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 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,