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Native Oaks and Rice over GMO

by moth Tuesday, May. 11, 2004 at 9:32 PM

Alternatives to GMO/GE agribusiness monoculture is found in nature's bounty of wild edible foods that can be included into permaculture farming..

Oak trees are exceptional living beings that could be considered both nature and food. The first peoples of the Sacramento River Valley relied on the oak’s acorns for baking flour. The great Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) that live along the floodplain of the river drop thousands of protein packed acorns every fall. The bitter tannins (also medicinal astringent and coloring dye) in the acorn are leached out and after a few times the acorn becomes edible, usually ground into flour for bread. The Pomo make bread by adding a little red powdered clay and baking the 2” leaf wrapped loaves in coals overnight. Acorn bread would last throughout winter, giving the people strength and health. Oaks are indigenous to their habitat, adapted to the wet winters and hot dry summers of the Sac Valley. As part of nature, oaks support diverse ecosystems on their branches, many types of moss, beneficial insects, lizards, lichens, birds and small mammals. On a cold windy night, there’s nothing like having the nook of a stout oak branch to curl up in.

For permaculture gardens, oaks can provide greater benefits if left standing alive. Moisture exhaled through pores during transpiration can help smaller plants cope with the valley’s summer heat. Broad deeply lobed leaves of the valley oak are like a jigsaw puzzle to the sun’s rays. The gaps in the lobes allow some sunlight to filter down to the forest floor. Here the smaller plants nearby benefit in the summer when the large flat leaves transpire water to cool the leaf. As the water evaporates, cooling the oak leaf, the surrounding plants are given a zone of moisture near the tree. The deep taproot stretches down far below the surface to bring up water and elevates essential elements found in minerals in the lower soil horizon.

Currently the monoculture agribusiness of the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley are making the mistake of not replanting the oaks that once stood where the barren fields now lie empty of trees. Instead they continue planting rows of monoculture crops that rely heavily on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer (petroleum based products, part of the reason the US military is STILL occupying Iraq.) and massive water diversion from rivers like the Sacramento. The lack of trees makes the microclimate of the open fields hotter and drier than the microclimate near a tree. Monoculture crops enable an herbivore species to proliferate rapidly, while the more sensitive beneficial predator insects like dragonflies cannot reproduce fast enough to survive the chemical onslaught in the empty fields. To decrease our dependence on petrochemical fertilizer/pesticide/herbicide and large amounts of diverted water, we could begin planting some oaks in the fields of the Sac River Valley.

Ironically the oaks of Europe were sacred to the indigenous people living there before the invasion of the “civilized” Holy Roman Empire. The people of northern Europe were called “pagans” and “barbarians” by the invading Roman military because they lived in harmony with natural wilderness instead of being “civilized” and crowded into cities. Once their spiritual connection to the oaks was observed by military officials, the oaks were cut down and roads were built to show the conquest of Roman civilization over nature’s wilderness. (Similar to European settlers killing bison [food, clothing and shelter for indigenous people] or Israeli military killing Palestinian's olive trees) There was also a fear of the dark mysterious forests on the part of the invading Roman imperialists, so they “managed” it by cutting down many oak trees. Here in northern California we observe a similar pattern with the destruction of oak woodlands for Mall-wart parking lots, freeways for HUMvees and corporate cubicle cages with monoculture lawns. The current motivation for development is the capitalist economy, lack of recognizing the value of the oak woodlands. The indigenous people of California who need the oaks are pushed onto reservations. The valley gradually becomes a dustbowl as sunlight dries the unprotected soil into airborne particulates.

Near the Sacramento River floodplain, native wild rice grew in the wetlands. This rice is also a food source for many indigenous people, harvesting rice in canoes made from tule grass, another wetlands resident. Ceremonies and spiritual beliefs talked about the sacredness of both the oaks and the wild rice. We find a similarity in the domestication of wild rice in the Casamance River Valley of Senegal. Domestication of African red rice is a thousand year long plus process of naturally selecting the choice grains for reproduction. This allows the wild rice to remain adaptable to the surrounding ecosystem of the delta region. The low elevation of the Casamance delta and estuaries causes increased salinity as tides push salty ocean water up into the fresh river water, causing a brackish mix. The African red rice (Oryza glabberima) is adapted to conditions of increased salinity, though the Diola and Ehing people who live with and grow the rice still need to build some levees to keep the salt water out.

The rice growing season is part of a spiritual connection with the rice and the rain that represents the life energy of the plant. The Diola and Ehing people living in the Casamance hold onto the ceremony and spiritual quality of the rice. As globalization and urbanization are pushing people off their land and corporate monoculture Asian rice is being imported to urban dwellers, the Diola and Ehing cannot get anyone to buy their rice since the imported rice is much cheaper. It is very probable that the imported rice also contains genetically engineered (GMO/GE) ingredients that could cause harm to the people and the environment. The negative effect of globalization is evident with Haitian rice farmers driven out of buisiness by imported rice.

Haitian rice farmers were undercut by inexpensive imported monoculture rice brought in during WTO "free trade" agreements after Clinton quietly signed WTO into law while everyone was busy watching Monica Lewinsky updates (Republocrat distraction). Aristide was allowed to return to Haiti after the first coup ('91), though the return was conditional, with many restrictions in place. Any promises Arisitide may have made to the rice farmers were unfulfilled due to the restrictions imposed by the WTO "free trade" guidelines. WTO may also have effected the ability of Haitian sweatshop workers to unionize. The rice farmer left unfulfilled resorted to selling charcoal from the forests instead, leading to deforestation.

"Some international efforts have hurt more than they’ve helped. After the restoration of democracy by U.S. troops in 1994, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions required Haiti to lift price supports in return for hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. Rice farmers were buried by a glut of cheap food imports. Even if farmland conditions allowed them to grow rice, it became too expensive. In the past two decades, exports of American rice -- known here as "Miami rice" -- to Haiti have grown to 200,000 tons a year, making the nation one of the largest consumers of American rice in the world. "

paragraph above from;

Oaks and rice are part of the ecosystem of the Sac/San Joaquin Valley, both are important for nature and as food. If people connect with the spirit of the oaks and the rice, we could find out that the system of capitalist agribusiness is a hoax as the oaks rise above corporate monoliths and the songs of the rice return to sing the agribusiness into memories.

Farming with the wild

Friday, October 18, 2002

By Daniel Imhoff

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