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August 2020 Archives

For a Climate Solution, Look to the 1940s

August 10, 2020

From The Rodale Institute:

My backyard garden looks almost nothing like the two-acre market farm I planted in Washington State eight years ago. I still grow tomatoes. And I can't imagine having a garden without onions, or the beans that I eat off the vine every August, which is peak growing season here in New Hampshire. But I no longer plant my favorite melons, and the long rows of squash and corn that took up so much room on my farm have given way to other plants.

The growing season in chilly New England is much shorter than the one in the Pacific Northwest. This means my garden doesn't have as much time to bask in the sun, and long-season, heat-loving crops like watermelon aren't worth the space they need to thrive. Plus, I decided a few years ago to make room for more perennials, which is why there's a much greater representation of rhubarb, blueberries, herbs, and other deep-rooted plants, including peculiar-looking ones like walking onions.

When I first started farming in Washington, my small team and I grew close to 200 varieties of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Our focus was on planting organic crops and finding enough customers to buy them. We started with the basics, including corn, peppers, and lettuce --the produce we knew people would keep coming back for.

Our location at the northernmost tip of Washington State meant we had more than 15 hours of sunlight a day at the height of summer. For three years I watched, as the summer sun cooked the soil during long periods of unprecedented drought. When it finally did rain, it was torrential and came all at once. Water pooled on the hard, packed dirt and dried up before it could percolate down to where my plants needed it most. At some point, we started to realize these weather extremes were not just a blip but a pattern.

So we learned to push hardier crops on our customers, like currants, raspberries, and asparagus. We threw open our farmstand each Saturday to talk about these changes, and found ourselves fielding questions about other topics as well. Rather than simply asking, as they once had, how to grow something as beautiful as what we were offering, customers wanted help in a more urgent way. They needed our advice on dealing with the arrival of new pests from the south, preventing plants from drowning in mud, and irrigating after intensely hot days had sucked the soil dry.

I was struggling with the same problems myself, and they had produced in me a kind of low-level anxiety that made it hard to sleep at night. I was stressed about the future of the farm, and of agriculture. Still, I wanted to keep growing food. So I decided to return to school for a graduate degree in land and water management with the hope of finding some answers.

Farming: An Act of Climate Activism

Planting a garden is a powerful act. It gives each of us with access to a little dirt the power to feed ourselves healthy food, as well as something we can do about the threat of climate change.

Many climate activists promote expensive technologies that pull carbon out of the air and inject it into deep pockets underground. Plants already do this for free through photosynthesis, the process by which light energy is turned into plant food.

This ability to capture greenhouse gases is why many experts believe regenerative agriculture, also known as carbon farming, could play an important role in fighting climate change. Experts say that regenerative farming, if adopted broadly, could help slow the rate of global warming. With better management, global croplands could store an additional 1.85 gigatons of carbon each year, or as much as the entire transportation sector emits.

Cultivating even a little patch of soil, in pots or in your backyard, matters. Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution estimates that his own tiny carbon-rich backyard garden, about a tenth of an acre, can offset the carbon emissions of one American adult per year.

So what if more of us started gardening in own yards? What if a community of citizen gardeners joined together to grow good food?

Climate Victory Gardens

It could happen. In fact, it's happened before

During World War II in the 1940s, Victory Gardens sprouted all over the country. The goal was to support the war effort: more food grown at home for civilians meant more food to send to the troops abroad. It also meant the trucks and trains ordinarily used to transport produce to grocery stores were freed up to move weapons and soldiers. And growing food at home helped families stretch their meager weekly rations. By 1943, the nearly 20 million Victory Gardens across the country were growing 40 percent of the nation's food.

Many decades later, we could use a new Victory Garden movement. We can lobby our leaders to do the right thing by our planet, but we can also take action ourselves. In this country alone, homes, golf courses, and parks grow roughly 40 million acres of turf grass, or about three times the amount of land dedicated to growing corn. More specifically, the average American household maintains a yard a little less than one-fifth of an acre in size, according to 2017 census data. That's a lot of land that could be put to good use as carbon-sucking mini farms.

Experts agree more research is needed to understand the full potential of carbon farming in our own backyards but there's no question that even a small increase in soil carbon can improve crop resilience, reduce chemical use, conserve water, and offset greenhouse gas emissions. Just as exciting, it's pretty easy to build rich soil.

Here's what it takes to start your own Climate Victory Garden.

Step One: Pick A Location

An ideal planting bed gets plenty of sun, has easy access to a water spigot, which helps cut down on the time and hassle of watering, and can be seen from your home so there's less of a chance you'll forget about it. But if your only bet is a plot that's heavily shaded and bone dry, don't worry about it. It just means you'll have to work extra hard to build good soil, and pick plants that will thrive without much sun. In short, it can be done!

Step Two: Build Your Beds

The hardest practice for me to adopt on my way to becoming a regenerative grower was low-till farming. Running a big metal rototiller through dirt is a really efficient way to break up weeds and grass and dig seed furrows. Unfortunately, this machine also breaks apart the soil's natural structure and the living soil community that works so hard to nourish plants.

Instead, I've learned to grow plants on planting beds made from layers of cardboard or newspaper, leaves, grass clippings, compost, and any other organic material you can get your hands on. With sheet mulching, you can leave soil organisms alone so they can go about their lives, breaking down organic matter, recycling nutrients, and aerating the soil. It is my go-to method for starting a new garden. It allows you to build good soil while eliminating weeds, all without digging, plus it works well for just about any space. Creating soil does take time, however, and calls for a hefty supply of leaves, grass clippings, cardboard, and other organic material, so it's not for everyone.

There's another way to prepare your planting area: add more soil. Shovel on soil from anywhere in your yard, as long as you've first removed all the weeds. If your yard is too weedy or hard to dig up, or just not all that big, buy some soil from your local garden center. Look for a reputable supplier; some places will resell dirt from construction sites, which is low quality and may contain toxic chemicals. Not good! What you want is an organic soil made for gardening. That way you know it's safe, light, and fast-draining, not compact and heavy like most construction soil.

Maybe you don't have a yard? An excellent way to get your hands dirty is to sign up for a community garden, offer to help in someone else's garden, or look for a garden to share on If those don't work, you can grow in containers set out on a balcony or porch.

Container growing is easy as long as you pick the right size and start off with good soil. The bigger the pot the better because rootbound or crowded plants don't weather outdoor temperature swings well and typically need more tending. I like to fill my containers with homemade potting soil that's a mix of equal parts coconut fiber, good garden soil, compost, and sand. You can also buy potting soil from a garden store. Look for potting soil that is inoculated with mycorrhizae, a fungus that works with plant roots to absorb more nutrients.

Step Three: Mix in Perennial Foods

Artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries and apple trees. These are all examples of perennial foods, which are hardier than annuals and marry well with Climate Victory Garden goals. Any plant can be grown using a soil-first approach, and be tastier and more resilient for it. But perennials are a great choice because they require minimal to no soil disturbance and can stick around for many years.

One reason they do so well is because they're anchored by extensive root systems that help them find water and nutrients deep in the soil. Deep roots also give these plants staying power when they're buffeted by heavy winds, rains, and snow. Having the same plants in place for years makes it easier for all the carbon sequestering organisms--the bacteria, fungi, and bugs--to gather and multiply.

More than 100 different varieties of edible perennial vegetables and fruits grow well in North America.

Step Four: Add Organic Matter

Planting a Climate Victory Garden is unique in how much emphasis it puts on soil health. You can't change the inert mineral foundation of your native soil, but you can bring it to life. All you have to do is add organic matter.

Organic matter is the superstar ingredient in healthy soil. It's the shredded leaves you spread as mulch, the kitchen scraps you add to your compost heap, the old roots left to decompose underground. Basically, it's anything that was once living.

Hungry soil organisms break down these dead leaves, roots, and scraps and convert them into plant nutrients, like phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. This process, known as decomposition, produces humus, a dark brown material that is 60 percent carbon. Humus is very stable and, if undisturbed, can remain in the soil for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Soils rich in organic matter soak up water and nutrients because the molecules are charged, sort of like the static cling that makes a sock stick to your shirt when you pull your clothes out of the dryer. This charge holds moisture and nutrients tight so it's less likely they'll evaporate or wash away. Increasing organic matter in your soil by just one percent can increase its water-retaining ability by an extra 20,000 gallons per acre.

Increasing the percentage of organic matter in the soil also feeds mycorrhizal fungi, vast networks of fungi that release glomalin. Glomalin is a sticky, gum-like substance that binds together particles of sand, silt, and clay, creating a soil structure that further helps to lock in moisture and hold on to nutrients. These favorable conditions make plants sturdier and more resilient, a big plus in these climate-challenged times.

Once you plant your garden take the time to enjoy it! Don't stress if it is not perfect. One thing I love about growing food is that there is always next season to improve and build upon what you started.

So let's grow some good food. It's time.

13 Toxic Chemicals Lurking in Your Home

August 9, 2020

From Green America:

These widely used chemicals may hide anywhere from skin cream to a frying pan. In this issue, we'll explore where you can find them in your home and what to do to avoid them.


A mineral that is resistant to heat and chemical corrosion and can be mixed with other materials to strengthen them. Though asbestos use has declined, it has not been banned in the US. Building materials still legally may be up to one percent asbestos, and old buildings are more likely to contain higher percentages. Homes should be checked for asbestos before any renovation--check roof and floor tiles especially. Asbestos fibers can be inhaled and accumulate in the body and cause inflammation, scarring, respiratory diseases, and cancer.

Benzyl benzoate

A common insecticide that is used medically to kill lice or scabies. It is also used as a food additive for flavor, in fragrances, and in plastics. It is a suspected neurotoxin.

Bisphenol-A (BPA)and Bisphenol-S (BPS)

Used to make transparent, hard plastic known as polycarbonate used for baby bottles and linings of metal cans. BPS is a common substitute for BPA since public outcry reduced use of BPA in plastics. Studies are showing the chemicals are similarly toxic. BPA/BPS are endocrine disruptors, and exposure may cause obesity, reproductive cancers, and infertility.


A common class of phthalate--a liquid plasticizer used in hydraulic fluids and PVC plastic. It may leach into food and water through plastic and could cause damage to reproductive organs, lungs, kidneys, liver, and fetuses.

Endocrine disruptors

The endocrine system regulates hormones and the glands that secrete those hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors (a.k.a. endocrine modifiers or hormone disrupters) are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system by mimicking or inhibiting natural hormones. They can cause reproductive damage and have been implicated in cancers of the reproductive system.


(A.k.a. methanal, methyl aldehyde, or methylene oxide) A smelly, colorless, flammable gas used in pesticides, building materials, textiles, cosmetics, and home goods. The "new" smell of a mattress, piece of clothing, or car comes from formaldehyde. It is a carcinogen and suspected gastrointestinal, immune, nerve, reproductive, respiratory, and skin toxicant.


An abundant metal that may be found in a home in the form of old paint on toys or walls, in pipes, or in makeup. Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body and can cause brain damage and behavioral issues, and is especially harmful to children. There is no safe dose of lead.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)

Used as fire retardants in foam furniture, carpet padding, electronics, plastics, textiles, and building materials. PBDEs build up in people's bodies over time and have been associated with tumors, delayed brain development, and thyroid issues.


A preservative in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, parabens are used in toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizers, and shaving gels. Parabens are endocrine disruptors that can be absorbed through the skin, and they have been linked to cancer.


A softening agent used in plastics and in a variety of beauty and skincare products. Studies have identified phthalates as endocrine disruptors. They may also cause liver and kidney lesions, lead to a higher risk of certain cancer, and exacerbate asthma and allergies in some children.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)

PFAs are a class of chemicals including PFOA, PFOs, and GenX. They repel water and grease, so they're used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware, stain-resistant clothes and carpet, and even the inside of microwave popcorn bags. PFAs accumulate in the body over time and can lead to cancer, heart disease, and immune system damage.

Perifluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

PFCs repel grease and water, and are heat-resistant, so they're popular in many products from fast food containers to paints, flooring, and furniture. Studies have linked them to cancer, thyroid issues, damage to immune and reproductive systems, high cholesterol, hypertension, and birth defects.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

A category of chemicals that evaporate into the air and react with sunlight, which pollutes indoor air. The word "organic" means that these chemicals contain the element carbon. Formaldehyde is an example of a VOC that's likely to be in your home. Some VOCs can be lumped under the term "fragrance" (though not all fragrances are VOCs). VOCs may cause eye, nose and throat irritation in the short term, and cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and nervous system problems in the long term. VOCs pose a particular risk to infants and fetuses.

What Is The Human Cost Of Toxic Water?

August 7, 2020

Flint, Michigan is the site of one of the worst ongoing water crises in recent U.S. history. Artist LaToya Ruby Frazier has spent years capturing the stories of life living with toxic water.

About LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier is a visual artist. She is a 2015 TED and MacArthur Fellow, and earlier this year she received the Gordon Parks Foundation/Steidl Book Prize.

Her first book, The Notion of Family, received the International Center for Photography Infinity Award. She is also known for Flint Is Family, portraits of three generations of women surviving the man-made water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Notable solo exhibitions of her work have run at Brooklyn Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and Institute Of Contemporary Art, Boston. Her work can also be found in public and private art collections, including those of the Museum of Modern Art.

Frazier is currently an associate professor of photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has previously held academic or curatorial positions at Yale University School of Art, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University.

She received her BFA in applied media arts from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and her MFA in art photography from Syracuse University.

Soccer Injuries and Prevention Techniques

August 4, 2020

From the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Soccer injury rates differ by age and gender, but players can lower the risks of landing in the emergency department with knowledge of common injuries.

Youth soccer is a tremendously popular year-round sport with many physical fitness benefits, but, as with any contact sport, it carries a risk of injury to players that should be discussed with the family pediatrician.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a comprehensive review of the most recent research, will publish the clinical report, "Soccer Injuries in Children and Adolescents," in the November 2019 Pediatrics.

"Families, soccer players and coaches should be aware of the most common types of injuries -- from sprains and fractures to concussions - so that we can work together to prevent them," said Andrew Watson, MD, MS, FAAP, a lead author of the report, generated by the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

"We know that there are circumstances when players are more likely to get hurt. Our report describes the research behind ways to improve safety on the field, such as specific neuromuscular training programs and adherence to the rules, that can potentially improve the safety of our young athletes."

As the rate of soccer participation soared from 1990 through 2014 -- rising by an estimated 90% -- the number of injuries reported rose dramatically, as well. One retrospective study of 25 years of emergency department visits showed the annual number of soccer-related injuries among 7 to 17-year-olds per 10,000 soccer participants increased by 111 % from 1990 to 2014.

The majority of youth soccer injuries result from player-to-player contact, with a significantly higher proportion of injuries occurring during competition rather than practice, according to one study. More athletes are suffering concussions and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, particularly female players.
The AAP recommends:

- Neuromuscular training programs that teach proper landing and stopping techniques and develop balance.- An emphasis on fair play, rule enforcement and proper, age-appropriate heading techniques to reduce risk of concussion.

- Injury reduction strategies including the completion of a preparticipation examination prior to the start of the season; proper hydration and rest; modification of activities in hot, humid weather; use of appropriately sized shin guards and mouth guards; and use of protective eyewear.

- Basic Life Support training of coaches and placement of automated external defibrillators at practice and competition sites.

The clinical report also examines research concerning other safety gear, footwear, playing field turf or grass, and environmental conditions.

"We encourage kids to participate in athletic activities, especially team sports, in order to develop skills, as well as build fitness and confidence while having fun. Playing soccer is a great way to achieve these goals," said Jeffrey M. Mjaanes, MD, FAAP, a lead author of the report. "We just want to be sure they play safely and leave the field with a smile, not a limp."