Garden Talk: October 20, 2011

From NGA Editors

Learning about Healthy Foods with Food Corps

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What is one of the best ways to help adults stay healthy? Helping children develop good nutritional habits early on goes a long way towards assuring not only a healthy childhood, but a healthy adulthood as well.

That's the idea behind Food Corps, a new national service organization whose volunteers will address the problems of obesity and diet-related disease by delivering hands-on nutrition education to children in limited-resource communities, helping to build and tend school gardens in these communities, and through farm-to-school programs, bringing high quality local foods into school cafeterias.

This new program, which is a partner of the successful AmeriCorps service program that annually sends more than 85,000 volunteers out into communities nationwide, recently sent out its first 50 fellows to 41 host sites in 10 states. These 50 volunteers were selected from among the 1229 people that applied, which FoodCorps co-founder and program director Debra Eschneyer noted made it more competitive than admission to Harvard! The hope is that, beyond their direct impact in the schools and programs they reach in their year of service, these young leaders will go on to become farmers, chefs, educators, and public health leaders who will continue to spread the message of good nutrition to a wider audience.

An example of one of FoodCorps programs is at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health in Arizona. Native American communities have high rates of diet-related type-II diabetes in adults and even children. Four FoodCorps service members, some of whom have been recruited from the tribal communities they are serving, are helping to improve community nutrition and health by promoting native gardens and helping schools source food from tribal farmers.

To find out more about FoodCorps, including information on applying to serve, supporting their work with sponsorships and donations, volunteering alongside service members in the field, mentoring service members for careers in food and health, or applying for a garden grant for a project in your community, go to: FoodCorps.

Is Fall Foliage Falling Back?

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We're all used to setting back our clocks in late autumn to "fall back" from daylight savings time. Now, scientists are investigating whether we need to start resetting our "leaf peeping" clock as well. Studies in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. indicate that climate changes due to global warming may be delaying the onset of the changing colors of fall foliage.

The appearance of the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of fall leaves as the seasons change comes about as cooling temperatures, decreasing daylengths, and changes in soil moisture levels cause the green chlorophyll in leaves to break down, unmasking the autumnal hues. The timing and intensity of this color change varies with year-to-year fluctuations in fall weather, as well as fluctuations in the growing conditions earlier in the season. So it is hard to know for sure how climate change and fall foliage are related.

Still there are indications that climate change is having an effect. In Vermont, state foresters at the Proctor Maple Research Center found that seven out of the last ten growing seasons ended later than the statistical average. And satellite data from NASA showed that in the period from 1982 to 2008, the end of the growing season lengthened by six and one-half days. There may be economic as well as ecological ramifications to changes in the fall foliage show, if later or less colorful fall foliage reduces the numbers of leaf-peeping tourists in areas like New England.

The study of timing in nature is called phenology and much of the basic data collected for research in this field comes from interested citizen scientists recording their observations of seasonal changes. The USA National Phenology Network is composed of citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators, and students working together to monitor the impacts of climate change on the plants and animals in the U.S., collecting and sharing information to provide researchers with much more information than they could collect alone.

To read more about the scientific efforts to document later fall foliage colors, go to: Burlington Free Press. To find out more about participating in the USA National Phenology Network, go to: USANPN.

Roundup All Around

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New research has come to the disquieting conclusion that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, the world's most-used herbicide, is present in significant levels in our air and water, far from the points of its application.

According to Paul Capel, an environmental chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which conducted the research, glyphosate was found in every water sample taken from streams in Mississippi over a two year period and in many of the air samples as well. Similar results were obtained from samples taken in Iowa.

Both these states have extensive agricultural acreage with farmers using large quantities of this herbicide to control weeds in farm fields. It is also widely used on golf courses and in residential landscapes. According to the USGS, in 2007 more than 88,000 tons of glyphosate were used in the U.S., up from 11,000 tons fifteen years earlier.

The research did not look at the impact of such widespread exposure to glyphosate, but according to a Reuters article on the subject, other studies have raised concerns about the development of glyphosate-resistant ″super weeds″ and the effect of the herbicide on soil and animals. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the registration for glyphosate with a decision deadline set for 2015.

To read the USGS Technical Announcement, go to USGS. To read the Reuters article, go to: Reuters.

The Politics of Climate Change

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If you are expecting to hear some climate-change realism from the crop of Republican presidential candidates, you may have a long wait.

In an October 4, 2011 Time Magazine website article, Bryan Walsh points out that belief in the science of climate change was not such a political issue as recently as the 2008 presidential election. But it sure is now. No current major Republican presidential candidate will stand squarely behind the findings of climate science. Instead we have candidates like Rick Perry stating that he doesn't think that ″manmade global warming is settled in science enough.″ As former president Bill Clinton pointed out recently, this puts the U.S. at odds with most of the rest of the international community or, as he bluntly put it, our denial of science makes Americans ″look like a joke.″

How did we get to this point? According to Walsh, ″belief in climate science has become less about the science than about establishing a cultural identity -- you're a denier or a believer depending on whether you're a Republican or a Democrat...It's insanity as a basis for a complex public policy.″ Riley Dunlop and Aaron McCright, sociologists who authored a chapter in the recently published The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, suggest that climate denialism has occurred in part because of a ″long-term, well-financed effort on the part of conservative groups and corporations to distort global-warming science,″ similar to the tactics employed by the tobacco companies to dispute the health dangers of smoking, by maintaining that the science is ″unsettled″ and more research is necessary before any action is taken.

But Bryan also points out that even those who acknowledge the science may still be deniers when it comes to accepting the changes that need to be made in order to deal with the threat that climate change poses. Just like losing weight or planning for retirement, he says, it is easy let immediate desires overwhelm long-term benefits. To deal with the enormous threat that global warming and climate change poses, we need to insist that our political leaders keep politics from distorting science so we can all face up to the big challenges ahead.

To read the entire article, go to Time Magazine.

 
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