produced animal products (where farm chemicals become most concentrated) or only buying organic "treat foods" (whatever that means for you). Their higher prices may encourage you to eat less of these items which will be better for your own health and  for the health of the planet.

Another option to increase your intake of organic garden-produce is to start your own garden, or start or join a community-garden. LINK: So, you want to start a Sharing Garden.

We like to remind ourselves as we adopt new lifestyle choices that "it's a direction, not perfection." Be gentle on yourself as you make new changes and, if sometimes you decide to eat something on your "no-no list", do it consciously, do it with joy and then re-commit to following your chosen dietary guidelines once again. Happy eating!

Image credit: Enki quotes.com
So, here are some of the top reasons we feel it is important to eat organically grown foods.

Healthier for you: Ingesting farm chemical residues isn't good for your health. Many of these chemicals can build up in one's tissues over time so, even though we may only eat small amounts with each meal, their accumulated amounts can be significant over a life-time. Also, children tend to be more susceptible to environmental toxins as they are building new tissues at a faster rate than adults. LINK - How much Glyphosate is in the foods I eat? LINK-Pesticide Action Network
Any farmer who grows "organically" may not use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides - unless they have been approved by the organic-certification agencies.
Slow-grown food is more nutrient-dense.
More nutrient dense? The truth is, most organic-farmers struggle under the same competitive conditions as farmers who grow using conventional practices. This means, they need to invest the least amount of money in fertilizers and other soil amendments, and grow their produce as fast as possible, to get it to market ahead of their competitors to make the most profit. These practices lead to more "water-weight" and less nutrient-dense foods. This means that the vitamin/mineral content may not vary much between organic and conventional farmers.  On the other hand, some studies suggest that, on average, organically-grown produce is consistently more nutrient-dense and lower in pesticides and heavy metals. LINK-Large study 

This is why it is important to know your farmer so you can confirm that their food is slow-grown and that the farmers are replacing the minerals that get depleted in their soil from harvesting crops.
Adding compost-tea to our gardens is one way we replace many of the nutrients that are depleted through harvesting.
GMO versus organically-grown:  There is still debate about whether foods produced from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are a health risk to humans. We are strongly opposed to them because of the compelling research pointing to the possibility that eating GM plants, or livestock raised on GMO feed can lead to leaky-gut syndrome and a whole slew of health problems including severe food-allergies, learning disabilities and autism-spectrum disorders in children. LINK Institute for Responsible Technology-a GMO watchdog group. Genetically Modified plants and animals have the potential of interbreeding with plants and animals that were not genetically modified, with unforeseen consequences. Some GM plants (corn and soy) are specifically bred to be resistant to Round-up and other herbicides meaning large amounts of these chemicals can be used to grow them. This leads to well-documented cases of super-weeds that have become resistant to herbicides and require ever stronger chemicals to keep them in check. LINK: The Dangers of Round-up Ready Foods, LINK-GMO Health Risks  Also, GM corn and soy are used extensively in livestock-feed so you can imagine how these farm-chemicals concentrate in their tissues.
We feel strongly that it is important to avoid eating any genetically modified plants. We feel it is especially important to avoid eating animal-products (meat, dairy, eggs) from animals fed on GM feed.
Sharing Gardens - 2019
But what about just eating non-GM foods? Well yes, this is a step in the right direction but just because something is non-GMO does not mean that it's grown without farm chemicals. Industrialized farming uses plenty of chemicals in growing the food. Did you know that it is also a legal practice for farmers to use Round-up as a desiccant (which causes withering and drying in plant tissues) to artificially dry crops if conditions are too wet for the crops to fully ripen in the field? LINK-Wikipedia, LINK-EcoWatch.
By definition, organic farmers are not allowed to grow Genetically Modified crops, or feed them to their livestock.
Better for the environment. Anyone following the news knows that our environment is under attack from all sides. Industrial farming is one of the biggest culprits.

Pollinators are under siege from the practices of growing "mono-crops" (all one variety) for thousands of acres, offering no variety in their diet of pollen, and many farm-chemicals are damaging to their health as well. LINK - Why growing sunflowers is great for bees.

Honey-bee on tansy. We let some weeds flower in our garden intentionally as they provide important pollen-food for beneficial insects. Here's some good news: Grassroots bee petition in Bavaria forces greener farming practices: 
Soil health: Industrial farming - through over-tilling and depleting soil of organic matter makes soils void of all life and destroys the structure of the soil itself which no amount of added fertilizers and chemicals can restore.
Healthy soil means healthy soil-organisms. Eight-year old, Ricardo holds an earthworm found in our gardens.
Industrial farming is a major source of water-pollution. Industrial farming has negative effects on the world's water for many reasons. Here are a few: Heavy Metals build-up; Algae Blooms, Dead-zones and Acidification; Nitrates; Pathogens and Over-use of water reducing water-levels in our aquifers. (LINK-How Industrial Agriculture Effects Our Water)

Many bird species have a hard time finding enough insects to feed their young. Farm chemicals tend to concentrate in the tissues of animals, the higher-up you go in the food chain as Rachel Carson so famously proved in her landmark book from the 1960's titled Silent Spring.

Thorin, Eliza and Adri harvest cabbage, 2018.
Be aware too, that this principle of chemicals concentrating in tissues applies to foods raised for human consumption too. The accumulation of these chemicals in our own bodies will therefore be less with a plant-based diet. The more meat, dairy and eggs one eats, that are not organically-raised, the higher concentrations people have in their bodies of these chemicals. Bear in mind too that the quality of life for livestock animals grown organically is more humane as well.
Organic farming practices keep our air, water and soil healthier and can even contribute to the increase of viable habitat for wild plant and animal species.
Organic farming is better for the farmers and farm-workers who grow our food. Sharing Gardens volunteers digging potatoes 2018.
Healthier for the farmers and farm-workers: When we use our purchasing power to make a statement about our values, we are directly contributing to healthier lifestyles for everyone involved in the food-growing community. LINK - Agricultural Chemicals and Human Health
In this complex world of competing dietary studies which often offer contradictory results it can be difficult to know who to trust and which dietary practices will be best for your health and the health of the environment on which every living things depends.

If you have been feeling on the fence about whether to make the commitment to eating more organically-grown foods, we hope this post has helped you make that shift. Just remember that wise saying, "You can either pay your farmer now, or pay your doctor later." We think this is good advice.

Get to know your farmers! Chris and Llyn in the Sharing Gardens, your friendly, neighborhood "farm-acists".


Bella loves kale!
Other relevant LINKS:
Synopsis of "Organics for All" Urine study

Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults - Science Direct 

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food - The Guardian

The States in America That Use the Most (and Least) Glyphosate - Zero Hedge

What's in standard 'fast food'?

Great, short video on "Why Eat Organic"
 
How to Wash Vegetables and Fruits to Remove Pesticides
The Sharing Gardens is a registered charitable and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have benefited from our project or site please consider making a donation through PayPal (a receipt will automatically be provided for your tax records).

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Onions and Lettuce and Peas, "Oh My!"

It's early Spring in the Sharing Gardens. Oh sure, we could still get plenty more freezing nights and even some significant snowfall before Spring is fully here but the first crocuses and daffodils are budding, the days are noticeably longer and the air carries hints of the earth's slow warming.  Since we have several greenhouses, February is the time for starting the cool-loving crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards, celery, parsley, onions and peas. We have also seeded beets and carrots directly in the ground in greenhouse beds. Here are some previously written posts about how to start some of these crops in your own garden.
 
An early crop of red and green lettuce grown in our greenhouse.

Lettuce and other seedlings, Spring 2012
Our first CSA box-2018.
Please note that, while we do our best to update our posts to reflect our current methods, gardening is a dynamic art-form which we're always developing and these posts may not reflect our current practices. Happy gardening!

Valentines Day: Time for Pea Planting: Since our soil outside the greenhouses doesn't really warm up enough to germinate peas till later in the Spring, we've developed a method for starting the peas in pots, in the greenhouse which we then transplant outside once the soil warms up and the plants can outgrow slugs and snails. Valentine's Day: Time for Pea Planting LINK

John and Llyn transplanting peas grown in pots, in our greenhouse.
Lettuce: Growing from Seed: Lettuce is fairly easy to grow in our climate. You won't believe how sweet and delicious home-grown lettuce is compared to lettuce bought from the store! LINK

Lettuce: Saving Your Own Seed: If you leave a lettuce plant in the ground, very often it will "bolt" and go to seed (especially in the heat of summer). Lettuce-seed is easy to save and one plant can produce enough seed to grow lettuce for a whole neighborhood for years to come! That's "nature's economy" at its best! LINK

Delicious, home-grown lettuce.
Onions: Growing from Seed: Here's a method of growing onions from seed that will also produce copious amounts of onion-greens as well. LINK and LINK

Onions, grown from seed.
Carrots: growing from seed:  This post includes instructions for preparing the ground for carrots to grow and a short video-clip about planting carrots. LINK

Wish List: Spring is a time for cleaning out one's sheds and closets to make room for the new. Here's an updated wish-list of items that we can use in the Sharing Gardens or pass along to other gardeners in the area. Let us know if you can use anything and we'll see if we can help you out. Wish List

The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. A receipt will automatically be provided for your records. (Click button below.)

Monday, February 8, 2021

What Makes Our CSA Unique? Wanna Join?

Beautiful Sharing Gardens bounty!

Hi Folks - It's that time again. Spring planting has begun at the Sharing Gardens! Already we have beets, carrots and spinach sprouting in our greenhouses. If you'd like to join our CSA family in 2021, now's the time to let us know.

As most of you know, the Sharing Gardens is a unique kind of community garden. We share all of our surplus produce with local food charities, providing their recipients with access to delicious, nutritious, organically grown fruits and vegetables that they might not otherwise have access to. Your CSA membership helps us keep this service available.

Our greenhouses extend our growing season...

What makes our fruits and veggies unique? 

  • Grown with locally sourced, "veganic" fertilizers: LINK
  • Slow-grown food: because our food is grown without heavy, nitrogen-based, commercial fertilizers, our produce has less water-weight and more nutrient-dense.
  • No herbicides or pesticides
  • Wildlife-friendly

We provide food boxes from early May to mid-November (weather-permitting). Early birds who sign up before our official starting date (early-May) may receive additional smaller boxes of our early crops. And, though sometimes our heat-loving crops quit producing before our season officially ends, we try to always grow lots of winter-storage crops and make these available to our members to finish the season.

At the peak of the season, our boxes provide enough produce for an average family of four, or a couple who are focused on a plant-based diet. If you receive more than you can eat, we encourage you to befriend your neighbors and share the bounty or, if this is impractical, we have had couples who requested a customized smaller box. It doesn't cost less but they feel good knowing that they're supporting our project and that their surplus is going to feed those in need.

Our preference is for members who can pick up their weekly boxes at our garden-site in Monroe but if we have enough subscribers in Corvallis, we will arrange for a pick-up site there.

Cost per CSA "share": $700/year. ($400 payable ASAP/balance of $300 due July 1st)

For more details, CLICK HERE. You can reach us directly through the email or phone number at the bottom of that link.

Garden-bounty brought to you by your favorite "farm-acists"

Thursday, February 4, 2021

How to help the Monarch Butterflies

Monarch, ready to be released. Image credit.
Perhaps you've heard the sad reports recently about the drastic reduction of monarch butterflies found in their California, winter nesting sites (only 2,000 counted in southern California in January of 2021). LINK-Western Monarch populations
 
There are ways you can help their plight. Growing their host-plant, milkweed is relatively easy to do or, if you don't have space in your yard, or are lacking a "green thumb", here is a link to a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place monarch butterflies on the list of threatened and endangered species; and asking the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate pollinator poisons.
 
This post is about our experience growing milkweed at the Sharing Gardens with tips on how you can do it too.
 
Adri's instructions
Last spring, when grade schools were first shut down in Oregon, our dear little friend Adri (who's been coming to the Sharing Gardens since she was a baby in a back-pack) arrived at our weekly volunteer-time with a small packet of showy milkweed seeds and instructions for planting them that she'd carefully hand-copied from her teacher's instructions. She was wondering if we'd be willing to grow some out in our gardens as she doesn't have a sunny enough yard at home. We said, "Sure!".

Showy Milkweed in bloom
We've been growing "showy" milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) since 2018. To begin with, someone gave us a few "starts" and a hand-full of seeds to experiment with. The variety we grow is native to the Pacific NW - where we live - and well- suited to our site (full sun, moist soil). (If you live elsewhere, you might wish to research what varieties will do well for you). Also, whatever variety you decide to plant, there seems to be some evidence that butterflies prefer native species to their hybrid cousins, so choose accordingly (LINK).
 
We had tried several different ways to germinate the seeds but they were only moderately successful. We did establish a patch of about a dozen plants that wintered over and began producing flowers themselves (summer 2020) but the method Adri brought to us has been the most successful so far. Here's what to do: Wrap the seeds in a damp paper-towel (squeeze it out thoroughly so it's just lightly moist), secure the seeds in a sealed freezer bag and put them in your refrigerator for 30 days. This simulates a cold, wet winter that the seeds need to break from dormancy. Plant in soil (about 1/4" deep) being very careful not to damage the tiny emerging root. Place in a sunny window, or greenhouse and water from below. They should emerge from the soil in about ten days.
 
This is what seedlings should look like after placing the seeds in a damp paper-towel inside a zipper bag and refrigerating for thirty days.

To grow seedlings bigger, arrange in potting soil...

...and cover with about 1/4" soil. Be very careful with their fragile roots.

Seedlings after several more weeks...

Though theoretically, you could transplant the seedlings into the ground at this point, they will have a much better chance of surviving if you pot them into larger pots and plant them into the ground once they have bigger root systems. With Adri's seedlings, we re-potted them two times through the summer until they were in half-gallon pots. These, we wintered-over by clustering the potted plants in a sunny spot in our yard, protected from cold, north winds under a blanket of fall leaves.

Adri and Kaylynn with milkweed plants at about 120 days from putting seeds in fridge. Two plants per pot.

Milkweed plants wintered over two years in pots. Ready to get into the ground!

This coming spring, we'll transplant them into a sunny spot. Aside from propagating from seeds, the roots also send out runners and start new plants. We have a patch of milkweeds that grew as volunteers from underneath the pots we'd wintered-over in a previous season!

Milkweed is a perennial plant. Under the right conditions, it returns year, after year. But plants don't begin flowering till their second or third year so be patient!
 
The showy milkweed is well-named as it has beautiful, pink flowers but its real contribution to a perennial garden is its rich fragrance. Very much like an Asian lily! Though we've yet to see any monarchs on our plants, during their blooming season last year, our plants were covered in many kinds of other pollinators including bees, both wild and "honey" bees.

Life-cycle of the monarch butterfly (by Adri Kitchen).
Milkweed is a "host" plant to the monarch because adults enjoy the nectar produced by its flowers (though they seem to enjoy other nectar plants too LINK). But, as far as is known, they only lay their eggs on milkweed plants as these are what the larvae eat. Milkweed has a mild toxin in it which builds up in the bodies of the larvae and makes them bitter for their predators to eat. This toxin remains in the bodies of the adult butterflies too also giving them protection from predators.

People who raise cattle have tried to eradicate milkweed because it can be toxic to their livestock. Since we're vegetarians and have no grazing animals on our land, we're happy to provide this host plant for the monarchs and other beneficial insects who enjoy its nectar.

Studies show that a mixed stand of wildflowers seems to be beneficial to monarchs (and probably to other pollinators too). In other words, it's not ideal to grow milkweed alone. Llyn with crocosmia (red) and tansy (yellow - a volunteer "weed" that, though reviled by horse-owners is beloved of bees! Super fragrant too!).
 
Recent studies suggest that monarchs have a higher reproduction success-rate if the milkweeds are growing in a stand of mixed wildflowers LINK. We didn't know this when we established our first plot so they are growing alone. But this next spring, when we plant Adri's plants, we will grow some other wildflowers amongst them. That should be really beautiful!
 
Be sure to plant at least a dozen plants in a patch. If the larvae emerge from their eggs and begin munching their way through the leaves of the plant and should fall off for some-reason, they need to have multiple options for plants to climb back up on. Also, adult monarchs are far more likely to find a large patch of milkweeds than a small one. 

Plant at least a dozen milkweed plants together. This will help monarchs find them.

Milkweed seeds, ready for harvest.
The cycle of planting milkweed is complete when they begin producing flowers and seeds (in their second or third year). We have some extra seeds if you're interested in growing some milkweed in your yard. Or, if you're local and would like us to grow out some "starts" for you, let us know (shareinjoyATgmail.com).

Honey bee on tansy.
Here are some other links with info you may find helpful and inspiring as you begin your butterfly garden:
 
Here is a link to a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place monarch butterflies on the list of threatened and endangered species; and asking the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate pollinator poisons.

These findings suggest that the efforts of individual gardeners to plant milkweed, either wild-type native plants or native cultivars, can be helpful in supporting the declining populations of both monarch butterflies and other insects. 
 
"For example, the diversity of plants in a garden, the specific plants that are used and their arrangement — all of those things matter for how the butterflies are able to locate the hosts and move from one to the next."
 
 
Finally, some good news! Conservationists have successfully reintroduced previously extinct large blue butterflies to the UK, with the creatures populating parts of the country for the first time in 150 years. 
 
Image credit: Llyn Peabody - 2020

Here's some great information from the National Wildlife Federation on how to benefit birds and butterflies. When you're planning your garden this coming spring, think of the monarchs!  Check out Xerces Society and Monarch Joint Venture for more information on national efforts and ways you can help. Monarch Watch and Journey North are two citizen science groups that record monarch  and milkweed sightings. For an interactive map that tracks seasonal migration, try Journey North There are monarch butterflies in the Willamette Valley, but we need more citizen science reporters!

Ways you can help right now?
1. Plant native milkweed: In Willamette Valley, that's showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) and narrow leafed milkweed (Asclepias fasciculatis)

2. Provide nectar
3. Don't use broad spectrum pesticides (https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/threats/pesticides)
4. Reduce your lawn size
5. Support local efforts by educating others, advocating for different practices in your community, or become a citizen scientist