Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Paul Mashka -The Fungus Fellow

When Paul's not teaching students about sustainable agriculture, you may find him foraging for mushrooms.  Last Saturday he led a group of the San Diego Mycological Society (of which he's president) on a mushroom foray in Escondido.  Take a look at what we found!
You can learn more at www.sdmyco.org.


"A Collection of Trash Twice the Size of Texas"

My name is Ben Diamond and I am an intern on the City College Urban Farm. Originally, I wanted to discuss how wonderful and amazing the Urban Farm is (which it is), but after learning about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I feel it is something important for people to be aware of.

We live in a day and age where everything is made to make our lives easier and where everything and anything can just be "thrown away". Society acts as if there is an endless supply of resources to create these goods, as well as bottomless land fill sites to get rid of our unwanted surplus. The reality of it all is slowly coming to a crashing halt. Land fill sites are, for lack of better words, filling up and resources are being depleted at an alarming rate. Not to mention all of the pollution these problems bring to the table. This throw away lifestyle that society has deemed acceptable has to stop. It is infiltrating all facets of our life and is becoming apparent on many levels.

On February 11, I attended a talk with guest speaker Captain Charles Moore on the effects of garbage in our Pacific Ocean. Charles Moore conducts research on what is called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre of marine debris located in the central Pacific Ocean. The patch is characterized primarily by extremely high concentrations of plastic and other debris that have been concentrated by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. A gyre is a circular pattern of currents in an ocean basin. The patch first received wide scientific and public recognition after Charles Moore wrote several documented articles. Captain Moore discovered the patch accidentally by passing through the gyre after returning home from a sailing race. The patch has formed gradually over time as a result of marine pollution accumulating from such areas as Japan and the West Coast of North America. The patch is said to be roughly twice the size of Texas, containing approximately 3.5 million tons of trash. Although this patch twice the size of Texas can not necessarily be seen by the naked eye, it is there and I feel makes it more dangerous. It mainly is made up of toxic microscopic pieces of plastic, where the ratio of plastic to sea life is an astounding six to one. Plastic is not biodegradable, which means every piece of plastic ever made is here on earth forever(even if it is recycled, which is not often). The plastic mimics plankton, which is a large food source for many oceanic organisms including fish that in one way or another end up making it to our plate. The plastic also ends up in the stomachs of marine animals and birds causing dehydration and starvation. The worst part is that there is no real effort underway to clean the mess of this "natural" floating trash dump. Charles Moore and other activists are doing their best to bring this problem to the public eye, but the process of saving our earth is still a long and slow one.

Why is this so important for everyone to know? Maybe it is because micro pieces of plastic floating in the ocean are more dangerous than any oil spill. Maybe it is because the plastic picks up deadly toxins and later resembles plankton which is then eaten by small fish, thus infiltrating the food chain. Our food chain. Soon, fish will no longer be a viable source of food. Maybe it is because this throw away material is killing massive numbers of animals, both big and small in the ocean's ecosystem. Most importantly, maybe it is because if we don't change our throw away tendencies, change our way of living, there will not be a wonderful world left for our future generations. I hope people will ween themselves from their all encompassing, all consuming lifestyles just long enough, to save and protect Mother Earth.

Monday, February 16, 2009

NY Times Editorial about Gardening

Sow Those Seeds!

Published: February 14, 2009

In August 2004, I wrote a Rural Life editorial about the victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a national crisis had turned Americans — for a few years at least— into a nation of gardeners. Now we are in the midst of another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another national home gardening movement, a time when the burgeoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.

There are signs that some people are already thinking this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or learning to weld.

This is daydreaming. But there’s every reason to think about putting in a garden. In fact, many seed companies are reporting higher sales — especially in Britain, which has a rich tradition of home gardening. At grocery stores and farm stands, the difference in cost between organic and conventionally grown vegetables can be substantial. In the garden, the difference is negligible.

I can’t help noting, too, that half of “The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating” — a widely e-mailed Web article by Tara Parker-Pope of The Times — are easily grown in a northeastern garden, including beets, chard, pumpkins and blueberries.

Growing a vegetable garden isn’t going to balance the budget or replace lost benefits or even begin to make up for the shock of a lost job. But part of the crisis we face is a sense of alienation and powerlessness. You don’t meet many alienated gardeners, unless it’s been a terrible woodchuck year.

It’s also tempting to assume that a garden can’t really make much difference in your annual food budget. But you would never convince my parents of that, who raised four kids on the fresh and home-canned produce of a big backyard garden. And I can think of few better distractions from the news of the day than the offerings of seed catalogs and the Edenic visions they inspire.

But over the years, something odd has happened to seed catalogs. They’ve come to resemble grocery stores and, in some sense, the culture at large — fuller and fuller of inedible stuff to buy, like copper plant labels and sunlight calculators and fan-cooled sunhats. One of the hard things for beginning gardeners to learn is that very little of that stuff is needed. What beginning gardeners need most, in fact, is old gardeners, the ones who’ve made do all along and who are starting their seedlings in windowsills right about now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Twist on Pesto

This recipe is inspired by the abundance of dark leafy greens growing on the farm. It's so good that most of it never makes it to my plate. I eat it by the spoonful right out of the bowl!

4 cups chopped greens (chard, kale, collards - your choice)
1/8 cup olive oil
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 T capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 chopped parsley

Steam the greens until bright green and slightly wilted. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Enjoy on bread or over pasta or as a filling for a baked potato.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

New Deal Residue

The National Civilian Community Corps, a team-based government program that allows 18 - 24 year olds help strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service, worked the soil along side community volunteers and interns yesterday. The NCCC (N-triple-C), is in practice, a modern incarnation of the now dissolved Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the public works program enacted under the New Deal legislation during the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed the CCC to primarily employ young men who otherwise could not find employment and also to continue the tradition of natural conservation that our first President Roosevelt conceptualized around the turn of the century.

The two Sacramento based teams arrived downtown at around nine o'clock and our own Paul Maschka and Julia Dashe educated the group of about twenty on the virtues of growing your own food locally and organically. Then the time to begin work arrived. Tasks were dispensed and at around noon time our work force had plucked the remaining stubborn roses that lined the farm, we utilized the highly efficient bucket brigade technique to move a truck bed of compost up the hill from the parking lot, we cleared more land at our newer site on the west side of Park Avenue, and we began the process of converting the terraces on the south facing hillside into nutrient dense beds for more food!

The efforts of the Corps members will be evident for a long time to come. It was great getting to know some of them and I hope to see them back in the future.

It's quite a stretch and certainly a poor attempt at linking FDR to our humble farm but I can't imagine Mr. Roosevelt would mind.

Confessions of a Gardening Addict

I wouldn't say I have a brown thumb, but it isn't exactly green either.

Last spring I helped get this farm off the ground. I met Julia Dashe, learned what other schools were doing, and made a proposal to the San Diego City College Foundation. They supported us with an initial grant that allowed us to hire our farmers and gardening educators Paul Maschka and Julia.

Then I let stepped back and let them work their magic. Summer and fall flew by, and together with students and community volunteers, what had been a sterile grass lawn became a thriving ecoculture, home to vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, butterflies, birds and ladybugs - and of course earthworms!

As the fall semester dwindled down I began to get my hands dirty for the first time. I volunteered throughout the semester break. To my astonishment, even though school was out (and it was often quite chilly) I was just one of several volunteers at the farm. The day after Christmas and the day after New Years - it didn't matter - people were always there working the land. And I began to realize that this wasn't about me donating my time and energy, it was about the comradery and joy that I experienced by being part of such a wonderful group of people.

And then there were the lessons. Each day Paul would spend a few minutes teaching us - perhaps a specific technique or a history of a certain plant or about organic versus industrial farming. One day we had a lesson in weeds. We followed him around the farm as he pointed out the good and the bad, the tasty and the poisonous. I had no idea gardening could be so much fun.

Nowadays, I can barely fall asleep on Friday nights, because I'm so excited about heading to the farm first thing in the morning.