Monday, December 29, 2008

Up with GMO and Down with Local???

I woke up this morning with a couple of articles from the current issue of Organic Gardening Magazine on my mind. Even though I had tried to talk myself out of the futile effort of writing a letter to the editor (they never run my letters), I felt compelled. Perhaps by sharing my response with you, Dear Reader, the effort will be less futile, and together we can encourage intelligent thought, if not dialog, on the issues at hand.

The article I found most disturbing was called Organic + GMO? Here’s my response:
Organic + GMO? NO!

When I first read about genetic engineering to produce virus resistant crops, papayas in Hawaii were being discussed. My initial reaction was that it was a good thing. However, the more I thought about it, the more fool hardy that “good thing” seemed. If we utilized small farms to grow plots of intercropped and genetically diverse foods (and plants that attract beneficial creatures) the pests, diseases, and viruses would never get the upper hand. Genetic engineering, even when it is done for the “right reasons,” contributes to large mono-crop plantations, orchards, and mega fields. These in turn are easy prey to viruses, diseases, and pests. Once these problems adapt to a single plant, they have adapted to the entire genetically identical planting. At a time the planet is facing massive climate change, desertification, and crop failures—the prudent thing would be to encourage genetic diversity, regional and cultural varieties, and experimentation with underutilized food plants. Valuing the products of genetic engineering takes our personal food security out of our own hands and places it in mega-corporations back pockets. The result of this trend is increasing hunger around the world. Corporations may have a slick sales pitch, but we still have the power and intelligence to resist.

The second article, called Menus Matter More Than Miles, is a very misleading attempt to take our attention off of where our food comes from and direct us towards eating less commercial produced meat and dairy products. The reality is that we need to do both. I posted my response to this article on my little Harvest’s Thoughts page:

If you would like to add your two cents to either of these topics, please feel free to use the comment or reply feature!

For more on all these issues, please request that your local library add Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead to their circulating collection. You will be glad you did.

Just in case you wonder what else I think about, you can check out my recent post on Native Literature here:

And here are some winter photos from around my place:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Plan B" verses Grass Roots Action

I am currently reading Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester R. Brown. He does a very good job of outlining the threats facing all of us today. If you are not up to speed on the fact that the planet is running out of irrigation water, threatening food production, you have got to read this book. He also covers the fact that we (meaning the whole planet) are already at peak agriculture production; however, our population is still booming. World food reserves are nearly drained, and thousands of more folks are going hungry every year. Meanwhile, continued plowing and deforestation are depleting the top soil, which we need to grow food, and the worlds deserts are growing. It is not a pretty picture, and he lines it all out in detail and with references and documentation. This is stuff we all need to know. It will be affecting us much sooner than you hope.

The problem I have with the Plan B—is that it seems to offer very few suggestions about what you and I can do. The one I have run across, so far, is about eating less animal protein, and while good advice, it is somewhat simplistic. He contends that the grain used to feed animals would feed far more people than the meat which results from animals eating the grain. This is well based in fact, for grain fed animals. And many of us should eat less animal protein—if for no other reason than our personal health. However, not all meat animals are fed grain. Pastured, grass fed, and free range animals are healthier for us. They often convert resources which would not otherwise produce food into something we can eat. Well managed grazers actually improve water and nutrient cycles and top soil; which is not mentioned in Plan B. For more information on beneficial uses of livestock see the work of Alan Savory (Holistic Management) and Joel Salatin (You Can Farm).

Plan B is rich with pricey solutions (we are talking billions of dollars) that the author, Lester R. Brown, seems to think that our governments are going to fund. I am not holding my breath. Something about our history, and about history in general, leads me to have little faith in any of our governments doing anything that makes sense. This is why I wrote Food Security & Sustainability for the Times Ahead. This little book will show you exactly what you need to do to ensure food security for yourself and your family—in a way that will expand that security to your community, your region, and the world. It is all about choices, a simple healthy diet, and getting involved with gardening and the local food movement. The plan outlined in Food Security & Sustainability will help you take small steps, one at a time. The end result, if enough of us start now, is that we will save ourselves and our planet.

Lester Brown can spend his time lobbing governments for billions of dollars. If he can get the money spent, soon enough and in an effective way, it will be a miracle. I am not going to hold my breath for that to happen. I am going to do what I can, right here and now. I hope you will join me. I believe we can save the planet through the choices we each make every day.

Harvest McCampbell

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What You Can Do About Food & Fuel Prices

We have the power, in our own hands, to slow or stop the rise of fuel and food prices. The solution is easier than you might imagine, eloquent in its simplicity, and you can put it into action without making a time or monetary investment. To understand how this can work, first we will explore the connection between the price of food and the price of fuel.

Most of the food available at grocery stores, supermarkets, and discount chains is produced by large factory farms. Whether we are talking about huge acreages in corn, wheat, or lettuce, poultry and hog houses, or feed lots, all of these enterprises use huge amounts of fuel to produce the food we eat.

Taking a look at field and row crops, first, the land is plowed with large fuel hungry equipment, similar equipment is used for planting, controlling weeds, applying fertilizers and chemicals, and it may also be used to harvest the crop. The produce or grain is then processed, often by more fuel hungry machinery, stored in (energy consuming) climate controlled buildings, transported by fuel guzzling trucks or trains, all before it is packaged and transported to your local market. Animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy make similar journeys. However, these animals are generally fed lots of grain and may live in climate controlled buildings for their entire lives. The grain and climate control adds to the fuel, food, and energy demands these products make on our supplies, pushing prices upwards.

Ethanol, made primarily from corn (here in the United States) further ties the cost of food to the cost of fuel. Some farmers are choosing to grow crops destined to become fuel rather than food, because they can expect a higher return. We in turn, pay more for food, because less is produced. That is the old rule of supply and demand.

So far, I admit, I have not interjected anything new into this conversation. But here is another little tid-bit to ponder. Most of the electricity produced in the United States comes from burning fossil fuels. This ties demand for electricity to the cost of fuel and food. It is much harder for utility companies to raise prices than it is for gas stations and grocery stores, but when they begin the next round of rate hearings, we are bound not to like the outcome of our constant demands.

Many of us first heard of supply and demand when we were in grade school. I know I did. But I always thought this supply and demand was caused by those masses of people out there. You know the ones; they live in cities far, far away. Those people way over there, that we have never met, will never meet, and who really don’t care about the prices we have to pay. I bet you pretty much think the same thing about the rule of supply and demand. That it has nothing what-so-ever to do with you.

I woke up the other morning with the realization that it wasn’t those other people out there that created the supply and demand; it was me; you and me. It is actually all of us together. We definitely create the demands. Every time we flip a switch, every time we start an engine. We are the ones creating the demands on fuel and electricity; that ultimately raise not only their prices, but also the prices of our food. After you chew on that idea for a while, it is time to start thinking about what you can do.

Start by unplugging all those electric appliances that have a little light on them that shows they are plugged in. Those little lights represent tiny constant demands on electricity and fossil fuel. They may not be using much, but they are using some. They are driving up your bill, and everyone else’s too. The demands they create on fossil fuel drives up the cost of food. It is going to take you a few seconds to plug the appliance in when you need to use it, but it is worth it in the long run.

Next, think twice before you turn on that light. This takes a little practice, if like me, you are in the habit of flipping the switch every time you enter a room. I have been thinking of putting tape on all my switches, so I actually have to think about turning on the light. However, I have been getting better about not just automatically flipping the switch; and I have also gotten better at turning it off when I find it really doesn’t make a difference in how well I can complete a given task.

We have all heard about alternatives to driving our cars; really, for most of our lives. It’s time to get serious about this. Walk, bike, car pool, take the bus, or telecommute. (This is going to take a little more of an investment on your part, but it is for a noble cause.) I read about a US Secret Service agent who used to roller blade to work. Be creative and make it fun. You might also be able to find a job closer to home; or a home closer to work. For many folks that isn’t practical. But, if you keep in mind that food prices, not just for you—but for everyone, are tied to the demands we make on fuel, it might help you feel creative and motivated. Especially since there are folks on the planet being priced out of a place at the dinner table.

Once you have mastered some of these demand reducing measures, you might want to pass the word to friends and neighbors. You may find some folks willing to brainstorm about other things we can do to reduce the demands on power, energy, and fuel. Now let’s take a look at the supply side of food.

Folks, when food prices rise, growing a garden is wise. It contributes to the supply side of food, leaving more food in the system for those who, for whatever reason, cannot grow any for themselves. It will definitely save you money, and if enough of us do it, it might even slow the rising costs for everyone.

If you have never grown a garden, I promise it is both easier and more rewarding than you think. For the last few years I have had about fifty square feet under cultivation, and not only do I eat out of the garden every day all year long, last summer I was sharing produce with eight different households. I have been doing lots of research on climate change and food security, which tends to make me worry about food. (You can find some of the articles I have been reading about the on-going food crises here: and related articles on earth and climate change here: Click on view blog.) But then I go out in the garden, and I am confronted by more food than I can possibly eat.

So, here is the plan—simple, eloquent, and easy to execute. Reduce demand on fuel and electricity; increase supply of food by gardening. Don’t worry, almost every one of us can do this.

If you don’t have room for a garden, you can find or start a community garden near you with help from this web site:

Or, if you aren’t ready to garden on your own, you may be able to find a small farm where you can do a work exchange, check out: They list volunteer opportunities all around the world.

If you have no time at all, or are not physically able, you can still get involved with production through Community Supported Agriculture. Members of CSAs buy shares in local a local operation and in exchange they receive an equal divided share of the production. For more information and links to find a CSA in your area see:

For those who can garden, some suggestions on crops to grow that can be saved for winter (when prices are expected to continue to rise) see my article, When Food Prices Rise, Planting a Garden is Wise:

If you need more tips on how to get started here are some of my blog posts you may find helpful.

Simple Garden Routine Useful for Bad Backs, No Time, Short Budgets:

Companion Planting:


Here is some specific information on growing some of the foods mentioned in the article.


Fava Beans:
That’s it for now . . . Just remember, to keep your foot off the gas pedal and grow some food.