Soil in Relation to Community Health-Essay Contest Submission

Through the realization that toxin free foods have become a rarity in American culture, we see that soil health is strongly connected to public/community health. Soil is an integral part of our biosphere and therefore, an essential element of the health and sustainability of our community. Through the knowledge that-just as we are what eat-plants are composed of their growing environment. Many “large scale” farms use chemically structured seeds and fertilizers to increase yield. However, the chemical and biological composition of soil is extremely fragile and if imbalanced, has the potential to endanger health and even create famine on a global scale. By establishing locally-managed agricultural communities in urban areas we create healthier food conscious communities, responsive to the needs of the people who grow and eat the food.

As delicate as our human lungs, soil is highly susceptible to pollutants and toxins. Soil’s porous nature resembles the lung’s alveoli, absorbing oxygen,carbon,minerals,hydrogen and gases. Soil transmits its elements into glucose fueled plants which extract harmful components from the depths of the earth .This extraction eventually passes toxins and other chemical waste to the budding fruits and vegetables that will be harvested. Like that deep breath of city smog or cigarette smoke, seeping into your body, toxins gradually mark their presence beneath the soil surface, poisoning and clogging the passageways and expelling to surface what it cleanses.

In addition to industrial contaminants,synthetic-based agricultural practices, in an ill-informed attempt to increase profit,have created chemically and biologically altered soils and plants. Now we know through various experimental results that synthetic-chemically based agricultural processes are extremely hazardous to human health and ecological sustainability. These results cause growing concern in our  communities and as the knowledge spreads, motivates agriculturally focused communities in urban areas. What happens when you consume that toxic tomato or lead-infused kale? Although mild levels of common toxins (chemical pesticides,fertilizers, road runoff etc.) are allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, extended periods of exposure to such toxins can cause chronic migraines, anemia, malignant growths,fertility problems or even cancer. Pregnant women, children and elders are the most susceptible to the immediate adverse effects of toxic soil. Conversely, the beneficial nutrients we expect to receive from a plant must be present in the soil. If nutrients are absent or the soil imbalanced, we will not find proper nutrition in the foods we consume.

I am working for a program that involves youth in in-depth agricultural, nutritional, and ecological education. Strengthening these communities by implementing ethical soil and compost practices, provides healthy urban food sources as well as confidence and familiarity with the practices and methodology of growing food rather than depending on supermarkets and factory farms. Over time, we would find that these populations will begin to experience an increase in mental and physical health due to: positive exposure to community oriented interactions, lower toxin levels in diet, and adopting a healthier diet.

Upon asking our youth group why raised beds are common in urban gardens we found that many of them were able to pinpoint several pollutant sources, such as roads, pipes, garbage,abandoned houses and nearby painters/constructors. Few students knew that lead pipes were once used for sewage and water lines which began to deteriorate and expel toxins into the soil. Most of these pipes are long gone but their chemical shadows remain. Recognizing toxicity and grasping the importance of soil health is part of a larger coming-to-consciousness about the ill effects of corporate agriculture, the processed food industry and government actions. Unfortunately, many urban gardeners are not educated about soil toxicity and unknowingly plant household vegetable gardens in contaminated soils.By not having been educated about the importance of soil testing they are putting their health at risk. Not only are we able to build a stronger community through educating locals about soil health, we instill hope for our toxic community soil,encourage better health, and reap the benefits of greater self-reliance.

What can we do with this toxic soil? Although costly and time consuming, bioremediation is a feasible soil cleansing method in which high levels of toxins can be stabilized by altering the chemical composition of the soil. Bio remediation coupled with several seasons of production without harvest can restore native soil toxin levels. This remediation allows the root cavities in strategically placed plants to  “pull out” toxins from various soil layers. Nutrient restoration can be achieved in numerous ways. Our community garden favorite is Hugelkultur. Hugelkultur is a German-style raised bed that initially acts a harvestable raised bed which eventually becomes a natural,“filter” like mound for the soil.

Through the centuries of pollution and chemical warfare on our planet, farming has evolved and changed in many ways. Communities in urban areas are now returning to a focus on farming/gardening. The relationship between humans and the natural world is an essential ideology for creating an agriculturally conscious community. The importance of this relationship has caused sustainable biodynamic farming methods to gain in prominence. Biodynamic farming combines animal husbandry,ethical/organic farming methods and precise compost practices to create a self-sustaining, high yielding farm without the need for synthetic-chemical inputs. Numerous communities have adopted biodynamic farming because of its sustainability and ecology-focused benefits.

When it comes to soil health and community health, the connectivity is undeniable. Through examination, comparison and experience we can make a strong correlation between soil and community health. Soil toxins laid down by industrial practices,combined with scientifically sound evidence of global climate change, rain acidity changes, and the negative biological effects of synthetic-chemical agriculture, we create an urgent demand for healthy soil in the coming generations.

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Composting Post

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What you need:
*Yard waste, food waste, paper waste
*Compost Bin (I suggest you make your own out of found wood or trash bins with lids-google some designs!)
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*Shovel and pitch fork
Criteria:
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Yard waste- leaves, garden waste, weeds, and dead plants are easily broken down (reducing in size by over 50% during decomposition). Avoid pine needles, pine cones, twigs and other woody materials.
*Food waste-
Avoid composting:fruit peels (citrus, avocado, etc.-apple and potato skins are ok), whole potatoes, stickers on produce, anything containing dairy or meat. Egg shells are okay, be sure to crush them before composting. Coffee grounds and coffee filters do great in compost The more chopped the food waste is the better. Decomposition can occur swiftly when oxygen is able to reach more food surfaces.
*Paper waste:(carbon) VERY IMPORTANT: you want a 2:1 ratio of carbon to food waste. I.E Every time you add some food scrap tear up a piece of newspaper or a cardboard egg carton to compost with it. do no use heavily inked or glossy/painted paper or card board. inks and glossy paper can excrete toxins into your: compost. NEVER COMPOST PLASTIC OR STYROFOAM.
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**also, avoid composting in large quantities: cups, utensils, etc. that are advertised as compostable.
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Layering can help yield fully processed soil within a short amount of time. Remember to add scraps of approved carbon sources. I recommend turning compost weekly or bi weekly.

Tips on turning:
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Use an empty bin to transfer compost to, this puts the top waste onto the bottom . Turning also allows you to asses the moisture and health of the compost.
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Watering:
Aiming for the moisture level that mimics a wrung out sponge is maintained by consistent turning. Compost that is too dry is not able to break down, compost that is too wet begins to rot and sour which creates a putrid smell and slows down the decomposition process.

When there are no identifiable food scraps,you have a black loamy type soil, no nasty smells, you are ready to shift the compost (wood and chicken wire).
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Use the shifted compost with peat moss, top soil and various minerals to grow a garden! Enjoy!

Almond Milk: Ecological Standpoint

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First and foremost, I am very respectful of any person’s choice to become vegan or vegetarian. Many folks that I have talked to became veg/an (vegetarian or vegan) by analyzing the food industry and making a personal choice generally based on a moral/ethical standpoint. As an agriculturalist and pedologist I ask these veg/ans to also analyze the veg/an food industry and research it’s profound impact on ecological systems. As a life long farmer, I have witnessed first hand how crops can single handedly cause ecological distress and even destroy the chemical composition, rendering soil “sterile” (in a sense).

Let me be clear, I am in no way, shape or form defending the horrid conditions and environmental repercussions of the corporate dairy/agricultural industry. Further more, I not singling out veg/ans  but, hear me out on this one… Veg/ans are also (and most of the time unknowingly) a cog in the depletion of water resources whose consumption also aids in the damage of many ecosystems.

In the past 5 years almond consumption has surpassed peanut consumption (Atlantic, 2015), the effects on the human body are profoundly positive but at what cost?  California, currently in it’s 5th year of drought, is the only state that commercially produces almonds. If you know anything about farming, you know that almonds are the thirstiest crop requiring 1.1 gallons of water for a SINGLE almond. My culinary friends can tell you that to produce a half gallon of almond milk, 4 cups of almonds and 8 cups of water is required. But let’s do the math…. there are about 40-50 almonds in one cup , add the 8 cups of water, that is almost 50 gallons of water to produce 1/2 gallon of almond milk.

Currently, California is importing 90% of it’s municipal and agricultural water from neighboring states, those state’s reservoirs are steadily decreasing and the “cancerous” water shortage is spreading further and further East. Quinoa, soy, almond and corporate farming are all equally to blame but there is a silver lining… actually, there are several. Legalization of industrial  hemp (hemp milk y’all—KUDOS to KY hemp progression over the last 5 yrs), support for local biodynamic farming, and the recent development in sewage water conversion facilities (KUDOS to Bill Gates) are all giant steps forward in staving the water consumption of the agricultural industry.

Finally, I want to personally commend all veg/an, local-ites, and agricultural justice advocates in empathetic and thoughtful consumption but I beg you to boycott almond/quinoa/soy/corporate dairy milk. It is a serious injustice to all citizens, ecosystems and a threat to the future of human kind. Water is running out, (almond) milk’s hand in this crisis is backed by sound evidence(scientific, agricultural, and ecological) and exhibit a need for  local and “smarter” consumption.

I challenge all who read this to find a local farmer that practices biodynamic farming, empathetic/morally sound animal husbandry and ditch the veg/an lifestyle and enjoy the bounty of guilt free dairy products. Not only is every dollar spent lo doubled in that economy,  I bet that local farmer will even let you hand feed and socialize with the animals producing your yummy dairy foods.

Cessation of Dukkha

My last blog has affected many of my readers. So many of you have stepped forward and offered kind words. I am so thankful for all the wonderful people in my life. I have been having a tough time, but it could be a lot tougher. This weeks blog is about overcoming the suffering and pain. I was in a grind over the weekend due to seasonals (and fear of fireworks) BUT I slept through it and woke up this morning feeling more like myself. So here’s to y’all, its a double fist bump bucketlist photo (see blog page titled “bucklist challenge”)

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Culture shock

I’ve learned about culture shock in sociology,anthropology and psychology classes but have never experienced it. Defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitude” I can attest that it is a real phenomenon. The disconnection and isolation I feel periodically sends me into minor depressive episodes which is generally followed by an overwhelming sense of happiness. Despite the disconnection I feel, being part of HH has given me a sense of purpose. Reminding myself of the great work I am doing and the massive amounts of important values and knowledge I am learning is one of the main joys I get. I feel rather indifferent about HH, mainly because I feel immensely misunderstood and a bit ostracized in various ways. There are so many social cues and unspoken cultural agreements that I have NEVER encountered that feel like a wedge. I have had some really interpersonal connections that seem to pass as suddenly as they arrived. For the first time in a long time I feel sorrow for lack of deep conversations. Like the ones I had with my Kentucky comrades. However, I must add, I have never really truly felt as though I fit in as an understood person of adequate knowledge( which is slowly starting to feel okay.) After all,  I am unique! My history , my ideals, my ethics and my social culture are so different and I feel a daily struggle to embrace this diversity. I feel the deep need to draw boundaries with my HH work, almost scared to fully embrace it and submerge myself in it. I cannot quite explain why that is though. I love gardening, I love cooking, I love living in a house full of people (although having my own room would probably make me feel billion times better) so why do I feel the need to extend the isolation? Culture shock is the only explanation I can think of. For the first 20 years of my life I had a constant place of warmth and a sense of a “home”. The last 5 years have been a game changer.I find myself able to connect with the homeless folks that visit HH more than ever before. I feel like my past relationship with homelessness really shaped what I value today. I am patiently waiting for the culture shock to subside, for a sense of routine and stability within the home. I long for more frequent open and intimate conversations that don’t leave me feeling judged or socially queer.*shakes fist at culture shock*  I knew this would be a rough transition, but I’m determined to make it through a “better” and more “cultured” person than I was when I arrived. I have the tendency fall in love with everyone I meet(I mean in a platonic way) there are so many wonderful people here I have been so blessed to meet. As a very transparent person who rarely keeps walls up, I find myself facing a seemingly impenetrable social wall, that is a virgin experience for me. I will shake the chains and break the walls. I know I’m good for something and I think I’m starting to find it. Through the haze of culture shock, I will shine brighter than the sun! Until then, I’ll just keep on surviving.

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Boston Bucket List:Pride

I have fulfilled another item on my bucket list! I attended Boston’s Pride Festival! My partner arranged for us to walk in the parade which was super awesome. The parade went for about 2.5 miles, many people lined the streets of the back bay

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Confetti was thrown from drag queens on various floats, small pride flags were handed out to bystanders and so much free stuff hurled from parade goers. I have been to every Lexington, KY pride festival ,watched the festival  grow in size , I have seen the various acts of hate committed during the festival. I have loved every single person I’ve ever met at LexPride. My first few pride festivals, I befriended several older butches that helped buy me beer and included me in after pride fest ragers. For almost a decade I have ruled LexPride, from knowing almost everyone to meeting new faces. Boston pride was very different mainly because there were thousands of supporters and thousands of queer folks. A woman on the train said “happy pride! I support you!”. What a great random voice of support! I did not see any protestors, I saw many different organizations participating. Even gay police officers marched! Pride is like Christmas for me and let me just say, Boston Pride was my first sober pride fest and I loved it… I recommend that small town queers and allies venture to a larger city Pride Fest. You won’t be disappointed!

Kissed With Homelessness

My first shift was today, it was a lot of fun but also very eye opening for me. I did not work in the kitchen today, I mainly helped with outside garden tasks and moved dirt around for about 5 hours. However, when the soup kitchen had been closed we moved into the dining area to transplant seedlings. Shortly after getting settled in to work, a man walked in. He was a bit short and was wearing a blue sweatshirt and matching sweatpants. He had a few days worth of grey stubble on his face and was missing the teeth on the left half of his mouth. “I saw you guys in here, what do you need help with?”  His speech was slurred, whether it was booze or lack of teeth is beyond me. He hugged and kissed every volunteer that he knew and then walked up to me. I said “Hi, I’m Cee.” He said. “I know who you are! well, Kinda…. I am Cocoa, My sister is gay but y’know I respect you….. My sister would love you.” I kind of laughed and said “well how do you know I am gay?” he laughed and replied “Really?”. We taught him how to transplant tomato seedlings and he seemed pretty happy to be involved. He was repeated about ten times was that his sister was gay and that “it’s her problem not mine, but I respect it”. He gushed about how fun the “Gay parade and Gay party” is in June and told me I have to go (It’s on my bucket list y’all!) all the while repeating that his sister was gay. Now normally, I would be offended BUT I really could not be mad at this homeless black man, a native of New York, who is a known and loved homeless man from around the block. It was HIS way of connecting with me, of trying to welcome me to the community. Acknowledging and verbalizing respect for my homosexuality (even if done in a non preferred way) is a start. I feel as though he presented his acceptance in a semi-rude way but I truly feel he had the best intentions at heart. Before he left, he asked for a hug, I hugged him and he planted a big kiss on me……

The night before, during our live-in house dinner, Moses, a 30 year old homeless man joined us for dinner, he made salsa (which was DELICIOUS!) and we talked for most of the dinner, he told me about his life and homelessness. He wants to work with teenagers, apparently he has befriended some youngins in Boston.Moses has drive and a seemingly great heart. He has been in Boston about 3 weeks and informed me he just got a job at Panera Bread. “I met the manager, she told me to go online and apply, she would give me a chance, 2 hours later I went back and asked her if she got the application. She knew I wanted that job, all I needed was a chance”. Earlier today, he spotted my coworker and I working in the school garden, he sprinted across the street and immediately asked what he could do to help. He started shoveling dirt and proceeded to help me by hauling tools back to the house. He never asked for ANYTHING, he smiled and asked if there was any more work to be done, he said he was headed to the library to find a good book, “being homeless can get boring if you don’t drink”.

Bucket List: Bikes Not Bombs

Unfortunately, the Ross bike I have been building and shipped from Kentucky was either damaged in transit or bent before I shipped it. I bundled it up and took the pieces and parts to Bikes Not Bombs! a co-op bike shop in Boston. I was quoted almost $400 to fix it so…. sadly, I donated it to them to use for parts/whatever… However, the same day I found another Ross bike online for not too much money! My first Boston Bucket List item has been completed!

I started a new job @ a local coffee/sandwich shop, they seem pretty awesome. I seem to always get in where the cool kids work (Stella’s in KY and now Bloc 11 in MA!).  Today, I move in HH ( where my internship is!) I am pretty excited but also nervous, luckily my Boston therapist is the BOMB and is really a great fit for me. I was quite nervous about having a male psychotherapist but he really knows how to communicate with me and that feels good.

From my experience I would advise anyone with mental health issues to skip primary care provider prescribed medication and seek out a specialist. I don’t feel so broken/crazy and enjoy having someone that has experience working with BPD. I was told that talk therapy has a high success rate for BPD, and only 2 visits in, I can see why.

All-in-all, Boston is pretty cool, I made a few friends on the T (which is surprising) and have met a few shit heads.

I will be calling Boston home for at least a year and y’know, I am starting to be okay with that!