Pasadena Learning Gardens

Resourcing communities to create a healthier more sustainable future

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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

Most of us are pretty clear: the way we usually produce, distribute and sell food is not in the consumer’s best interest.  Fortunately, this is so obvious that individuals and communities around the world are arising to reclaim their food and find creative ways to supplant our food system.  Within Pasadena / Altadena we have the facilities, the knowledge, the interest, the passion, the climate, and the need to change what we eat.

The Next Course is a process to bring together our community’s visionaries so we can understand one another’s passions and skills and look for ways to work together.   If you have concerns about what we eat, where our water goes, and what is happening to our environment we hope you’ll come to our next meeting and be part of the solution.

We hope you can come to our next meeting: Saturday, May 3rd, 2014 from 1:30 to 3 at the Pasadena Earth and Arts Festival at the Armory Center for the Arts. we’ll meet upstairs and provide specifics here and at our meetup where we list all our events and others that may be of interest to you...

Our current model is to focus on these three areas…

Policy  and Analysis:  Keeping things moving in the right direction – We will collaborate to plug into the local political situation with members attached to commissions and to local politicians so we can effectively  champion policies that would lead to a healthier, more sustainable, more local, and more community centered city.  Initial plans are to support the drive for cool roofs and to divert materials from the waste stream into local projects (e.g. bamboo for gardeners, old wood for artists, and appropriately broken concrete for local sustainable builders).

Educating / Resourcing – Identify, utilize and support school, community and private gardens, orchards, and  other facilities where local experts can educate and resource local citizens and communities.  Initial locations include the Throop Leaning Garden, Altadena Community Garden and Loma Alta park, La Casita / Madison community farm, and La Loma Development’s facility “The Shed”

Council: Learning to work effectively together –  A number of individuals have spent the last few months learning a new way to communicate championed by the Ojai Foundations Center for Council.  We look to provide a forum where key members of local sustainable organizations and passionate community members will gather to get to know our passions and skills and explore how we can support one another and resource these groups to use council with their communities.

A little history:

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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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 would have followed discussing 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…

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 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.

Upcoming meetings will be anounced here and at the the Pasadena Learning Gardens Urban Farmers Meetup, (, and other community group distribution lists.   Also, check for updates.

The Next Course is funded by an anonymous grant to Pasadena Learning Gardens and is a collaboration between Pasadena Learning Gardens and La Loma Development, Transition Pasadena, The Arroyo Timebank, The Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena’s Department of Public Health and many others.

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Madison Elementary Greenhouse Project

It is wonderful to announce that as part of our Next Course Pasadena initiative where we are working with local schools, community centers, community gardens, and private gardens to resource our community to eat better food and understand what is better food, that we’re getting a greenhouse.  Local Girl Scout and healthy living advocate Miranda Allen will use this page to document our progress as she resouces the community through her Gold Award Project…

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The industrialization of agriculture.

While we are the consumers of industrial food, and at PLG we are particularly focused on consuming non-industrial, local, seasonal, fresh, and often home grown food; there is much to be learned about our whole society by examining this history.

Many well intentioned people from the first to transcend our forging ancestors, to hard workers ripping out the prairie grasses to make room for us, to Monsanto and Wal-mart trying to decide what we eat and where, how ecologically, and how humanly it is produced.

Here are a number of great pieces from Amy Goodman and Bill Moyers…

3 Apr 13  Food day: Jon Tester presents a compelling case against the Monsanto Protection Act, an then there is an informed discussion.

Michael Pollan: From GMOs to NYC’s Soda Ban, Local Efforts Challenge Agri-Giants’ National Control | Democracy Now!.

An amazing story of a farmer facing off with Monsanto.

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Whole Foods Market Takes Huge Stand Against GMOs: Mandatory Labeling by 2018

As you may know, we love Whole Foods.  They supply juice bar pulp for our worms – they eat better than me…  So it is great to hear that they will move the GMO issue along.  It was amazing to see all the parent firms  of leading organic brands pumping money into the no campaign to prevent labeling GMOs, and where the head was wagging the tail, perhaps now the tail can wag the head.

\Whole Foods Market Takes Huge Stand Against GMOs: Mandatory Labeling by 2018.