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California Water War Enters New Front with the 'Battle of the Reports'

by Dan Bacher & other comments Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 at 11:56 AM

The Public Policy Institute of California released a report advocating the construction of a peripheral canal on the California Delta, while two environmental groups, EDF and NRDC, released two separate reports recommending ways to provide enough water to both restore salmon and serve California's water needs.

original article from sfimc;

Groups Release Conflicting Reports Regarding the Fate of the Delta

by Dan Bacher

The California water war over the fate of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Dela entered a new front over the past several weeks with the "battle of the reports."

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released two in-depth reports recommending ways to provide water to restore salmon and other fish while serving California’s water needs. The two reports come on the heels of a controversial report the previous week by the PPIC that advocated the construction of a peripheral canal.

PPIC Report:

The Public Policy Institute of California on July 17 released a new report, “Comparing Futures for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” concluding that building a peripheral canal to carry water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is “the most promising strategy” to revive a threatened ecosystem and ensurie a “high-quality water supply” for California’s residents.

"Coupling a peripheral canal – the least expensive option – with investment in the Delta ecosystem can promote both environmental sustainability and a reliable water supply," claimed PPIC program director Ellen Hanak, who co-authored the study with University of California at Davis researchers – professor Jay Lund, research engineer William Fleenor, professor Richard Howitt, professor Jeffrey Mount, and professor Peter Moyle

One of the report’s contentions is that the perception that the Delta is a “naturally stable freshwater system” – and should be maintained as such – is wrong – and that a peripheral canal would somehow address both water supply and fishery needs.

“The belief has been that we’re defending the environment by maintaining the freshwater system, but that is actually incompatible with giving the Delta’s native species and ecosystem a fighting chance to survive and prosper,”

However, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta campaign director, contended that changes in water quality to the Delta produced by a peripheral canal will result in "economic chaos" for the region, as well as environmental devastation.

“Neither the PPIC Report authors nor officials with the State have done a full-scale economic analysis of how a change in water quality with the operation of a peripheral canal would impact farming, recreation, or fisheries," she stated. "It is estimated that Delta farming alone contributes $2 billion per year to our local economy, and recreation like boating and fishing another $750 million. If the Delta is made into a salty inland sea, the economic impacts will be devastating to those living in the surrounding five counties of the Delta.”

Parrilla also noted that the highly controversial report was" funded in part" by none other than Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., who is with his son, Riley, co-owner of the Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel, the world’s largest engineering and construction firm, is responsible for environmentally devastating construction projects across the globe and was involved in a scheme to privatize the water supply system in Cochibamba, Bolivia.

The PPIC report amounts to being an "elaborate sales brochure" for the peripheral canal, quipped Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

For the full report, go to http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=810

EDF Report:

EDF released their report, “Finding the Balance: A Vision for Water Supply and Environmental Reliability in California,” on July 23, two weeks after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Diane Feinstein announced an enormously costly and environmentally destructive $9.3 billion “compromise” water bond that would build two new dams and a peripheral canal.

The report concludes that providing a more reliable water supply for the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary could help save fish, including salmon, while also helping to ensure adequate water for farms, cities, and the 25 million Californians who rely on the Bay-Delta’s water. The report outlines steps that state and federal leaders must take to end “a vicious cycle of water shortages and environmental near-disasters, and instead create a stable and reliable water supply.”

“Our water supplies will remain vulnerable as long as we allow the environment to remain at the brink of disaster,” said Laura Harnish, EDF’s Regional Director in San Francisco and an author of the report. “For decades, water users have sought to pump additional water out of our Central Valley streams, then species have declined, and ultimately the courts are forced to step in to prevent an environmental catastrophe.”

The state’s once prolific and profitable salmon fishery is in its worst ever crisis and this year’s salmon season was closed for the first time in history, while Delta pelagic species including delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass and threadfin shad have declined to record low population levels.

“We have a great opportunity right now to create a reliable water supply for future generations of Californians and for salmon as well,” said Cynthia Koehler, an environmental lawyer and consultant for EDF, and an author of the report.

The report’s recommendations include: providing adequate freshwater flows to restore fisheries and habitat in the Bay-Delta to self-sustaining levels, and make sure the projected levels take into account the looming effects of global warming; guaranteeing stable and secure funding so that key restoration projects are not merely planned, but executed; creating financial incentives that will encourage all Californians to do a far better job of conserving water; creating legally mandated performance measures and legal safety nets; and improving enforcement so that water managers will be held accountable and promises will be kept.

“We believe that California has enough water for its people, farms, and fish,” said Harnish. “If we manage our water better, we can protect our state’s economy and our environment. We can have a thriving fishing industry in the future, and we can make sure our farms are able to produce the food and jobs that we need.”

For the full report, go to: http://www.edf.org/article.cfm?contentID=8112

NRDC Report:

On the following day at a press conference at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and Water for Fish released a report saying that California salmon “could soon disappear permanently from the state’s rivers, restaurant menus and supermarkets if massive water diversions from the San Francisco Bay-Delta continue unabated.”

The report, “Fish Out of Water: How Water Management in the Bay-Delta Threatens the Future of California’s Salmon Fishery,” describes how the State Water Project and Central Valley Project contribute to declining salmon populations by reducing the availability of water necessary for migration and spawning, killing tens of thousands of juvenile salmon by sucking them into giant pumps used to export water and blocking salmon’s migration route with their dams.

“The future of California’s salmon fishery is completely dependent on how we manage water in the Bay-Delta ecosystem,” said Doug Obegi, NRDC staff attorney and lead author of the report. “California agencies must implement existing requirements to restore salmon, reform management of the water projects, and reduce water diversions.”

Despite the current crisis, the report notes that state and federal agencies are considering actions that could make things even worse for salmon survival. For example, agencies are considering developing a peripheral canal and more dams to export even more water from the Bay-Delta. In addition, they have executed water supply contracts that commit more water than the system can sustainably yield.

“The collapse of the salmon fishery is among the nation’s worst man-made fishery disasters ever,” said Richard Pool, organizer for the Water-4-Fish campaign. “It is on par with the Exxon Valdez spill or the closure of the New England cod fishery. But we believe that we can bring back our fishery. If we do the right things in managing our waters in the rivers and in the delta, we can save our salmon, and save our birthright.”

Millions of Californians are impacted by the unprecedented closure. Recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, tackle suppliers, charter boat operators, fish processors and restaurateurs all depend on healthy salmon runs to sustain their livelihoods. This year’s closure was estimated to result in economic losses of $255 million and the elimination of more than 2,200 jobs in California.

“Commercial salmon fishermen are paying a heavy price for the poaching of water from the Bay-Delta. The policy of this state is to double salmon populations, not decimate them,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA, referring to the provisions of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. (CVPIA) “We need to reduce delta diversions if we expect to bring back the salmon. The bottom line is: fish need water.”

The report offers recommendations to prevent a permanent fishery collapse including: implementation of California’s existing salmon doubling requirement, reducing water diversions from the Bay-Delta, reforming management of the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, and restoring salmon to the San Joaquin River.

For the full report, go to http://www.nrdc.org/water/conservation/salmon/contents.asp

Representatives Respond:

Five Bay-Delta area Democrats responded to the NRDC and EDF reports by reiterating their calls for "prompt and aggressive steps" to protect the health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and restore the state's salmon fisheries. The five lawmakers -- Democratic Representatives George Miller, Ellen Tauscher, Doris Matsui, Mike Thompson, and Jerry McNerney – also took aim at the peripheral canal, as advocated in the PPIC report.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) harshly criticized the PPIC report for pushing the peripheral canal as a “solution” to both environmental and water supply problems. "Now the State is considering a peripheral canal, which the PPIC report states could have ‘major (negative) effects on salmon?" said Thompson. "This is ridiculous. We are only now starting to right the wrongs of the Bush Administration’s illegal water plans. The debate about the peripheral canal is adding insult to injury to California’s fishing communities.”

“Those of us who represent the Delta region and its watershed know that the peripheral canal is not likely to solve our challenges, from the disappearance of our state’s iconic salmon fishery to the repair and management of the fragile levees that support our communities,” concurred Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and co-author of the CVPIA, concluded, “It's past time for us to develop a sustainable water policy for all Californians. Any water plan that focuses on exports and excludes the protection of the Bay-Delta is a non-starter, as it has been for the last thirty years.”

Added Comments below;


Balancing water conservation by phase out
of industrial agribusiness monoculture method

Tuesday Aug 12th, 2008 12:25 PM

Balance comes from requiring industrial agribusiness to conserve water. That in itself is nearly impossible, as the evolution (or devolution) of industrial agribusiness shows why the people and riparian ecosystems of the CA central valley (CV) are caught in this problem. We only need to retrace our society's collective steps backwards from the industrial ag-revolution (aka "green revolution") to smaller family farms and even to earlier conditions before European settlement to the original wetlands and valley oak forests of the central valley..

Industrial agribusiness may never be sustainable for water conservation and operational at the same time. Industrial ag corporations cannot even be bothered to install some water conservation measures for fear they'll lose one quarter profits in earnings and soon be taken over by their neighboring industrial ag corporation. This was the process used to squeeze out the smaller family farms over the decades following the introduction of synthetic fertilzers, pesticides, etc...

Now add in the factors of soil erosion from continuous monoculture crops without hedgerows and frequent heavy applications of synthetic fertilizer and toxic pesticides/herbicides. The trade off of more product with less cost isn't so good when looking at the long term degradation of the ecosystem after decades of industrial ag's presence in the CV ecosystem. The less cost part isn't really true either when looking at the heavily subsidized inputs of petroleum based fertilizer, pesticides, etc..., needed to grow the monoculture ag crops..

There are benefits to wetlands restoration within the CV, even though this may take land "away" from farming. The concept of land being wasted as wetlands isn't scientifically accurate anymore, though from a short term economic perspective of industrial ag corporations, the long term benefits of having wetlands as neighbors are ignored. Wetlands allow for continuous infiltration of aquifers from standing water, prevent evaporation through soil moisture loss, provide habitat for biodiversity, etc...

Recently and frequently farmworkers have died in the fields from heat stroke and other conditions from solar and heat exposure. This should tell us something about 1) the lack of compassion for humans coming from industrial ag CEOS and 2) ecological conditions on open monoculture farms of the CV are hotter than they should be. We need to remind ourselves that the basin effect of trapping the valley's heat between mountains was negated and countered by the presence of very large and spreading old growth valley oaks (Quercus lobata) that 1) sucked up deep groundwater and released it into the air, increasing humidity and decreasing evapotranspiration of smaller ground level plants 2) provided shade under their branches, thus cooling the air under and around the tree, and several trees make a grove, a good sized oak grove can decrease the temps of the regions considerably. Remember, at ground level during summer, temps are the hottest they can possibly get..

Industrial ag sees oak trees only as competition for their direct solar radiation on crop plants, yet by having so much heat from solar energy with nothing to counteract the dryness of the heat, the plants then require more water for irrigation. There are also complaints from industrial ag that oak trees with their deep tap roots are depleting the groundwater, though the ground level plants could equally benefit from the increased regional humidity and then less water would be taken from the aquifer. Humans may also complain about increased humidity, though the trade off of having cool canopy shade should prevent most of the complaints. Not to mention oak trees provide habitat for many animals, beneficial predators like owls, hawks and other birds to eat rodents. A large old growth valley oak is capable of producing many, many acorns almost yearly for consumption by humans (leach with water to remove tannins), woodpeckers, squirrels, etc... without ANY irrigation, synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, etc... For the people who are concerned about peak oil and the decrease in availability of synthetic petroleum based fertilzers, pesticides, etc.., they would be pleased to discover the restoration of old growth valley oaks is one way of preventing a famine once these petroleum resources become unavailable..

Just who is keeping track of the acorn crops? Who are the acorn counters? From the CA Acorn Report;

"Kaweah Oaks is one of the last remnant Valley Oak forests left in the central valley and was a logical place to stop as we shored up our otherwise fairly sparse Valley Oak sites. Kaweah River Ecological Reserve took a bit of searching; despite the directions in the usually reliable Oaks of California we drove right past it and marked 10 trees along somebody's driveway before we eventually discovered the reserve above (not below) the road. In any case, the addition of these populations brings the total number of species covered by the survey to 7, the total number of sites 16, the total number of populations surveyed 41, and the total number of individual trees 958, The survey now covers all tree species in California except for the island oak (we still haven't figured out any way to make it out to Santa Cruz Island efficiently), the Shreve oak (which I didn't even know existed until now), and, of course, the tanbark oak, which we really should survey somewhere even if it isn't a damn Quercus."

more acorn counting found @;

Recently i've visited a small organic farm near Red Bluff, and most of the best plant crop growth (squash, tomatoes, etc...) is under the partial shade of nearby oaks. They water with drip irrigation and need less water as the oaks protect the plants from the searing heat of the summer sun. Somehow the plants are able to get enough indirect sunlight to grow very well despite being partially shaded by the oaks..

Likewise the presence of wetlands give beneficial predator insects like dragonflies a place to grow up as nymphs, provided we don't kill them all with our west nile pesticide spraying. Dragonfly nymphs eat mosquito larvae provided they have safe habitat without toxic pesticides present. Again, (Yes, i'll be the broken record until some change occurs!!) the life cycle of dragonflies is longer than the target pest species mosquitos, so this only gives the mosquitos more generations to evolve resistance to the pesticides, while giving the dragonflies less time. Then there ends up being more mosquitos and less dragonflies, so guess who's coming to visit next year with their bulk sales of pesticides (new and improved they'll say!!) for the regional vector control district to spray everywhere?!

Then there's the example of the southcentral campesino farm (scfarm) where multilevel (interstory) crops are grown on smaller tracts of land, also using drip irrigation, hand watering and other practical water conservation measures. Of course the L.A. Sheriffs had to ruin the scfarm with their bulldozers so that a wealthy development corporation (Horowitz et. al.) could build a pretty gray monolithic warehouse atop the former urban gardenspace, though the ideas of scfarm will always live on in the hearts and minds of the campesino collective and many outsiders who witnessed the photo images of an urban garden and farm. There is also hope that the scfarm will be able to stay there and regrow the former beauty of crop diversity, stay tuned to the legal battles for details..

visit @;



The point is that there are other methods to grow our food and we don't need to (nor should we) rely on industrial agribusiness wasteful irrigation techniques to avoid mass starvation. People have repeatedly shown that even on smaller scale farms, the land is capable of creating great wealth of nutrionally diverse food sources if we humans only bother to tend to the Earth, soil and water as good stewards..

Added Another Comment;

Water conservation w/ oaks, companion planting, etc..
vision for oaks & small farmer restoration

Tuesday Aug 12th, 2008 1:52 PM

To avoid getting so far off the original subject of water conservation and peripheral canals (sometimes i would rather discuss something other than bad ideas!), there's another problem with the Hastings Reserve being operated by UC Berkeley considering their recent altercations with the treesitters in the coastal oak grove. The Hastings Reserve site is operated by UC Berkeley with the premise being on conservation of oaks, yet here they (UC admins) go and try to cut down a significant oak grove within an urban environment to build some fancy training gym for their commercial atheletes. For a group with all that knowledge about the loss of oak ecosystems, to see them acting this way questions their motives. Of course there is some serious disconnect between the actual Hastings Reserve and the UC Berkeley administration who is deciding to clear cut the urban oak forest in Berkeley, though they remain connected through the UC. Other than that, the Hastings Reserve website does have some good info on oaks, acorns and such topics..

There is a credible link between restoring valley oaks in the central valley (CV) ecosystem and water conservation for human food crops through increased relative humidity, though evidence of this isn't so easy to dig up. There's a great deal of abstractions when dealing with relative humidity % at or near ground level, with groundwater removed from deep aquifers by oak taproots and moisture loss from dry surface soil by evapotranspiration of plants under dry air/soil conditions..

We can start with the basics, evapotranspiration is defined as moisture lost through the leaves of plants during their respiration, usually highest during midday and lowest during early morning before sunrise. Soil moisture lost during evapotranspiration from plants via their roots to stems to leaves is then replaced either by rain or irrigation. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture or water vapor in the air, and the higher the relative humidity, the lower the evapotranspiration rates of plants..

Here's some official definitions from students at Mt. Holyoke who are studying the relations between relative humidity and evapotranspiration in different microclimates;

"Evapotranspiration is a measurement of the amount of water vapor returned to the air in a given area. Moisture is put into the air from evaporation (the process by which water becomes a vapor suspended in air molecules) and from transpiration (the active exhalation of water through plant skin). This is essentially the opposite of rainfall.

Outside humidity is the amount of water in the air outside of the box in which the console is contained. Relative humidity is an expression of the amount of water held in the air in relation to the amount of water that the air can hold, which is affected by temperature and air pressure. Relative humidity and evapotranspiration are closely related because if the relative humidity is close to its holding capacity, plants’ ability to evapotranspire may be inhibited."

found @;

Some folks who are into oak restoration touch upon the links between elevated relative humidity and reduced evapotransiration in vegetation (including the oaks themselves!);

"Vegetation influences the level of water stress to which oak seedlings are exposed in several ways. Overstory and understory plants compete with oak seedlings for available soil moisture. Overstory and tall understory species can also shade oak seedlings, elevate relative humidity, and reduce temperature and wind speed, thereby reducing evapotranspiration demand. Many California plant ecologists accept the conjecture that soil moisture is less available in oak woodlands now than it was in presettlement times due to the replacement of native herbaceous vegetation with nonindigenous annual grasses and forbs. Definitive evidence in support of this hypothesis is lacking, largely because the nature of the presettlement understory is poorly understood. Blue oak seedlings experience high levels of water stress during the summer (Griffin 1973), but it is not possible to determine whether these levels of summer water stress have changed since settlement."

found @;

Another great resource to try to understand presettlement conditions and how indigenous north Americans went about collecting and harvesting food while being good stewards of the ecosystem is the book "Tending the Wild" by Kat Anderson;

"In her book Tending the Wild, M. Kat Anderson has painted a very different picture of indigenous peoples than most civilized people could even begin to fathom. She begins by taking us through the history of California and its Native peoples. Using accounts of explorers, missionaries, pioneers and anthropologists she shows how those of our culture came to California with no understanding or lens with which to understand native land management. Rather, like everywhere else, civilization saw resources to extract, came and conquered California and her people. With California’s wildlife & Native cultures now decimated, newer research has shown that Native land management actually contributed to enhancing the biological diversity and abundance of life. Anderson argues that if we wish to restore our mutual relationship with nature, we must learn these ancient management techniques and implement them immediately. Although she uses only California Natives to back her thesis, we can witness these same principles among indigenous cultures the world over. This book works not only as a history of indigenous horticulture in California, but mostly as a beginners manual for those who seek to understand more about sustainable, indigenous land management. This book rocked my world!"

book review found @;

Once the valley oaks are restored many small farms with crop diversity and companion planting could sprout out under the dappled sunlight and shade mix of oak canopies. This is another method of water conservation, as companion planting may be less efficient from a mechanical and industrial perspective (most of focus on short term quarterly earnings, ignore sustainability), though form a conservation and ecological community perspective (focus on long term sustainability, smaller yet regular profits) companion planting is the certain winner...

If anyone could purchase some farmland out in the CV, one experiment in crop diversity and water conservation could be the 'three sisters'; corn, beans and squash. This symbiotic companion planting method similar to the scfarm was originally practiced by indigenous peoples of North America (mostly midwestern region) as early farming. The idea of intercropping uses up space of different heights, the squash shade the soil (prevent soil moisture loss), the corn grows tall and gives the beans a climbing pole, and the beans as legumes are able to fix soil nitrogen with their root nodules, thus eliminating the need for fertilizer inputs..

background on three sisters;

"Three Sisters Gardens

Corn, beans, and squash have a unique symbiotic relationship in a Native American garden. Corn offers a structure for the beans to climb. The beans, in turn, help to replenish the soil with nutrients. And the large leaves of squash and pumpkin vines provide living mulch that conserves water and provides weed control. This ancient style of companion planting has played a key role in the survival of all people in North America. Grown together these crops are able to thrive and provide high-yield, high-quality crops with a minimal environmental impact. "
Mardi Dodson - ATTRA

3 sisters found @;

There's some great diagrams and details on 3 sisters companion planting on the site and the links below. This really would be a great idea for CV smaller farms if only the land were removed from the destructive influences of industrial ag corporations. For now people will have to use their backyards to experiment with companion planting until some real land reform occurs..

In addition to restoring the valley oaks, we need to restore small farms also!!

Here's some folks working to restore and protect the small family farm from the ravages of industrial agribusiness;

"Small Farmer's Journal, Inc. is a business built on strong, ethical convictions. These convictions include - but are not limited to - these principles;
¨ People belong in agriculture.
¨ Farming is one of mankind's noblest crafts.
¨ The inherent sustainability of good farming must be protected.
¨ Agriculture must be labor and craft intensive.
¨ Agriculture, and thereby the soil, must not be poisoned for short-term profit.
¨ Genetic and biological diversity must be protected.
¨ The small independent family farm is vitally important to every country's long term economic stability and well being.
¨ The small independent family farm, and its neighboring small town environs, offers the safest, most comfortable, and most rewarding place for people to live and raise a family.

SFJ recognizes that many people rush to "embrace" the precepts of work, place and caring as nostalgic because, in part, they are so often told by mass media, and through public education, that the small family farm (and perhaps even the family itself) is dead. Saying it doesn't make it so. And Small Farmer's Journal has dedicated itself to correcting this dangerous misconception by presentation and example. We at SFJ want to share the exciting, vital, and accessible realities of small independent family farms and the healthy vibrant rural communities they make possible. The small farm is not dead and neither is the family. Far from it. They remain the cornerstones to a healthy humane society. They provide true food, fuel, fiber and shelter security for the larger world. They provide the framework and backdrop for the very best nurturing and rearing of young people. They, both families and small farms, breed a self reliance that is critical fuel for a successful working democracy and a cautious yet growthy capitalism."

visit with SFJ @;

This is another set of water conservation alternatives to the very, very, very bad idea of the peripheral delta canal. There are several reasons why the peripheral canal is a bad idea (saltwater intrusion in delta during storms, water exports to agribusiness increase delta salinty, etc..) and of course i would again go into detail why it is a bad idea if needed. Am hoping that like other very, etc.. bad ideas, it will be thrown to the scrap heap following public opposition..

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