Pasadena Learning Gardens

Resourcing communities to create a healthier more sustainable future


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Gophers

I’m dealing with Gophers at one my my teaching gardens so I’ll be delving into this issue.  I remember lamenting an earlier encounter with a biodynamic farmer in Germany who wanted to know what my issue was.  This article provides some interesting insights into letting them be, most interesting to me is the point that their population will stabilize and more food will not cause more gophers – this is not how it has appeared to me…

The Dry Garden: Détente with the gopher | L.A. at Home | Los Angeles Times.


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Processed Food Health Claims – BEWARE

As Michael Pollan mentions in Food Rules: Avoid food products that make health claims.  This is great advice because health claims made by processed food manufacturers are rarely what they seem.  In reality, what we find is: (1) The claims often have minimal scientific basis or are grossly exaggerated; (2) The claims are often justified not because the actual primary product has the healthy nutrients but instead because nutrients are added during processing, which can mean the nutrients are not absorbed by your body as effectively as if those same nutrients are delivered from fresh fruits/vegetables in their natural state; and (3) The claims fail to mention that while the product may have some sort of healthy vitamins or antioxidants, any benefit is usually outweighed by the fact that the same product is also loaded with unhealthy amounts of sugar, fat and/or salt.  The best course for your health is to simply eat an apple or some broccoli rather than relying on some sugary cereal or fat-laden salty snack that claims to deliver the same nutrients.  The LA Times recently ran an interesting editorial regarding this situation and two very common products, Frosted Mini Wheats and Pom Wonderful.  Check it out here and get the real story.


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Thinking Globally about Food

It is often challenging enough to think about our local food systems.  Unfortunately, Globalization has occurred.  Our food system is a web of connections that have provided lots of unhealthy food being pushed on everyone from poor children to rich sports fans.  While any meaningful analysis of this situation is beyond the scope of our project it is still important that we become aware of food issues on the national and international level.  Fortunately we have many great digital storytellers out there.  A good place to start is with the BBC documentary on the Future of Food.  [Part 1]  [Part 2]  [Part 3

In the future we’ll provide links to other vaulable resources (films, books, articles, and websites). 

Examples:

Food Inc.

Botany of Desire

The Economics of Happiness

Please contribute your favorites which we may share with the community.


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New tool developed by UCLA to track urban agriculture

UCLA presented their report and an on-line tool at the August 2013 LA Food Policy meeting.  The report tacks regulations across the 82 cities in LA County.  Their on-line tool allows us to track School and Community Gardens, Farms and Nurseries in town.

The really cool thing about this is that the client is the UC Cooperative Extension, which includes us Master Gardeners, and we can distribute the burden of fleshing out the database and finding ways to plug this  tool into the exciting and essential discussion of Urban Ag in Los Angeles County.

UCLA Press release


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Parkway Edibles in LA? Will it ever happen?

It seems like this keeps going on forever.  While some City Council members say they support parkway vegetable gardens, an actual ordinance change continues to elude us for two years now.  And all the while city workers are going after those who plant edibles in their parkways with cease and desist orders and fines.  Check out the July 30 LA Times story by Steve Lopez.

UC Berkeley’s Edible Education Lecture Series


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Exercise is not enough! It’s what we eat!

A new study published yesterday cites the fact that even with increased physical activity across the US, the obesity rate continues to rise.  The key factor driving the obesity rise is poor diet and nutrition.  (Like we didn’t already know that.)  Not to say that we shouldn’t exercise more because there are many health benefits to physical activity.  But if we want to lose weight in this country, we need to focus much more on diet.  Read an overview of Population Health Metrics’ findings in this article from the Los Angeles Times: “We’re Exercising More But Still Fighting Obesity.”


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Dangerous Chemicals In Our Food – Banned In Other Countries

If the lack of nutritional value and the overabundance of salt, sugar and fat found in most of our processed foods aren’t enough to convince you to buy fresh unprocessed foods, then maybe this will be.  Several chemicals found in many processed foods in the U.S. are actually banned in other countries because of significant health risks involved.  BuzzFeed, in an article titled “8 Foods We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries,” highlights the rampant use of toxic chemicals in food processing, including various food colorings, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide and arsenic, among others.  Scary names, scarier health impacts, including birth defects, cancer, organ damage, asthma, inhibition of nerve cell development and much more.  Not only are many of these chemicals banned in other countries but in some cases you can actually go to prison for using them in food processing.  For example, if you use azodicarbonamide as a food ingredient in Singapore, you could face up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.  Given that this chemical, found in most frozen foods, is used to make bleach and rubber yoga mats, I don’t think it really belongs in our food anyway.  Nor does bromine, a chemical used to prevent carpets from catching on fire, or any of these other dangerous ingredients.  BuzzFeed points to the recently published book “Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System” by Dr. Jayson Calton and nutritionist Mira Calton, for the original list.


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Why We Eat What We Eat – And How We Got Here

Curiously almost no one in the US or the western world just eats what he or she needs. Most of us eat to address needs far beyond the requirements of our body; we even search out and consume stuff we know to be unhealthy.

It seems that back in the days when generations of people stayed close to home, that microorganisms in the soil that facilitate nutrient uptake in plants, the plants themselves, and the microorganisms in animals and us, co-evolved in a way that created a system that worked amazingly well – turning solar power and carbon dioxide into the energy that feeds life, and that we’ve found hundreds of ways to break this system and still continue in this way.

For thousands of generations humans grazed and ate off the land. Things began to change long ago with the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry. More food was easily and regularly available. Ultimately, the delicacies of sweet and fat, which previously had been consumed very lightly by humans simply because of their rarity, were now being consumed at greater rates.

More recently, things got much worse for several reasons. First, advances in agriculture dramatically increased the food supply, driven mostly by chemical fertilizers. After World War II, the chemical industry put to work its vast nitrogen production capacity making fertilizer, yielding much more food than we really needed.

Michael Pollan notes that around the same time our main source of food and nutritional direction, our culture (a.k.a. mom), started to lose control of the kitchen. The basic diet from most cultures, which seemed to work pretty well, consisted primarily of locally produced, fresh and non- or lightly processed foods. But processed food manufacturers, promising more and tastier food at lower prices, took over, bringing us the Western Diet, with its heavy consumption of processed and chemically laced food. Along with it came an unacceptable increase in many of the biggest health issues we face today. As Pollan contends, we don’t know enough about how our body uses the complex combinations of food each of us chooses to consume, and traditional diets, regardless of being protein, fat, or carbohydrate dominated, do not lead to many of these health issues.

Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat, points out that post WWII, more women in the workforce meant less time to prepare traditional healthy and nutritious meals at home. The processed food industry and fast food restaurants were there to help by providing greater convenience.

In the 1960s and 1970s, counter-productive federal government farm policies created a boon in many commodity crops including corn, wheat and soybeans. Subsidies on several key ingredients resulted in ridiculously low commodity prices. Food manufacturers found that by tinkering with formulations by adding ever-increasing amounts of inexpensive sweeteners, fats and salt, they could pump sales and profits. Most importantly, they could achieve the “bliss point” in their products, the point at which optimal levels of these low cost, nutritionally devoid ingredients could create addiction.

It’s also important to note that there are many sociological and psychological reasons we eat unwisely. HealthPages.org – Why We Eat What We Eat describes six major influencers of our food choices: social situations; economic situation; ethnic background; emotional state; eating from habit; and physical health. By becoming more aware of these influences, you can begin to control them.

All in all, this is not a pretty picture. We’re now faced with a massive public health crisis unlike anything the world has ever seen with the potential to bankrupt our economy. There’s much more to this story. Check out Michael Pollan and Michael Moss for fascinating reading on this subject.


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We are not alone – getting to know your inner Microbiome

As everyone who has attended one of my soil classes knows, I am enchanted by microorganisms and through understanding the relationship between them and plants I’ve reexamined my thoughts about them and me… Then comes my guy Michael Pollan ready to share the model that we are not alone. We are superorganisms…  Here’s his article from the New York Times Magazine…

Say Hello to the 100 Trillion Bacteria That Make Up Your Microbiome – NYTimes.com.

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