Grow Your Own Food: a means to an end in an uncertain world

A beginners “Grow Your Own Food” course is offered at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting August 30th.  Over six weeks, the workshops will focus on practical, organic food growing techniques that don’t require a green thumb to follow.

Grow Your Own Food Course 2 flyer“When I was a kid,” recalled project manager John Allen, “our family and most of our neighbours had vegetable gardens.  Growing our own food was one of those things we just did.”

For many of today’s generation, the arts of growing vegetable have been forgotten or were never practiced.   In the uncertain world we are on the threshold of, there are many good reasons to learn those arts.

First is that growing your own food is a means for individuals and households to mitigate the drivers of global warming, to adapt to climate change, and address social justice issues.

In today’s society, it is easy buy whatever food we want, whenever we want it. The impacts of a warming climate are changing that.

For example, the crops that can be grown in some areas is changing due to warmer temperatures, stronger winds and unexpected rainfall patterns.

A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, concluded that climate change will cut crop yields.

A 2015 report by WWF, The Calm before the Storm highlight how disruptions to long supply chains will affect the availability of food.

These change will lead to food prices rising.

As well as these impacts, there are many others reasons for people to grow their own food.

For some, saving money is the reason.

For many, it is about knowing what has gone in to their foods.  People are looking for ways to avoid the chemical pesticides or genetically modified organisms that are increasingly finding their way in to our foods.

For an increasing number, it is about consuming in-season foods, grown locally on family-centred organic farms.  This is a reaction to industrialised global food chains that feature excessive food miles, lowered nutrition values and pesticide residues.

For others, it is about the simple pleasures of working outdoors, getting our hands dirty in the soil and harvesting what we have grown.

For most of us, growing our own food is a combination of these reasons and is a practical action for sustainability and resilience in the face of uncertain world.

Take this opportunity to learn the simple arts of food growing.

Enquire below or visit facebook.com/groups/GrowYourOwnFoodNZ/


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Removing our weather blinkers to take climate action

Another Tuesday, another severe weather warning from the MetService.  On Good Friday, Cyclone Cook is expected to dump 200mm of rain as it passes close to or over the North Island.

NIWA’s modelling suggests that the upper and eastern North Island “currently stand the best chance of experiencing an impactful weather event from Wednesday through to Friday morning”.

Huh?  The “best” chance?  Like it’s a desirable event?

Try telling that to those in Edgecumbe who may never be able to return to their homes. For them, last week’s flood was a catastrophe.

Heavy rain events are now regularly occurring somewhere in the country.

Last week’s event was much more than a flash flood.  It was more than a 1 in 100 year event.

Have we normalised extreme weather to the extent that we are now blinded to its causes?

A new study, linking human-caused carbon pollution to extreme weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, ought remove our weather blinkers.  The study, published on nature.com, finds that this pattern has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural weather variability.

As report co-author Michael Mann says, “We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”

This study will not placate those increasingly affected by the increasing incidence of extreme weather events.

Should someone be held to account for those affected?  To me, yes of course.

The responsibility lies with each of us who continue to release new carbon to the atmosphere – nature will hold us and future generations to account.

Our grandchildren will not thank us for shrugging our shoulders and writing this off as “acts of God”.

An event at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Anglican Church on Sunday 23rd April, is an opportunity for us, individually and collectively, to make a stand against our climate changing actions.

At 8 am, a fire will be lit in a special in-ground pit.  When the fire is extinguished at 11 am, more than one third of the wood burned will be turned to charcoal.

If left to rot in the field or burn completely, one hundred percent of that timber would be turned to ash and all of its carbon released back to the atmosphere.

Instead, burying the biochar will sequester carbon away for a long time, effectively taking carbon out of the atmosphere.  Planting fruit trees on top of the biochar will remove even more atmospheric carbon.

Join us at 18 Wesley Street, Pukekohe any time between 8 and 11 am and show your support for a climate action that does make a difference.

Is the Pope being used to support BigAg?

subliminal

[suhb-limuh-nl]
adjective, Psychology.

1.

existing or operating below the threshold ofconsciousness; being or employing stimuliinsufficiently intense to produce a discretesensation but often being or designed to beintense enough to influence the mentalprocesses or the behavior of the individual:

a subliminal stimulus; subliminal advertising

 The article below was first published by Corporate Europe Observatory and is best read on that site as it includes many pertinent visuals.
The article begs the question of whether corporate lobby groups and multinational corporations used the Pope’s influence, without his approval, to push their own agenda around industrialised agriculture.
To me, the case is well made.  What do you think?

The Pope and the Pesticides

“On March 28 2017, participants in the 10th Forum for the Future of Agriculture were greeted with a big surprise at the beginning of the conference: a “special” video address from Pope Francis! Although the lobbying event is an annual Brussels mainstay for the big agribusiness lobby, organised by Syngenta and the EU lobby group of large landowners (ELO) every year.”

. . .

“The day following the FFA, the video title on the FFA’s website and on Youtube was changed from “FFA 2017 Address From His Holiness The Pope” to “His Holiness Pope Francis on agriculture and environmental issues”. FFA organisers told CEO that this was because the former title could have been interpreted as being “potentially misleading”, and La Machi told CEO that they had asked for the title of the video to be changed. Indeed, it did mislead the participants.”

Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

IMG_1388
Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

IMG_1476
The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

IMG_1601
Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden

——

A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1

Time to cherish this earth, our common home

Christmas.  For most a season to share good times with friends and family, to relax and regenerate in the outdoors, and to give and receive gifts.

For many, it is a time to celebrate our faith and to recover from the many activities that celebrate the time of year – the work functions, school prize-givings, and the commercial pressures to spend, spend, spend.

For some, it is a hedonistic time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and the consumption of stuff that we want but do not need.

For a few, but still too many, Christmas has a downside.

A time of stress, resulting in a surge of domestic violence and disorder.  Or of grief, consequent on the annual spike in the number of road and water deaths.

The increasing number of families queuing outside the Auckland City Mission for Christmas food parcels is a sad reflection of an unequal society.  [Don’t be too sad – donate to the City Mission’s work at aucklandcitymission.org.nz or by phoning them on 09 303 9200.]

These are the human faces of Christmas.  But Christmas is not only about the human race, as the song released in 1984 by rock band Queen, ”Thank God It’s Christmas”, reminds us.

This song brings God, and the birth of Christ, back in to the focus.

In an increasingly secular society, many question or ignore that focus and so an important message gets lost in the frenzy of shopping and partying.  The consequence of our over-consumption and hedonistic disregard for the environment, is impoverishment.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to cherish the earth. So care for God’s creation we must. Others lived here before us they argue, so we in turn must maintain it for posterity.  Whatever your view of God is, christian or secular, this is an imperative to guide us.  It is a definition of environmental sustainability.

How many will take the time to ponder the year past, the year ahead and to reflect on the climate actions needed to address the greatest threat to our existence on earth?

Actually, I meant to say, threat to our existence.  The earth will out-survive us.

kepler186f_artistconcept_2
The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

And contrary to the fanciful ideas of science fiction, nor the ambitions of Elon Musk to make human life multi-planetary, there is no way that we humans are going to escape this earth before the proverbial hits the fan.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassion).  Please do your part to make it so.  And have a cheery Christmas whilst you do it.

Blessings
John Allen

Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

edison_bulb
Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.

This is not a time for whimsy…

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things

This whimsical line is from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-glass. It was said after the oysters had been lured from their oyster beds with the promise of a ‘pleasant walk, a pleasant talk’. The oysters were eager for the treat and ventured to the beach. ‘Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, Their shoes were clean and neat’ is how Carroll described them.

the-walrus-and-the-carpenterMuch like the gathering of politicians at COP22 I imagine. Their time has again come, to talk of many things. A walk on the beach (180 km from Marrakesh) is not likely and my hope is that oysters are not on the menu. Otherwise Carroll’s poem looks too much like a parable.

Conference Of the Parties is what COP stands for, and this will be the 22nd such conference organised by a UN Climate Change body.

The body’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Despite the action verb that starts their objective, the framework has set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

In the previous twenty one conferences, has their talk been more than whimsical?

COP21 in Paris last December was lauded for the fact of its agreement but provided no solutions.

Our government ratified the Paris Agreement in October, and agreed to target an 11% emissions reduction by 2020. They seek to achieve that target by economic sophistry – a combination of purchasing carbon credits to pay for business-as-usual emissions plus the gains from new forest plantings.

As a consequence, our actual gross emissions will increase. What the world needs, is a better than 40% reduction in actual emissions.

In the absence of meaningful government-led climate actions, it falls on us, individually, to take action.

Climate actions by individuals

led-bulb-green-backgroundOne simple way that we can contribute to actually reducing carbon emissions is by replacing our old incandescent light bulbs.

A 60 watt incandescent light bulb burning for just one hour per night will cost less than 2 cents per night to run. Burn that bulb for a year and the energy cost totals $6.48.

Install an equivalent LED bulb and the energy consumed will cost just $0.76 per year. That’s a $5.75 saving every year for the next 20 years. $115 saved for a $10 investment! If the bulb burns an average of three hours per day, well, you do the maths.

For those with 100 watt bulbs, converting to LEDs will save you even more – $9.50 per year or $190 over 20 years for the same $10 investment. That capital cost will be paid for by electricity savings in just 12 months. If the bulb burns for three hours per night on average, expect to recover the purchase cost in four months.

The carbon emissions reduction is small but multiply the savings from a single replaced bulb by the number of bulbs you have and by the number of households in this country, and the impact on our national carbon emissions is significant, and greater than what our government are doing.

These are the savings from reduced electricity consumption. For every LED bulb purchased, the purchase of 15 – 20 incandescents will be avoided. So there are also capital savings to be made if those old bulbs are thrown away.

An incandescent bulb has an average lifetime of 1,000 hours. Burn it for an average of three hours per night and you will replace it every year. The equivalent LED will last at least 15 years before needing replacement.

Waste not, want not.

This was something my parents said. Throwing away a 98 cent bulb does go against my waste minimisation principles, but that cash saving of $5.75 in electricity costs is just too great to justify holding to that principle.

You might also say that the price of LED bulbs is dropping and waiting another year will mean they are cheaper. That’s likely true enough, but again, that $5.75 saving in electricity costs in the first year of replacing a bulb, means that the future cost would need to more than halve for that argument to hold.

Or you might say that you prefer the softer light from an incandescent than an LED. That was true a few years ago but today, there is so much variety in the colour output of an LED. The alternative is to get out to the rubbish dump and collect all the old incandescent bulbs that the rest of us are throwing out.

And then there are the procrastinators amongst us, those who put off the replacement of old bulbs because it’s a hassle. Far better it is, to go around the house once and replace all the bulbs than having to do it many times over the next year or two. So next time you have the step stool out to replace one bulb, replace them all and save yourself having to do it again for many many years.

This is not a time to be whimsical: how many bulbs do you have that could be replaced to save you money, and contribute to saving the planet?