Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in David Brooks, Farming, Film, Home and Garden, Science, Seeds | Posted on 18-05-2009


by David Brooks

It is time
once again to put the seeds in the ground, and with that come some questions: Do
I put one seed in the hole or two? What happens if I put three? How close
together should I put the seeds? Can I squeeze one more plant in this row, or
will that crowd out the others and lead to the ruination of the entire garden?
To a seasoned gardener there is no quandary concerning the seeds, but to a
novice that plot of ground can be a puzzle of immense proportions.

The seeds
planted determine a lot about your garden. So, let’s look at seeds. Where did
you get them? Are they safe? Did you choose organic seeds to try and control
what is inside you food?


There is a
lot of research going into seeds and crop output in the country now. Over the
past 20 years we have seen the introduction of a number of bioengineered crops
throughout the world. The argument rages as to whether we are making it
possible to feed the world, or setting ourselves up for a genetic mess and an
insect or disease infestation that cannot be stopped.


Many of you
are seasoned enough to remember in the mid-nineties when it became almost impossible
to buy a taco in America. A bioengineered corn seed named
Starlink made
it into the food supply and was quickly deemed unsafe and not fit for human consumption.
The corn had made it so deep into the food supply that anything made with it
was pulled from the shelves and millers nationwide had to stop milling and
empty any silo that could possibly have had
Starlink in it. To this day
labs check each load of corn delivered to a processor for traces of


The quality
of the seed determines the quality of the product you grow. Choose wisely.


The Future
of Food
is a good documentary to watch concerning this issue. The length is
around 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it’s well worth the time spent.


After you
watch the documentary the timeline following will make more sense. Please take
time to watch it and then enjoy your backyard garden.


  • 1901 -
    Ishiwata Shigetane discovers that the cause of a disease outbreak in silkworms
    is a new species of bacteria, later called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.
  • 1905 – Sir
    Roland Biffen shows that the ability of wheat to resist infection with a fungus
    is genetically inherited.
  • 1907 -
    Erwin Smith and C. O. Townsend discover that the cause of crown galls is a
    bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
  • 1930 – In
    the 1930s, plant breeders notice that plants infected with a mild strain of a
    virus are protected from infection with a more destructive strain.
  • 1938 – The
    first commercial insecticide that contains Bt hits the market.
  • 1947 -
    Armin Braun shows that A. tumefaciens introduces a factor into plant cells that
    permanently transforms them into tumor cells.
  • 1950 – In
    the 1950s, studies show that proteins produced by Bt bacteria kill insects.
  • 1972 -
    Ernest Jaworski reports that glyphosate herbicides work by inhibiting a
    critical biochemical pathway in plants.
  • 1974 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu discover that a circular strand of DNA (a plasmid)
    carried by A. tumefaciens transforms plant cells into tumor cells.
  • 1977 -
    Eugene Nester, Milton Gordon, and Mary-Dell Chilton show that genes on the A.
    tumefaciens plasmid are transferred into infected plant cells.
  • 1981 -
    Helen Whiteley and Ernest Schnepf, at the University of Washington, clone a Bt
    toxin gene.
  • 1983 – Jeff
    Schell and Marc Van Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and colleagues, and scientists
    at Monsanto introduce genes into plants by using A. tumefaciens plasmid
  • 1986 -
    Roger Beachy shows that plants bioengineered to produce a viral coat protein
    are protected from infection with the virus.
  • 1990 -
    Field trials show that Bt cotton strains resist bollworm and budworm.
  • 1996 -
    Genetically engineered virus-resistant squash seeds hit the market.
  • 1996 – Bt
    cotton hits the market.
  • 1996 -
    Herbicide-resistant strains of soybeans, cotton, canola, and corn reach the


Terra Preta

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Compost, Ron Ferrell, Science, Soil Management | Posted on 02-03-2009


by Ron Ferrell

Just how clever were those South American Indians? They were one of the first races on the planet to include the number 0 in their mathematical and monetary system, but now their population cannot be found in any resemblance to what the anthropologists say once flourished. It was thought that they overused their food infrastructure, but most likely the few who were left after war and disease brought by the Spanish invaders decimated their numbers were absorbed into other tribes in the area.

After years of archaeological research an unlikely native asset revealed itself. The research revealed a vast area of black soil that the natives had apparently created and used to maintain enormous cultures with fruit and food–an oasis in the jungles. Research indicates the key ingredient that fueled this composting marvel was charcoal. It appears that making charcoal was an intentional industry to help create the black Terra Preta.

Dr. Michael P. Byron states, in his book The Path Through Infinity’s Rainbow:

Terra preta soil is formed by incorporating biochar–locally produced charcoal–into ordinary soil. This activates the soil and enables it to permanently hold far greater quantities of minerals and nutrients than would otherwise be possible. This then sets into motion a complex and still not fully understood chain of events that include microorganism growths throughout the soil, which results in the soil becoming terra preta soil within several years.

This remarkable soil is found in abundance in the black earth were pottery shards and remnants, mixed in with other organic matter to create possibly the richest mass of intentional earth on the planet. Even National Geographic reports that terra preta is not to be found anywhere else on earth. 

In the September 2008 issue of National Geographic, "Where Food Begins," maps and illustrations of terra preta vs. normal soil are depicted from the central region of South America. (Can't find a link for the graphics, but they are on page 9293 of the magazine.)

Another thing about these illustrations that struck me is higher on the same map. The "fertility" chart graphics indicate a strip through the central United States that is rated as ‘highly fertile.’ It appears to me that the highly fertile area includes Oklahoma. A large area of unusually deep top soil is just north of us, in Kansas. This is great news for anyone trying to raise a garden in this part of the country. This may explain why folks living in southeastern Oklahoma are able to raise such prolific crops.

The latest issue of Mother Earth News also has an article of the ‘ancient’ soil building technique. They renamed it ‘char,’ but it apparently works as nutrients bond to charcoal for nutritional longevity.

So throw a dart and live where you will, but the aforementioned map indicates to me, that if you are truly interested in food growing potential, the central United States is the place to be. Tornados for sure, but no pesky hurricanes, desert or higher than average drought predictions.

With all the solid information and resources for making your own wonderful compost, soil enrichment is preferable to soil building any day of the week. I’m blessed with sandy loamy soil, so weed control and soil amendment are my main goals in building my garden spot.

Go here to find a contemporary recipe for Terra Preta. Mix up a batch and invite me over.

Compostable Corn-Plastic? Yes and No

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron, Waste Management | Posted on 23-01-2009


by Tricia Dameron

New "bioplastics" are labeled "compostable" but require industrial composting processes.
Human ingenuity has discovered yet another use for corn: bioplastic,
specifically in the form of 
disposable flatware. Have you seen these
products? You might not even know the difference, except that they melt
a lot easier. They look just like their petroleum-based counterparts.
What's the attraction? Well, for one, they are not made from petroleum.
That's a plus. But, they are made from a foodstuff, which is a growing
concern in this age of corn ethanol. Another advantage of polylactic
acid (PLA), the technical name for the resin, is that it's compostable. Well, at least that's what one
would assume from reading the product label. However, that's not the
complete Five months in the compost pile has caused no change in the "compostable" corn-based plastic cups.
story. It's compostable, yes, but only in a commercial
facility.  According to this Scientific American
article, there are only 113 
industrial-grade composting facilities in
the U.S. I wonder how many of these facilities accept public drop-offs?
Some of these products are labeled with the term "biodegradable." To be
clear, these items are not biodegradable in a landfill; they might
degrade in 100 or 1,000 years. Landfills are designed to entomb our
waste to prevent contamination of the environment; in turn, the
"bio"—the sun, air, fungus—of "biodegrade" is removed from the process.

Products marked code 7 are accepted by Waste Management, but it is unclear whether they are actually recycled.
So, if backyard composting doesn't work, can you put them in your
recycle bin? Apparently, it's not that straightforward. NatureWorks, a
PLA manufacturer owned in-part by Cargill, says PLA has no negative impact on the quality of flake produced from recycling PET and HDPE plastics. Yet, this Smithsonian article states that PLA is considered a contaminant when found in the recycle stream of PET. Some bioplastics may be imprinted with resin code 7. If so, these are accepted by Waste Management in Oklahoma City, but are they actually recycled? No industry representative would go on the record to confirm or deny it.

situations where reusable plates and flatware are not feasible, it
would be nice to have an option like these corn-based plastics—an
option made from renewable resources that biodegrade. However,
at this point it seems our infrastructure does not support the intended
benefits of these products. It would also seem that there needs to be truth in marketing to reflect these limitations.

Ancient Inspiration In a Modern World

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Nature, Robbie White, Science, Urban Gardening | Posted on 15-12-2008


by Robbie White

most gorgeous moon has been in the sky these past few days. It is
called the Long Night Moon. I understand why the peoples from more
agrarian times called it that. It hangs, glowing, in the sky lighting
the longest and coldest nights of the year. In days before electricity
much had to be done from sunrise to sunset. Lighting with candles or
lamps wasn’t always dependable. The reason the glorious December full
moon is visible for so many hours also has a scientific explanation:

midwinter full moon takes a high trajectory across the sky because it
is opposite to the low Sun. The moon will also be at perigee later this
day, at 5:00 p.m. EST, at a distance of 221,560 mi. (356,566 km.) from

encountered the most recent Long Night Moon last Monday night while I
was completing some holiday errands. I emerged from a store that faces
west and was stunned to find the horizon aglow with the very last of
the day's sun. Several planets were visible just above the horizon, and
despite the well-lit parking lot, I could sense the glow of the
Long Night Moon behind me. As I turned to see the glow of the moon, I
did not think about how much closer this moon is than other full moons
of the year. Perigees and trajectories never crossed my mind. I felt
closer to the earth’s natural rhythms in that moment. I allowed the
huge Long Night Moon to remind me that no matter what name we give this
cold and dark time of year, the natural order calls to me.

I stood in the parking lot taking in the lovely view, my fellow Fresh
Greens bloggers, Jennifer Gooden and David Brooks, jumped into my mind
as I recalled that they wrote eloquently about the joys of growing
their own food. I thought about the gifts I have left to buy and
wondered how I could merge the two thoughts. Is there anyone on my
gift list who loves to garden? What gift would encourage their
enjoyment of growing the food they eat? Jennifer and others have
several good ideas in their blog entries.

What will I do with the long nights of winter before I can plant my earth boxes
again? I think I will dig out my garden dreams of less busy years and
dust them off. I will plan which lovely things I will grow on the
balcony of my urban home that has too much shade for a good garden. I
will even write a Christmas wish list (which I haven’t done in years)
that includes some gardening books.

am grateful to the ancient Long Night Moon combined with the ultra
modern tool of blogging that inspires me to look again at growing
things and gives me a fresh perspective on gift buying. It is not too
late to buy some gardening books or magazines or seeds. What inspires
me more is wondering if I could grow enough in the summer of 2009 to
preserve as gifts for next Christmas? If I plan ahead, maybe I could
purchase some local berries or fruit to make homemade jams to wrap up
next winter? How about some jars of zesty sweet pickles from Oklahoma
grown cucumbers? Other thoughts on next year’s giving fill my mind like
visions of sugar plums…. I wonder if there is a recipe for sugar
plums online?  Hmmm…

I wish you all a happy Christmas full of joy and peace and dreams of warmer days and growing things.

We Are What We Eat

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Food and Drink, Science | Posted on 12-12-2008


by David Brooks

Someone once said, “You are what you eat.” They were correct. Unfortunately, we have become a nation that should be wearing yellow and red suits, big red shoes, and answer to the name Ronald. We all know the general trend in America has been to eat more, eat poorly, add unwanted pounds, which cause health problems that diminish the quality of life, etc, etc, etc. 

Recently food producers and consumers have been providing momentum to the health and wellness trend. Food manufacturers are the first step in wellness adoption, and consumers have been driving profound changes in how today’s food and beverage products are formulated, packaged, and sold.

Food is used as fuel for the body and pleasure for the tongue. People are learning that nothing will affect their health as significantly as what they put in their bodies. The Hartman Group has been tracking the shifts occurring in American’s food consumption for the past twenty years. In the late 20th century, consumers began to reject products they considered sugary or salty. The term ‘junk food’ was coined and attributed to items high in salt, sugar, or fat. Packaging began providing options such as “low fat,” “low sodium,” “fat-free,” and “sugar-free”

Now in the 21st century consumers have begun to take back there personal health and nutrition through better food and, unfortunately, a new found fondness for food additives. Research shows that more and more consumers are deliberately adding ingredients and nutrients to their daily diet. A recent wellness study concluded that the following ingredients are being added regularly by a substantial percent of the population:

  • 70% add fiber
  • 68% add Calcium
  • 61% add Protein
  • 59% add Whole Grains
  • 55% add Olive oil
  • 50% add antioxidants
  • 41% add fish oil or Omega 3 oils
  • 40% add Oat Bran

In the long term consumers want foods that will help them manage weight, lower cholesterol, fight cancer, and extend life. Whole grain breads, high fiber yogurt, brown rice are all good ideas and all beneficial. The one thing all have in common is additives and preservatives. 

In an effort to keep folks growing gardens naturally and organically I will leave you with this last bit of information. Preservatives have what are called negative organoleptic properties brought on by the metallic taste of some additives. Things with names like; potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and calcium chloride have a flavor, and it is not a pleasant flavor. Ingredients are actually added to ingredients to block acidity, bitterness, and astringency. Researchers want consumers to have a pleasant ‘taste event.’ These events have a beginning, middle, and end. Good R & D teams concern themselves with the full spectrum of the experience. So, food is enhanced with additives, which are protected with preservatives, which are flavor masked with more additives so the consumer can have a pleasant experience.

Read the back of any package in your cabinet and it will encourage you to get your shovels sharpened and the seeds ordered. Merry Christmas to all of you, and may God bless you and your gardens in the coming year.

Microbial Life in the Garden

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Compost, Farming, Home and Garden, Homesteading, Organic Gardening, Ron Ferrell, Science, Tips | Posted on 21-11-2008


by Ron Ferrell

I’m always on the search for more information about how to grow food, and lately I’ve been exploring YouTube for related topics. Two processes that I’ve discovered on YouTube involve the introduction of effective microbes into the composting and gardening process. I’ve felt for a while that something was missing in my compost and gardening process, and after some research I think EM (effective microbes) may be the key to a great garden. I would encourage you to do your own research, but since I talk to lots of people about gardening and effective microbes have never surfaced as a topic, this may be new to you as well.

BOKASHI:  Japanese for fermented organic matter. There are a few good videos on YouTube, and if you google this topic, there are many instructive articles. Basically the Japanese figured out how to kill the smell of your compost bucket with the introduction of effective microbes. It’s a simple recipe once you get the correct ingredients, and this greatly enhances your garden, via the compost pile.

I made my first batch of Bokashi last evening. It has to age for 2 weeks before use, but if what I’m reading holds true, then I plan to introduce it into my composting toilet to aid decomposition, reduce smell of any waste byproduct, and add healthy organisms into my garden. 

COMPOST TEA:  This almost speaks for itself, but the YouTube videos also include the effective microbes and Arctic or Alaskan humus to introduce a wide array of microbial life into your garden as a foliar spray and or fertilizer. There are kits you can buy to do the aeration of water and use their brand of effective microbes, but you can easily shop for the components elsewhere. 

The YouTube videos show incredible vegetable gardens, almost too good to be true, but once again, I researched as best I could on Google to find related or corresponding articles.  Very exciting. I want to hear about your discoveries.

In regard to harmful additives, I’m concerned, because I haul in tons of horse manure (stall mix as I call it), about the horse wormer and its effect on earthworms and red wiggler worms. I don’t have an answer, yet, but considering I’ve hauled in many truck loads of stall mix over the past year, it’s not as if I can back up now. So I’ve been studying the information found on Google in regard to this. There are several reports and studies, and I will let you come to your own decision as to its use. I think all is not lost for me, as the reports for its continued use are cautiously optimistic.  

The wormer topic also holds true for sheep, cattle, and most all livestock, so inform yourself and beware of what you’re putting into your compost pile. I started hauling in all this free manure, and didn’t do my research on the front end. I’m hopeful it’s not too late. Since I have plans to introduce microbes into my garden/composting process, I’m hopeful that these effective microbes will also help to rehabilitate any horse wormer induced destruction. I now plan to inoculate every truck load of manure with approximately 5 gallons of EM compost tea, hot compost for at least a year before introducing into the garden, aerate the pile well, expose the pile to as much sunshine as possible and pray for healthy worms.

Parsing Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Current Affairs, Endangered Species, Politics, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 13-10-2008


by Tricia Dameron

In August, the Department of the Interior proposed self-described “narrow” changes that would revise the consultation process (Section 7) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as clarify the lack of interplay between greenhouse gas emissions and the role of the Act.

As it currently stands, the Act requires federal agencies (referred to as ‘action agencies’) to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (referred to as ‘Services’) on planned projects—such as dams, highways, mining, logging—that may affect plants and animals (or their habitat) that are listed on the endangered or threatened species list. Informal consultations are required if there is no effect or if the effect is insignificant or impossible to measure; in any case, a consultation (formal or informal) is required. The rule change will require action agencies to consult with the Services only if the project will likely harm a listed species.

Mark Howery*, a wildlife diversity biologist in Oklahoma, summed it up by saying, “Right now, the USFWS has the final authority for determining what actions constitute a significant impact to endangered species and which ones don’t. Where there is a conflict in interpretation, the burden of proof, so to speak…falls on the other federal agencies. I believe that if the proposed rule change takes place, what it will do is shift that burden of proof on to the USFWS when there is an interagency dispute.”

What do these changes actually mean? Has the Department of the Interior tried to foresee the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) consequences? After reading the proposed changes, I am left with more questions than answers. Below is my attempt to parse some issues of importance to me.

What good will result from these changes?

Ken Collins is a biologist with the USFWS and does consultation work in Oklahoma. He says the changes could reduce the consultation and litigation workload. “The FWS is often sued on decisions we make or assist in. If the Federal action agency would make the determinations, as outlined under the new regulations, future lawsuits would likely be directed at the Federal action agency who made the determination and not the FWS.”

What incentives encourage the action agencies to conduct a fair assessment?

Litigation. ESA watchdog and interest groups that initiate litigation will have to navigate the bureaucracy of multiple agencies, rather than just two.

What about agencies that do not have in-house biologists?

“[M]ost agencies other than Forest Service, [Army] Corps [of Engineers], and [Bureau of Land Management] typically have very few biological staff in house. They would either need to hire additional staff or allow consultants to gather information and discuss the possible effects. The final determination would still be made by the federal action agency in those cases,” says Collins. The proposed rule assumes federal agencies have acquired adequate expertise from working with the Act for nearly 35 years, but it requires no qualifications on behalf of the staff conducting the self-consultations.

What about the provisions related to climate change?

The proposed rule summary states: “[T]here is no requirement to consult on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ contribution to global warming and its associated impacts on listed species….GHG emissions from building one highway are not an ‘essential cause’ of any impacts associated with global warming. Moreover, any such effects are later in time, but are not reasonably certain to occur.” The revised ESA will not acknowledge the complicated situation presented by climate change and will not attempt to mitigate losses of species or habitat due to climate change or the causes of climate change.

Rather than conduct a thorough overhaul of the ESA or leave it to its successor, the current administration is hastily pushing the mutated ESA through while many constituents are consumed by the economy and the elections. Neither is there hope for Congressional deliberation—the changes do not require [] Congressional review or approval.

Oklahoma has 19 of the 1,358 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Wednesday.


*Editors Note: Mr. Howery agreed to speak with Fresh Greens as a private citizen. His comments should not be construed as representing the views of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife or any other state agency.

Generation to Nowhere or Generation Grown-Up?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Science, Shauna Lawyer Struby | Posted on 03-10-2008


by Shauna Lawyer Struby

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”       - Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

The above is an ancient perspective, derived from a philosophy extending back tens of thousands of years. According to the Basic Call to Consciousness, in an address given by the Hau de no sau nee, a/k/a the Iroquois Confederacy in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977, from the above ancient perspective, modern humanity is seen as …

“an infant occupying a very short space of time in an incredibly long spectrum. It is the perspective of the oldest elder looking into the affairs of a young child and seeing that he is committing incredibly destructive folly.”                                                           

1868Now flash back seven generations ago—140 years—it was 1868, two years after the end of the Civil War and a scant nine years since the drilling of the first modern commercial oil well near the town of Titusville, PA in 1859. In California, the oil industry was taking off (ala There Will be Blood). As the Industrial Revolution, fueled by coal-fired steam engines, roared across the continent, American Indians were forced from their native lands and onto reservations, and the magnificent bison, North America’s largest land mammals, were slaughtered by the millions, almost to the point of extinction.

By the end of the Industrial Revolution—generally considered to be sometime in the early 1900s—virtually every aspect of daily life had changed for American families. Due to industrial agriculture, food supplies swelled. With more food, population skyrocketed, and the modern world gave birth to many beneficial health and medical advances along with Coca Cola, computers, umpteen varieties of Ritz crackers, just to name a few of an increasingly complex array of consumer goods and technologies, and so much more, all embraced by modern humanity as the best thing since… well…probably the wheel, fire and sliced bread, not necessarily in that order.   


Fast forward to 2008. The earth is home to 6.7 billion people. Ocean ecosystems are in decline. Bird, bee, and fish populations are also in decline. Clean air and water, adequate energy supplies, resource depletion, all are an increasing challenge, and climate change is morphing so fast that almost daily researchers release new studies documenting the rapid and alarming rate of change.

If this were the plot of a disaster movie, we’d be pegging the unnamed extras doomed to expire. But life in 2008 is not a movie, and we are the unnamed extras along with countless other species.

By any measure, modern society is indeed the young child committing incredibly destructive folly, seemingly without much forethought. Where do we go from here?

Maybe it’s time to grow up.

Growing up means managing more than one thing at a time. It means thinking beyond today or five years or even 10 or 20 years. It means liberating our minds from failed ideologies and dogmas and embracing creative, cooperative and analytical ideas for solutions. It means building resilient, regenerative, sustainable communities and rigorously applying these standards to proposed endeavors. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it means considering the impact of whatever solutions we propose on the next seven generations.

Growing up isn’t always easy. Yet, as most of us who’ve done it know, it is an opportunity rich with potential and deep meaning. By incorporating the wisdom of the Great Law of the Iroquois into our lives, by using our imaginations to collectively innovate and evolve toward regenerative, sustainable, resilient communities, by finding a way of being in the world that, as the architect William McDonough says …

“loves all the children of all species for all time,”

not only can we change our communities for the better, but rather than going down in history as the Generation to Nowhere, we can become Generation Grown-Up.

Her2148e’s to thinking about 2148.