Pasadena Learning Gardens

Resourcing communities to create a healthier more sustainable future

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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). 


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. – 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 –

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The Trouble with Roundup

If you didn’t already have serious doubts about the safety of Roundup, check out this article – Roundup linked to diabetes, autism, obesity, heart disease, cancer and more – from the Mother Nature Network.  And to go directly to the source, check out the study abstract from the journal Entropy.

At some point, this toxic substance needs to be banned.  It’s the most popular herbicide in the world and its residue is found on the most common foods of the Western world, including sugar, corn, soy, sugar and wheat.   The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but this study finds otherwise. (Surprise surprise.)  Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, inhibits cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, which play a crucial detoxifying role in human biology, thus enhancing the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.  The negative impacts work slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.  The consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

This also brings GMOs into the picture.  The most common GMOs in industrial agriculture, corn, soy, sugar and wheat, are all modified primarily to develop resistance to Roundup, thus allowing for mass spraying of Roundup to control weeds without killing the primary crop.

So, not only should we never use Roundup at home in our gardens but we should work even harder to avoid foods produced from GMO crops, which is a heck of a lot of stuff.  Best to buy locally-produced organic produce and non-GMO processed food.  And/or to grow it and make it yourself.

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Creating a Neighborhood Garden

In my studies of sustainable agriculture and food forests I’ve come to own the importance of a little wildness in the garden.  We create room for plants and critters to work out who is doing what.  It seems the same can be said about our communities.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and so together we can emphysize our strengths and overcome our weaknesses.  So we love the idea of Neighborhood Gardens where the land, labor, expertise, and money can flow into a process that creates community, connection with nature, and a lot of great local seasonal healthy food.

Here is a site in Sonoma that sees things a little differently but are mostly aligned with how we see this evolving.

Creating a Neighborhood Garden Wheel | iGROW Sonoma.

The Next Course – Pasadena – Visioning a healthier more sustainable future

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The Next Course – Pasadena

Visioning a healthier more sustainable future.

The Next Course initiative is a process to identify a framework within which communities can gather and focus on their passions while working with other communities.  We will coordinate our activities and be the change we want to see.  And we want to hear from YOU!

Our initial areas of focus will be:

  • Analysis and Policy - Food deserts and where can my chickens live, and doing it sustainably…
  • Educating / Resourcing - Utilize and support school, community and private gardens and orchards to build, educate and resource local citizens and communities.
  • Production - Produce it: for ourselves, our communities, or our markets.
  • Distribution - Foodswaps, farmer’s markets, entrepreneurial efforts and buying cooperatives.
  • Funding - Making this organizationally sustainable.

Our first meeting was an inspiring success. Forty-five passionate, engaged people gathered at the Armory on Earth Day to share their ideas, skills and histories and, most importantly, revealed that we have the people, facilities and the need to redefine our relationship with our food and the environment.

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We hope you can come to our next meeting: Saturday May Thursday, May 3rd, 2014 at the Pasadena Earth and Arts festival at the Armory Center for the Arts. We’ll provide specifics here and at our meetup where we list all our events and others of interest to our community..

At our second meeting we heard from Pasadena Public Health Director, Dr. Eric G. Walsh, MD, MPH, who has done great work to increase the awareness of the health impact of an inappropriate diet – as well as of stress and economic uncertainty. He is a compelling speaker whose work has increased support for healthy food and gardens. It was a great dialog around the health issues we’re facing as a community and the way in which food and gardening can play a helpful role in addressing these issues.  

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We were then going to discuss Pasadena Learning Gardens’ great passion to make gardens into educational resource centers to the communities around them. Local urban homesteader Hop Hopkins was to discuss his work with the Los Angeles Land Trust that will bring a new garden to the Ville-Parke Community Center, and the experience of using his homestead (Panther Ridge Farms) as a resource to the community. Mark Rice will follow to discuss his gardens at PUSD Community School Madison Elementary and the Altadena Community Garden (located in a county park). 
Unfortunately we had an unexpected raging thunderstorm and this discussion was cut short…

Pasadena Learning Gardens, in partnership with La Loma Development and others is convening and facilitating four meetings with the last focused on our next steps.  We take time to get to know one another and our passions and build a plan to better collaborate in this important work. Note that we intend to have task forces in each of the above groups, so even if you can’t attend but are passionate about one or more of these topics just let us know of your interest. We also hope to identify a liaison to all our sister organizations so if that’s you, let us know!

Come be part of this important dialog; where informed community members will report on their efforts follow by an open dialog.

Facilitator for the Series: Mark Rice, Executive Director of Pasadena Learning Gardens, Garden coordinator at Hathaway Sycamores and Madison Elementary School, program coordinator at Altadena Community Garden, Member of LA Food Policy Council Urban Ag working group,  and Master Gardener.

Speakers: Our Next, Second Meeting

Dr. Eric G. Walsh, MD, MPH: City of Pasadena Public Health Director – If you’ve not heard Dr. Walsh just google Eric Walsh Pasadena and filter for videos.

Hop Hopkins: Manager of Panther Ridge Farms and Program Director, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust

Speakers: First Meeting – Earth day 2013, Armory Center for the Arts

Marco Barrantes: Owner of La Loma Development and author of the Berkeley Food Policy Council report Feed Your City from 2002.

Gail Murphy: Founder of Ripe Altadena, a thriving community of food sharers, and accomplished gardener and fruit tree grafter (late cancel who we hope to hear from at meeting 3)

Elizabeth Bowman: Graduate of Antioch’s Sustainability Program, co-founder of the Altadena Farmer’s market, Member of LA Food Policy Council Urban Ag working group and author of the urban agriculture survey used by LAFPC

January Nordman: NELA Transitions board member and co-founder / designer of the Throop Church Learning Garden

Brian Biery: Director of Community Organizing at the Flintridge Center and who helped facilitate the Pasadena City-School work plan community meetings.

The following two meetings will be announced to the Pasadena Learning Gardens Urban Farmers Meetup, (, and other community group distribution lists.   Also, check for updates

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