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by Mary Sparrowdancer
Monday, Apr. 28, 2008 at 2:08 PM
Like a microcosm of what would eventually occur throughout most of the world, people in the US became increasingly dependent upon the agricultural, chemical, and petroleum industries for the production and delivery of "food." Diets that were once healthy became unnatural and based largely upon processed, powdered, light-weight, (easily shipped and stored) grains instead of locally grown, nutrient-dense, fresh organic vegetables and fruits. This dependency began in earnest around the 1930s, the years referred to by some as "the Dirty Thirties." Those were years when corporate profits at all costs seemed to take precedence and business became more important than people.
The latest "crisis" spreading throughout the world, the food crisis, may actually backfire on the giant capitalists reaping great profits from all they have sown without mercy for nearly a century. The US food crisis is in part being experienced because during the past 80 years, our government slowly formed partnerships with huge, profit-seeking corporations. Local food production was taken away from small family farmers who could not compete with big industry. The critical responsibility of providing food for the masses then fell into the profit-seeking hands of conglomerates that were heavily armed with chemicals, plastics, pesticides, fossil fuels, and topsoil-destroying machinery.
Like a microcosm of what would eventually occur throughout most of the world, people in the US became increasingly dependent upon the agricultural, chemical, and petroleum industries for the production and delivery of "food." Diets that were once healthy became unnatural and based largely upon processed, powdered, light-weight, (easily shipped and stored) grains instead of locally grown, nutrient-dense, fresh organic vegetables and fruits. This dependency began in earnest around the 1930s, the years referred to by some as "the Dirty Thirties." Those were years when corporate profits at all costs seemed to take precedence and business became more important than people. They were years when extraordinary examples of cause and effect occurred, as though a profound message was being offered to us if we would only stop and take notice.
Some feel the Wall Street crash of 1929 was caused by speculation over the exorbitant import taxes the Smoot-Hawley act was about to bring. This business protection act became law in 1930, and humans paid the price. The Great Depression grew and properties were confiscated. Other countries retaliated against the US, passing similar laws causing severe trade restrictions. The US State Department reported that world trade declined by "66% between 1929 and 1934." The market for our surplus grains disappeared. Farmers lost their farms when they could not repay loans taken out for machinery, but the machinery did more than cause homelessness. The machinery had damaged the topsoil of the Great Plains. The damage was so great, the topsoil turned to dust and was carried eastward by winds. Black clouds sent a roiling message from the new Dust Bowl to New York and beyond, New York being the very home of Wall Street. The Dirty Thirties marked the birth of the synthetic, plastic kingdom.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the 1900s a full 41% of the US workforce was employed in the important task of growing our food. By 1945, following the elimination of the small farmers this percentage fell to 16%. In 2000, the percentage of humans employed as food growers was a mere 1.9% of the workforce, because as the small farmers lost their farms and their jobs, commercial farming conglomerates took over. Industrialization meant commercial fertilizers would be used to force crops from the damaged earth. According to the USDA, commercial fertilizer use more than doubled after the Dirty Thirties. By the 1980s, nearly 50,000,000 tons of commercial fertilizers were being used yearly.
In a statement given to me by my friend, Dr. Luise Light, former USDA nutrition expert, we were "brainwashed by media publicity into thinking that industrially produced food is more scientific, safer and healthier than old-fashioned locally grown food. This is a lie." Dr. Light was the creator of the true Food Pyramid, which suggested we consume a diet based primarily on fresh vegetables and fruits. Her pyramid was drastically altered by the grain lobby, falsely leading people to think that our diets needed to be grain-based.
The grain foods created by synthetic practices, are clearly not natural. After foods are processed with pesticides, chemicals, plastics and fossil fuels, they become, in part, synthetic, many with additives to hide or enhance taste or appearance and to "extend shelf life." Throughout these years of dependency on "agro-giants," the health of Americans has steadily declined until we have become the top consumers of pharmaceuticals on earth. We who live in this plastic, synthetic kingdom that was born in the 1930s are now a nation completely dependent not only upon synthetic foods, but are now seeking relief from our toxic symptoms via expensive, synthetic drugs.
With the food supply lying in the hands of a few corporations, manipulation and price gouging have apparently been made easy, but these tactics would have little impact on any of us if we began independently growing our food locally as it should be grown. According to the Washington Post, global food prices rose 83% during the last three years, partly due to the rising costs of fuel for shipping. We have paid the price in many ways, poisoning ourselves with synthetic chemicals, then waiting unknown days or weeks while products are shipped over the hemispheres, or stored indefinitely thus losing more nutrients with each passing moment. This food crisis could turn out to be a godsend for the world if the situation is addressed individually and quickly.
For those of us who have grown tired (sick and tired) of supporting the pseudo and synthetic food industry, there is a simple way out of this giant mess. Anyone who has access to a little dirt can reclaim the responsibility of growing at least a portion of our foods right in our own yards, and we can begin today and start out very simply.
One of the easiest and most nutritious homegrown foods is the potato. The potato has long been the victim of curious false advertising. The truth is that fresh, organically grown potatoes can be viewed as one of the top three most nutrient-dense foods in the green kingdom. Freshly harvested potatoes taste great and have generous amounts of natural vitamin C, B complex vitamins (the real ones rather than dubious synthetic Bs), amino acids, and outstanding mineral and trace nutrients, including iodine. They are so "complete" in nutrition that humans living on diets consisting primarily of potatoes appear to have an excellent state of health that surpasses American health at this time.
The potato has more potassium than a banana, and comes in a delicious rainbow of different colors and types, offering a wide variety of nutrients from a natural, fresh, whole and very satisfying food. It now appears that the lowly spud, long ignored or completely dismissed as a joke or a mere starch bomb, is far superior in nutrients to the cheap powdered grains, chemicals, and plastics found in many industrialized breads, cereals, pastas and other processed foods that form the sad bulk of Americans' diet at this time. In addition, while grain foods tend to create an extremely high acid pH residue in the human body, it appears that potatoes do not.
There are many websites available giving detailed instructions in how to grow potatoes. The Google search engine leads us first to its favorite, albeit opinionated and frequently biased giver of information: "wikipedia." According to this site (and others), it seems that one must first have a degree in botany, several acres of land, heavy-duty harrowing equipment, or at the very least a water buffalo in order to prepare the earth for potato production.
"Correct potato husbandry is an arduous task in the best of circumstances," the wikipedia writer grimly warns any potential new backyard potato farmer, and then adds, "Good ground preparation, harrowing, plowing, and rolling are always needed, along with a little grace from the weather and a good source of water. Three successive plowings, with associated harrowing and rolling, are desirable before planting." (2)
The word, "harrow," is described by Webster's as to "pillage, plunder, torment, vex." It seems to sum up the entire suggested planting schedule rather well. One might come away from this exhausting description thinking we should leave potato growing to the harrowing "experts." The truth, however, is that the above techniques are completely unnecessary and are the very techniques that have badly damaged our topsoils.
The whole truth is that growing our food - - and especially growing the top three nutrient-dense foods addressed in this paper - - is not only easy, but can also be done in a way that the topsoil is renewed, nurtured and fed while it in turn produces our food. The potato is easy to grow due to the fact that most potatoes, unlike a loaf of bread or a bowl of corn flakes, are alive. Being so, they will strive to remain alive while also striving to bring forth more potatoes. They have been doing so on their own for countless millennia, long before humans discovered they were good to eat and could be grown next to the kitchen door instead of being hunted and gathered in the wild.
Potatoes, in fact, seem to happily attempt to grow under just about any conditions as long as they have not been killed by radiation or chemicals. One does not even need a yard in order to grow potatoes. They can be easily grown in containers and started by using old potatoes in the fridge or pantry that have sprouted "eyes." Each of the eyes will eagerly grow into a new plant if given half a chance.
After selecting organic potatoes that have sprouted eyes, you can cut the potato into halves, thirds or quarters, making sure there are at least a couple of eyes on each section. These sections should be allowed to sit on a windowsill for a day or so, until the areas that were cut can "heal," and dry. The alternative to sectioning is to just plant the whole potato that has sprouted eyes. I have done both, and the result has always been the same: more potatoes. One need not dig a hole, "work the ground," or commit any harrowing acts when planting potatoes. The seed potatoes can be placed upon the ground surface and covered with compost, leaves, hay, straw, etc. They are not particular. I have known folks who have simply tossed an old potato onto a compost pile, resulting in its taking root and establishing itself.
If planting in a container, fill the lower third of the container with soil, and throw some seed potatoes onto it, or push them down under the dirt. Once they have sprouted, they will grow in height very quickly. When the sprouted plants are about ten inches tall, some growers advocate adding more dirt, compost, leaves, etc., until the bottom portion of the growing plants are completely covered by the soil, leaving only about three inches of the topmost greenery uncovered. As the plants continue to grow in height, the advice by some is to continue adding more dirt until the container is filled. Potatoes will be formed throughout the container.
Others growers, such as organic farmer, Jim Gerritsen, of Wood Prairie Farm in Maine, state that the leaves should never be covered, but only the stems covered. In an email he stated to me, "Our potato leaves are solar factories manufacturing plant food. More leaves equal more food," and this, he wrote, equals better conditions for tuber bulking and higher yields.
Whichever method you choose, when growing potatoes in the yard add straw, hay, leaves, dirt and compost or a mixture of all to form a mound covering either the emerging plants or stems. This helps keep the developing tubers hidden from sunlight which might cause them to turn green. (Green potatoes may contain a substance, solanine, which should not be consumed.) I also incorporate various seaweeds and ocean nutrients into my gardens.
These mounds of organic materials will eventually decompose into rich composted soil, but long before this occurs, the potato plants will create their tubers, some types producing tubers in as early as a few weeks. You can "rob" the mounds early by carefully reaching in and removing tubers before the actual harvest time comes when the plants die back. Gently boiling the fresh potatoes whole, skin intact rather than cutting them up or puncturing them and then nuking them in the microwave, is said to result in less loss of nutrients.
At this time in our synthetic, nutrient-starved world, I feel Mr. Potato shares his spotlight with two other nutritious friends, the first of which is the sweet potato. Many people associate sweet potatoes with Thanksgiving or Christmas, and therefore consume this wonderful food only once or twice a year. The sweet potato is a root rather then a tuber, and is more closely related to the morning glory than to the spud. It is another extraordinarily nutrient-dense food created in the green kingdom of Mother Nature.
Sweet potatoes can be easily grown by first obtaining "slips" or green shoots from a sweet potato suspended by toothpicks in a glass of water, something many of us remember doing as kids. Each green shoot or vine that forms can be pulled off the sweet potato and planted in the ground or in containers. Or, slips can be ordered from farmers if specific varieties are desired.
This year, because of my concerns for my family and friends regarding this "food crisis," and also in an effort to help support and encourage small family farmers, I ordered a variety of seed potatoes and sweet potato slips as well as other organic seeds from various farmers, including Jim Gerritsen. A rainbow of seed potatoes - - reds, yellows, purples, blues, fingerlings, pinks and whites - - are lined up on my windowsill now growing their "eyes" and looking very much like a lineup of small, round (some tall and thin) soldiers preparing to bravely go forth and do what they like to do best, thus addressing in this front yard, "the global food crisis." I would suggest that everyone begin growing potatoes, immediately.
The importance of taking our food back and establishing organic gardening practices can perhaps best be observed by noting two other microcosms in our world that are right now showing us again extraordinary examples of cause and effect, as though another profound message is desperately being offered to us if we would only stop and notice. As though to make this message as clear as possible, these two opposing microcosms are a mere 50 miles from one another. They are Haiti, and Cuba.
According to David Montgomery's book, "Dirt," Cuba was the site of a unique cause and effect revolution that resulted in something rather exceptional. Before the 1959 revolution, four-fifths of Cuba's agricultural lands were controlled by a handful of people primarily engaged in the exporting business, and Cuba produced less than half of its own food. Machinery, fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels were all imported, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, trading ended, and an ongoing US trade embargo "plunged Cuba into a food crisis."
"Unable to import food or fertilizer, Cuba saw the calories and protein in the average diet drop by almost a third, from 3,000 calories a day to 1,900 calories between 1989 and 1994." Out of desperation then, "Cuba began a remarkable agricultural experiment." Industrialized state farms were divided up into small farms and thousands of gardens. Government programs encouraged organic agriculture out of necessity: there was no longer ready access to chemicals, fertilizers, fossil fuels or industrialized machinery. Vacant lots were turned into organic vegetable gardens. People grew their own food and sold it locally. The end result is that Cuba is now entirely self-sufficient and will remain unaffected by the "global food crises" the rest of us are intended to feel.
A mere 50 miles away from Cuba, is Haiti. Haiti, once covered with lush forests of magnificent hardwoods, has suffered from severe poverty that resulted in nearly total deforestation. The deforestation has in turn, led to the washing away of Haiti's topsoil so that now it is very difficult to grow food there. It is said that even the children know hunger daily in Haiti, and out of sad desperation, some of the people are now making flat cakes made of dirt and clay mud. In a poignant irony, having lost the topsoil they needed to provide them food, they are now eating dirt and clay as food.
But there is something hopeful that Haiti might do to help turn all of this around, which brings me to the third most nutrient-dense source of food to be covered in this paper. This is a plant that is easily grown even on poor soils. In fact, growing this plant actually helps to control soil erosion and it helps enrich the topsoil.
Easily grown, and unlike Haiti's lost trees which will take generations to mature if replanted, this is a plant that takes only 120 days to mature. It requires no pesticides and its seeds provide one of the most uniquely nutritious foods in the entire green kingdom. Its fibers create a better paper than tree pulp, without damaging forests. It also creates superior clothing to that of cotton without requiring the excessive pesticides that cotton requires. This plant has been repeatedly shown to heal even advanced cancers as well as treat a variety of other illnesses. The fact that this plant creates products superior to cotton, might provide Haiti with a new economic opportunity, via producing quality clothing, textiles, building goods, and paper products. Finally, as though the green kingdom proved its intelligence to us by producing for us a simple plant that could help provide us with all of our basic needs, this plant also produces an abundance of clean-burning, renewable, sustainable, edible, nontoxic oil. Humanity had been depending upon this useful plant for at least 10,000 years, until it was outlawed.
This plant, maligned even worse in the press than the potato, is the hemp plant (cannabis). Hemp was outlawed during the Dirty Thirties as the plastic, synthetic kingdom was being established. All forms of hemp, including industrial hemp, had to be outlawed, because if hemp were allowed to continue providing us with its many superior, nontoxic products, we would never have developed a need and then a dependency upon the synthetics and plastics/fossil fuel products.
If we all planted hemp from sea to shining sea, in 120 days we could harvest all of the above mentioned superior, health-giving hemp products, and in addition we would also suddenly have a reliable new source of oil, superior and more easily grown than the corn biofuels. We would no longer have the need to harrow other countries in the endless and deadly search for fossil fuels. Lunacy, crises and greed, however, dictate that it is forbidden for us to grow hemp. In fact, lunacy, crises and greed appear to be the primary sources that fuel that keep the synthetic kingdom in operation. While we can legally purchase and enjoy a nice, nutritious bowl of hemp seeds for any meal, it remains illegal to grow hemp here in the U.S.
For those of us throughout the world who are tired of paying the price for, and helping fuel the synthetic kingdom, it is time for each of us to arm ourselves with potatoes and join together in a global revolution that will remove food production from the synthetic kingdom and return it locally to the green kingdom and to the people who are born with an inalienable right to have decent food. Think of Cuba. Pray for Haiti. Join the revolution.
Mary's son is a 2008 Candidate running for the Florida House of Representatives on the platform of legalizing hemp. Mary Sparrowdancer is an independent journalist and author of a bestselling book, The Love Song. www.sparrowdancer.com She wishes to thank her friends, Luise, Don and Doug for their help with this article.
US Department of State- Trading down.
Agricultural collapse in the 1930s
Wikipedia (how to succeed in never growing a potato)
"Dirt," by David Montgomery
Haiti 3rd most dependent country in the world.
Haiti toxic dump of American sludge from Philadelphia.
Haiti The hungry are eating mud pies.
Video: Healing cancer with marijuana: "Run from the cure The Rick Simpson Story." (Part 1 of 7).
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