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28 December, 2014

Enroll Now For Plant Propagation Class At The Learning Garden

With a scion in his mouth (he does not smoke)
David King prepares to show students
how to graft an apple tree.

Grafting is a science and an art.  Most courses will give you a practical introduction to grafting, but in this class you get into the art and history of grafting - learning how grafting has been used over the years in many ways to make plants do what humans want and need (without genetic engineering!).  

But it's not just grafting!  So many ways we have made more plants, some times by multiplication and sometimes by division.  Seed sowing, seed saving and plant breeding are discussed and illustrated.  Hands on exercises every week ensure you know the material and help students get the concepts into their fingers.  

These procedures cover all the historical methodologies by which humankind has made more plants.  This library of techniques came close to being lost in the last few decades but now are appreciated as the valuable and practical skills they are.

You can learn these skills from a lot of different people, but learning from David King is a treat with his down to earth connection to the subjects and his humor keeping you alert for the next line.  Class is held at the Learning Garden 1:30 to 4:30 on Sundays starting January 11th.  Register with UCLA Extension.  Class size is limited so please register as soon as  you can!

New 'old stock' German grafting knife
that is a favorite.

11 December, 2014

Democracy At Work

Old varieties of corn seeds in author's collection;
an unwanted pollen cross 
with GMO corn
could make them the property of a
corporation that created the GMO.

Listening to a tape of the proceedings of Arts, Parks, Health, Aging And River Committee it seems surrealistic hearing the questions at the beginning of the discussion around Los Angeles City Council File number 13-1374. There is such cordiality and the reading of the parts of the proposed ordinance makes a listener happy to live in a country where a group of concerned citizens can petition city hall and make a difference. The questions are about implementation and other practicalities.

The movement for this bill started in October 2012 when Vandana Shiva met with a few activists in a Santa Monica home. She asked what would be next in LA whether or not Proposition 37, the labeling of GMOs initiative, succeeded. I said, “I'd like to see LA become a GMO Free Zone.” Which led us to finally led us to this committee meeting some two years later. Prop 37 passed in LA County, but did not pass statewide. With that as our mandate, a group of “seed people” set out to propose and work for a law that would make LA a GMO Free Zone.

We had no political savvy and no political background – however, we knew how our government was supposed to work. We knew that Congress was not going to do anything constructive about GMOs and the legislature in Sacramento seemed to run a parallel course. We believed that our local city council would take action and support us in the face of the inaction of Congress and the Legislature.  

But we most certainly knew then, what many know to be the truth today:

  • GMOs are at best questionable in their effects on bodies that consume them
  • GMOs are bad for the environment
  • and GMOs have failed to deliver on any of their promises

We knew GMOs, contrary to the claims of the likes of Monsanto had not been properly tested and we knew as well, their pollen can cross with our plants making the plants we grow in our gardens GMOs too. Wanting to avoid GMOs in our diets, we wanted to keep them out of the plants we were growing to avoid GMOs and their associated pesticides.

This law would “ban the propagation, cultivation, raising, growth and sale of genetically modified foods.” To us, this is what “GMO Free Zone” in Los Angeles would look like. We felt we had a very small window to get this accomplished because of a new state law, AB 2470 which seemed to our reading to preclude the city from making any laws that would apply to seeds.

We moved quickly to get a bill to the City Attorney's office and they crafted an excellent ordinance based on previous laws enacted in other municipalities that had already stood the test of time and gave us a track record as to how much enforcement would cost and how easily it could be implemented.

The proposed ordinance came back to this committee on Monday December 8th. About 30 of us in the room were there to see this bill move through the committee and on to the council floor the next day. But lobbyists, a couple of 'experts' spread lies, ignoring the ongoing experience of other municipalities that have successfully enacted similar laws and gave the city council members the cover they needed.

The first onslaught, our law was attacked because there are no GMO crops growing in Los Angeles, ignoring the fact that once they have bred with crops that are GMO free, the latter becomes GMO irreversibly. There is no way to get it out once it's in, obviously the only way to do any good with this is to keep it out in the first place. Yes, we do want it crafted and in place before there is a problem. You don't say a flood is coming – lets stack sand-bags after we are flooded – some things don't work that way. Calling this a “feel good ordinances that lacks substance” ignores the precedent established in more rural counties where it has stood the test of time and ignores the fact that we will have to deal with this pollen problem sooner or later and sooner is much better. We are losing the plants we use for food at an alarming rate and the proliferation of genetically engineered plants accelerates the rapidity of that loss.

The “suits” were called. One of their so-called experts, George David Kieffer, read from his letter (1) to the committee, adding comments amounting to about 5 minutes of time. Calling the ordinance anti-scientific, he tried, like all the Monsanto shills to characterize GMOs as being the most studied, safest technology to come to American shelves for year. His intent was to have all us characterized as Luddites and religious kooks. Typically, the big ag chemical companies, Monsanto being the biggest, prefer to attack the messenger and not the message – so of course, we have to characterized as extremists and non-conformists.

We know, the opposite of what he said is true. From scientists in the European Union, 297 as of December 10th and growing, banded together to bury this false-hood we can read:

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs: Regarding the safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal feeding studies of GM crops found “An equilibrium in the number [of] research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns”. (2)

I could go on pulling items from the letter and the conversation in that room and pointing out the fallacies, but here's what really happened: three council members took testimony from two lobbyists over the input from 30 citizens. The two suits probably made more in that two hour meeting than all of us supporters put together. Paid to broadcast lies and half-truths; ignoring the successes that we cited in our literature (did the council members even read our materials?) and painting everyone in the room (including the council members themselves as “not educated enough to make decisions about genetic engineering”) they prevented a discussion of substance that might have happened if we had really looked at what has actually happened. We were not paid for our time off from work, travel expenses or any other thing we did in support of this measure. We have no hope of a bonus for our work or for our testimony. We do so at our own expense. We do so to improve OUR community as we see fit. Paid attorney's who may or may not live in our community, might have voted for the council people, were accorded more deference. It was not government 'by the people' but by attorneys.

Every council member in the room voiced concern about GMOs.  But, three of four sought to table it.  They are "concerned" about GMOs in an abstract way; like being concerned that something might happen sometime in a distant future.

Gardeners and mothers with children are not “concerned.”  They feel assaulted by corporations and governments that are bought and paid for by corporations. We saw that in the committee meeting that their fears are justified. The official story from the politicians is "yeah, but..." As if, we'll get around to it when you bring in your own lobbyist.

They admitted they could do it now and if it needed changing they could change it.  In fact, that happens with a LOT of laws.  But in this case, they used the
precautionary principle backwards, becoming cautious when action is called for and allowing genetically engineering to move forward unabated when that would be the appropriate time to be precautionary!

As the discussion continued, we spotted one of the lawyers in the back of the room giving hand signals to at least one council person, we could not tell which one, relaying instructions about what was expected. Clearly the lawyer was definite that this ordinance was not going to go to the full council no matter what else happened. It did not.

The suits got what they came for. The committee referred the ordinance for further study. They killed it. There was no more time for the ordinance to move forward in light of the impending implementation of AB 2470.

One of the council members moved to exit the room walking through those of us in the committee room – the ones that had just testified for the motion. He was asked how he could do this? Why were the suits afforded more importance than the people? He took three strides toward the door. Suddenly, he spun around, threw out his chest, flung a finger out at me, even though I was not involved in this exchange, shouted at me, “This is your government process,” I replied something to the effect that it was not how I understood democracy. Fairly screaming at me, he repeated “This is how democracy works, this is your government – this is how we do things - and you gotta like it. This is how it works!”

There's our civic lesson for the day, children. This is how government works. You gotta like it.

But we aren't going away.  


05 December, 2014

An Open Letter For A GMO Free LA

06 December 2014

Dear Friends and Fellow Gardeners,

On Tuesday, at 10:00 AM, the Los Angeles City Council will take a tremendous step forward into a new paradigm, a new way of seeing our food. They have put their legislative skills together in the past few years to create a nascent urban gardening movement that is gaining strength and threatens to be one of the most vibrant in the nation – as well it should be, with our wonderful soils and our spacious layout that allows for urban farms and urban gardens. As a gardener and a gardening instructor and author, I've seen them secure a future for me with their supportive actions.

But on Tuesday, they will vote on the one measure that will underpin these gardens and give entrepreneurs the assurance they will need to make this city practically self supporting in many of our vegetable needs: They will vote to make Los Angeles a GMO Free Zone!

We have seen state legislatures and Congress, sidestep even the meager act of labeling genetically engineered foods because they have become beholding to the likes of the big agriculture. So it has come down to the cities and counties to make their statements. Los Angeles will be the biggest statement of all!

We have not won yet. I ask all of you to come to City Hall on Tuesday morning in your gardening grubbies and when the motion is introduced be there to support it. I know so many of you have been wondering what to get me for Christmas and this is the one thing I want. We have a solid, practical law that the promoters of a GMO Free LA have had the chance to help write. It is a good law - it is enforceable, it is fair and it has legal precedent. It is worth our support.

City Hall is located between Main and Spring Street and between Temple and First Streets. It is accessible by the Red and Purple Lines (Civic Center Stop) – I get to the subway via the Expo Light Rail Line – starting in CulveCity at Venice and Robertson Blvds. The entrance is on Main Street and the City Council Chambers are on the 3rd Floor.

We have no money to influence votes – certainly not nearly as much as the bio-tech companies and the Grocery Manufacturers' Association. All we have is you and your conviction that we need to save our seeds and promote clean, healthy food that is not sprayed with chemicals that harm us, the animals we depend on for food and the environment. Spend a few hours in our City Council Chamber and rise when it's time to support a GMO Free LA!!

I would be most grateful,


19 September, 2014

A GMO Free Los Angeles Is Imperative

Proving once again that money trumps truth in the pages of LA Times, there is an editorial against the proposed new ordinance to prevent growing of GMO plants in the City of Los Angeles,  Afraid of losing their advertising revenue from purveyors of genetically engineered foods offered to the public without any labeling (which they also opposed, even though the majority of Angeleno's demonstratively support labeling and strive to avoid GMO foods), the LA Times comes down opposing reason yet again - and their arguments are so specious and unsupportable, it leads one to wonder why they even bothered to make an attempt.

Squash display at this year's
Heritage Expo in Santa Rosa  -
all non-GMO! 

Every single argument they represent as 'our side' are secondary or are not even really one of our talking points.  I'll postulate all their stipulations as accepted truth.  (They are not, by  the way, but all their points are trivial in the scheme of things.)  There is one overarching reason to ban these plants in the city of Los Angeles:
The state and Federal governments have failed us as gardeners and consumers of food by not requiring proper segregation of GMO crops from organic crops, allowing GMO pollen to cross with the crops of those gardeners who want nothing to do with any plant that has been genetically tinkered with.  And once contaminated with GMOs, there is no way to get it back out - that plant and all of its progeny are GMOed. 
Is this a problem?  YES!  Everyone knows, from looking at the family tree,  a child inherits traits from both the father and the mother.  Specifically, 50% of the genetic make up comes from 'dad' and 50% from 'mom.'  The same is true for plants.  Pollen is the plant equivalent of sperm and provides the male genetic contribution to the next generation. 

In plants that are wind pollinated (corn, alfalfa and beets), this pollen can be spread quite a long ways.  Monsanto, in its ever continuing lack of forthrightness and honesty, with their original application to the USDA, stated corn pollen could be viable up to five miles from the point of origin.  That wasn't true - in fact, it had not yet even been studied, so the five mile figure was, at best, a guess someone pulled out of the air.  In subsequent studies the actual figure seems to be 25 miles. NO ONE HAS DISTANCE FIGURES FOR BEET POLLEN - and beet pollen is more copious and significantly lighter than corn pollen.  Beet pollen will cross with chard and mangles as well as beets.  Mangles are not so popular today, but chard sure is!  How far will that pollen be viable?  

Gardeners, growing their own food at home or in community gardens, teachers with their school gardens, will tell you that one of their most important reasons for growing gardens is TO AVOID GMO PRODUCE.  If the seeds they save from their own gardens have become contaminated with genetically engineered pollen, then their efforts are for naught.  If LA continues to endorse the idea of LA Grown food, we must stop the cross of pollen because GMO growers will not grow their plants in greenhouses.

It is up to us - the citizens of LA - to join with other municipalities that have already declared themselves to be GMO free areas.  We want to protect our own crops from becoming genetically modified by the pollen of crops grown nearby.  Yes, it's true, right now GMO crops are not grown by gardeners - only in larger farming operations - however, we believe it's only a matter of time before Monsanto wishes to expand their presence in the homegrown vegetable garden.  

Let's own up, LA Times.  Monsanto is the largest SEED dealer in the US.  Monsanto is very present in our home gardens, selling their non-GMO hybrids already. Sooner or later, they will want to increase their sales of GMOs as those sales begin to tank with farmers. Whoever paid for your editorial knows the GMO gig is coming to endgame already in our farmers' fields where the environmental degradation is palpable, the promises of higher yields largely discredited and the cost to profit ratio is dooming GMO crops to dustbins while the 'feeding the world' slogans no longer ring in headlines. The obvious truth now becomes illumined:  GMOs exist only to sell the chemical products of the company behind them.

We are not fooled by your pandering to those wishing to keep the truth from our citizens. Better you keep quiet and not besmirch your journalistic integrity any further.  You shame yourself and your heritage by treating your reading public as no-nothing sheep.

That's why many LA citizens are concerned about GMOs and that's why some forward-thinking councilmembers have moved for the citizens of Los Angeles against the behemoths of monopoly over our food supply. You would do well to take note.


03 September, 2014

Class This Saturday!

Yup, looks like a dog day to me!

September brings the heat of Dog Days and Drought - September's Garden... With summer's dog days all hot and dry, we'll explore our options of dealing with drought and growing food. It's time to get our winter crops planted for a wonderful winter harvest on into 2015. We have some transplants to work with and maybe take a few home and, as always, your questions answered. Sometime truthfully. 

 $20 at the gate, dress to get dirty (in the garden sense)! 

Some of winter's stars, left to right,
Fava bean, lettuces, and a cabbage 

See you in the garden!


26 August, 2014

UCLA Extension Course This Fall

Modern Backyard Food Production: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint and Save
Teaching plant propagation, that is an apple scion
in my mouth, I did not take up smoking.

An elective in UCLA Extension's Gardening and Horticulture Certificated Program, this is one of my favorite courses to teach.  We discuss the production, packaging, and transportation of food as large contributors to our global carbon emissions. We look at the current phenomena blossoming throughout the Los Angeles Basin, food gardens springing up to produce local healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and contributing energy and financial savings in difficult economic times. You can register through UCLA Extension's website.

With a throwback to the idea of 'Victory Gardens' in World War II, we use the history of growing food in the city in times of need as a template, and explore how homegrown food can reduce our food budgets while addressing these environmental concerns. Students are each given a small plot for growing food where they can experiment with new ideas and enjoy their harvest. 

Topics include, at minimum, fruit trees, vegetables, and berries that do well in our climate as well as often overlooked food-producing perennials and how to grow food in modern city lots where the "back 40" describes square feet and not acres.

One of my favorite courses to teach in the Gardening and Horticulture series, we meet on Sunday afternoons at The Learning Garden, starting October 5, through December 14. Students are allowed to return to the garden after the term is over to continue to harvest from their plants.  

Typically, because there are no sources of food or drink near us at the Learning Garden, I usually make some sort of snack from local sources and something in season to serve.  Coffee and hot tea are provided.  Students are asked to bring their own service ware to keep our class meetings waste free.

Hope you can join me.


22 July, 2014

Perfect Mesquite Cornbread

This last of the cornbread was consumed
right after the photo was shot.  Too good to leave behind!

It is not just the ingredients but the process that makes this such a good cornbread. Use another oil if you dare, but still heat the oil and the pan in the oven before adding to the dry ingredients. Use another pan if you dare, but the best results will be with cast iron. Take time to meticulously mix all your ingredients together if you absolutely must, but do not expect a fluffy, springy cornbread.

Lay your inner rebel aside and follow the damn recipe the way it's written.

¾ cup cornmeal
¾ cup flour (white or a combination of white and whole wheat with white predominating)
½ cup mesquite flour*
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 Tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 scant Tablespoon sugar (you may use honey if you like)
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ยบF, put the butter in your cast iron skillet and allow it to melt while the oven is heating and you are combining the dry ingredients. The hot skillet and melted butter are keys to the quality of the cornbread. Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix wet ingredients into dry mixture until just combined, add the hot melted butter first, the milk second and the egg last. Quickly blend the ingredients but do not overmix! Pour the mixed ingredients into the hot skillet and place in the oven. From the time the butter is added to the time it goes in the oven must be as brief as you can make it. Bake 20 to 25 minutes - the top should be browning and a knife inserted in the middle of the cornbread should come out clean.

I did not make this up whole. I got help from reading about mesquite and morphed all I learned into my Grandfather's cornbread recipe. The method I learned from him and over 40 some odd years have proved that any improvement to it is not an improvement. Cornbread is comfort food for me. I could make it with my eyes closed except for the hot skillet part.

*The mesquite flour in this case is native North American mesquite flour (Prosopis velutina)  came from The Mesquitery. Thank you, Jeau Allen, for this wonderfully smooth flour to add to my family recipe to nourish my heart and soul!