Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “ecosystem”

It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

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Saving Nature, Our Natural Defense

A few days ago, I posted A Rude Intrusion, about BP and other multinational oil companies sponsoring an exhibition on the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, highlighting responsible cultivation of our oceans and wetlands. I spoke about the irony of the company who brought the latest oil spill to our coasts, and ironically the Gulf Coast, taking on this role.

The issue of the disappearing wetlands is an important lesson. During this past trip to help rebuild New Orleans, I learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. This is chronicled in Hurricane on the Bayou. The bottom line is: had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

It is scary that, despite possessing this knowledge, despite the harsh lesson that we were taught from Hurricane Katrina, we are still destroying the wetlands, at the incredible rate of an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

There are a number of organizations trying to raise awareness and instigate policy that would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, they are not gaining much attention. One such organization was set up in our own San Francisco, by Louisiana natives who have raised funds for a new initiative. 

For the Bayou was founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Louisiana natives to increase public awareness of the disappearing Louisiana coastal wetlands, to foster restoration and protection of this culturally significant coastal environment and to aid and assist the people of Louisiana in the event of a disaster.” 

Here is their project:

It costs just $25 to buy and plant a burlap with the grass that can hold the wetlands. For details of how to donate, please click here. Perhaps it is not too late stop the sun setting on the bayou, and by saving this vital ecosystem, save our own beautiful Gulf Coast community and culture.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Rude Intrusion

During our trip to New Orleans we had a day of storms that prevented us from working. We took advantage of the time, frustrating though it was, to visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Walking around the incredible displays, watching the otters, seals, penguins, sharks and albino alligator, I imagined sharing this with my boys and how much they would enjoy it. My frustration for not being able to work (we were extremely motivated having come all this way from San Francisco), coupled with seeing all these eager parents showing their kids some nature, while mine were thousands of miles away, began to rise.

My highlight!Since there was little point taking my frustration out on either the weather or these families, I needed to direct it on something else…I got my wish.

I was drawn to the section about the wetlands. On this trip, I have learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. For a great documentary on this, check out Hurricane on the Bayou. Had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

And in case you are wondering, we are still destroying the wetlands, as incredibly an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

Back to the aquarium and I discover that the wetlands and ocean ecosystem presentation is sponsored by several huge multinational oil corporations, including my old nemeses – British Petroleum – who famously tried their best to silence Left Coast Voices and others who weren’t impressed by their spewing oil into the Gulf Coast.

I browsed through their presentation that firmly told children how important the contribution of the oil companies are to the area, how they are courageously fighting pollution and ensuring the energy needs for the next generation.

There is a great Yiddish word – Chutzpah! It means audaciously outrageous – but chutzpah just says it better (for best results focus on the ch and bring up all the phlegm you can manage). This is the Jewish People’s gift to the world!

I cannot believe that BP and its friends would dare to put such an exhibit in New Orleans, when it has ruined the lives of many of the people who come to the aquarium – actually they probably don’t, since they most likely can’t afford to pay the admission into the place.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas claims to be an educational institution for primarily young people. So why does it allow the rich, multinational corporations to rewrite history on its premises? Doesn’t it understand the legitimacy it is giving the oil companies by allowing them to tell their story under their auspices?   

The answer is, of course, money. I am sure that BP paid more than 40 pieces of silver, but the value of the transaction hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Planet Earth, however, has, and dangerously so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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