Just eat less, dear.

Our government has boldly stepped forward in their recent guidelines and told us what  we all know.  The answer to obesity is to eat less, less sodium, and  more fruits and vegetables instead. But as Mark Bittman points out in A Food Manifesto for the Future, that doesn’t mean putting a slice of tomato on your cheeseburger and fries.  And if fat people could eat less– don’t you think they would?

I stand at the sink rinsing and scrubbing vegetables wondering if all this washing is doing any good.  Why wouldn’t pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers get absorbed by growing plants?  I’m sure Big Ag has an answer.

 Who do you believe?  Big Ag, the processed food industry, or your local organic farmer?

 We’re so used to finding out that we’ve been lied to, I’m expecting any day a warning that organic foods are a fraud as well. 

 But not believing anything is as foolish as believing everything.

 In the meantime I buy a box of produce every week from Abundant Harvest Organics   located in Kingsville. Simply, they are “an alliance of small family farmers in Central California dedicated to growing superior organic produce and getting it to you in the simplest manner possible…without the use of chemicals or packaging materials. We grow locally and supply locally, cutting the need for expensive and wasteful fuel and packing resources.”

 This is not an ad for Abundant Harvest. It’s expensive at $21.80 a week for one person and I know how lucky I am to be able to afford it.   However,  tomatoes do not taste like baseballs; apples are so sweet they spurt juice when you bite in. 

 As I write in February 2011, tomatoes are not in season, but apples, kiwi, and oranges are, and carrots you eat like candy. I’ve learned how to deal with kale but daikon radish must be a taste acquired in childhood. I grew up long ago in the north of Ontario, Canada, where fresh produce made it to Toronto maybe, but not where we lived. But ah, the peaches in summer, the figs, and great tasting kinds of lettuce and greens I’ve never seen before.

 Each week a flyer accompanies your box telling you the name of the farmer and his location in the Central Valley and some of Old Uncle Vern’s homespun teachings. Where I live the delivery truck brings our order to Lebec and a volunteer freights it up the hill for all of us.  I like that idea.

 Bittman suggests that people who produce and sell actual food should receive subsidies rather than corn and soy farms who grow food for livestock and cars. How about an increased subsidy for school lunches instead? Small farmers and those who work for them should receive a living wage?

Whew! What a revolutionary idea.

But I see this week the government has sold us out to Monsanto.  They’re licking their chops now over at Monsanto.  Oh, don’t get me started on Monsanto.


Frazier Mountain Communities 2010 Women of the Year Award

 The big award lists have come out naming 2010 Women of the Year.  Some surprises head the list:  Lady Gaga, Sarah Palin (sigh), and Fergie.  Fergie, for heaven’s sake?

On a more serious side, look up Female Heads of State: Women of the Year issued by Glamour Magazine.   Feet to the fire:  how many of them could you name?  Be honest.

I’m working up a list for Frazier Mountain Communities Women of the Year that I just know  makes you breathless with anticipation.  I’m taking nominations, by the way.

Heading it would be Linda Mackay of the Tri-County Watchdogs, followed closely by Patric Hedlund, editor of the Mountain Enterprise.  Love it or hate it, what the editor of the local paper has to say matters.

I also want to include the women who will never win that award.  They’re the women who sit in the back rows at meetings and don’t talk to anybody. They get to the occasional meeting, sign a petition, do a few phone calls, make promises that are sometimes impossible to keep.

If they could do more they would.

They feel the same passion about school, church stuff, environmental, animal rescue, or local government issues that the rest of us do.

But…they’re women with young kids whose budgets don’t stretch to a babysitter for a Wednesday night meeting. They’re women commuting to Bakersfield or LA every day. They’re women who struggle with chronic pain and disability, with mental health problems, exhausted by fights with insurance companies. They’re women caring for a relative or a friend. 

They’re women whose husbands or boyfriends don’t like them sticking their neck out in public and getting involved.

They say, “The car broke down again.  There’s no money for gas. The babysitter cancelled at the last minute. I’m too depressed to go out. Nothing to wear. I’m too shy to go someplace where I don’t know everybody.”

They think they have nothing to offer.  They don’t know enough about an issue to have anything worthwhile to say. 

That’s not so:  I can tell you that any volunteer organization values whatever you can do. Whatever your issue is, church, school, roads, the Condor, the skate park–there is a welcome for you. 

If this isn’t the phase of life where you can offer your time, things may change this year, maybe next year.

All we’re guaranteed in life is change. And we can’t sit around and wait for government to do everything for us.  It won’t happen.


Taking Other People’s Crap

Kern County’s Public Health Services Department announced January 18, 2010 that it will immediately begin enforcement of the voter approved “anti-sludge ordinance“.

Sludge means spreading biosolids (treated solid, semi-solid or liquid residue generated during the treatment of sewage) over marginal land within the unincorporated areas of Kern County to make the fields more fertile.

In other words, other people’s crap, most of it trucked in from Los Angeles. Since 1999 LA has sent about 26 tractor trailer loads a day of its biosolids to a 4,700 acre piece of land owned by the city in Kern County. The land, a 15-acre parcel 15 miles southwest of Bakersfield, is known as “Green Acres”.

In undeveloped countries biosolids are called “night soil” collected by some poor guy coming around in the dead of night to collect the family’s “honey bucket”. They’ve been doing it for millennia in Asia.

Here we use biosolids to fertilize ground for crops used for animal feed. Yet spreading all this yucky stuff onto farmland may allow heavy metals, pathogenic organisms, chemical pollutants, and synthetic organic compounds to leach into the aquifer. Think about drinking water from that aquifer.

Virtually all of the sewage sludge processed in Los Angeles — and about one-third of California’s — is trucked into Kern County. Los Angeles may soon have to find a new dumping ground for its sewage sludge. There are alternatives, but expensive ones.

Los Angeles aims to be the greenest, cleanest city in America. But, Kern County Public Health Director, Matt Constantine, says there is mounting concern about the environmental and health impacts this sludge poses to Kern residents.

Heavy metals, about nuisances, odors, flies. What impact, short-term and long-term does this present to our community?” asked Constantine. Good question.

But wait. There’s a big however here

Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or not more than six months in prison, or both, for each day of violation. An offender may also be required to pay for cleanup and disposal costs and may be subjected to significant administrative penalties for each day the violation occurs.

And existing permit holders have six months to discontinue the land application of biosolids. Wonder what could happen to stall the voter’s clear intentions in the next six months?

Well, with a fine of no more than $500 a day, and some twisty-turning conniving so there’s no prison time, this is a toothless ordinance. And with layoffs at the county and the wretched state of California’s economy, how much enforcement will there be?

Permit holders can just add a load or so a day to cover the fine. As for paying for clean up, it could be tied up in the courts for years and meanwhile we’re still taking other people’s crap.

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San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Woman of the Year: Linda Mackay

Those of us who attend the grassroots meetings, make the phone calls, and fill the officer slots often look around and realize, hey, it’s mostly women. Mostly older women.d

Party politics is like this too. Realize that, of course, I acknowledge the impressive men, the idealistic young ones and the seasoned older–and old ones–who blaze trails.

Women past child rearing years, with more or less settled careers, and not yet caring for aging parents have more time to do the things in the community they see that need doing. They’re the ones that know that Kern County government in all its forms isn’t going to provide basic services unless we pay for it, or agitate their comfortable chairs until we make them do it.

Linda Mackay in her own words: “It took me a really long time to face it, admit it to myself. I’m too shy, I’m too bashful. I’m an unassuming nobody. But finally I have to admit it I, Linda MacKay, am a community activist, and I am the President of the TriCounty Watchdogs.”

Not just the Watchdogs, but the Boys and Girls Club of Frazier Park as well. Years of work in Valley Air Quality groups gave her strength and experience. She names Luke Cole of the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment as her mentor.

Linda pushed and pushed in her quiet way for an air monitor to measure the level of ozone pollution in the air kids were breathing near the El Tejon Middle School. It’s way, way too high.

The school sits near the summit of the Grapevine Pass, which increasingly is looking like a conduit funneling San Joaquin Valley smog right past the school and up into what is thought of as the pristine mountain communities.

Are you thinking that county and state government is watching out for you by monitoring air quality in the Mountain Communities? Don’t hold your breath. Mackay’s quiet persistence is what it takes to force government to do what it’s supposed to be doing.

The Tri-County Watchdogs will soon begin volunteer training in operating the air monitors that will sample what we’re breathing. Most of the $25,000 grant will be spent on lab analysis of the samples collected. The quality of the data is equal to that collected by state and local air quality departments.

In any group photo Linda would put herself in the back row and wave off any suggestion she towers among us as a community hero. Linda Mackay is short and small, but she cannot be overlooked.


Barbaric Kill Rate at Kern County Animal Shelters

Is it any wonder the animal community is driven to despair and disgust? Any Kern County resident who has not recently returned from Jupiter knows the kill rate in Kern County Animal shelters is barbaric.

Kern County is the 15th most economically stressed county in the nation, according to an AP report in 2009.  That’s pretty much up there on the misery index. Even more so for cats and dogs who are doomed to enter the gates at Kern County Animal Shelters

The Shelter has the third highest euthanasia rate in the nation, putting to death more than 40,000 animals annually.

Here’s how the animal control budget is being spent: personal experience from July 2009.

My dying cat bit me while the vet was preparing to euthanize her. The vet stated because of rabies law,  he could not euthanize this suffering animal for ten days. I understand the need to control the spread of rabies. Reports were made. I received a letter telling me an investigation was underway.

On the 11th day after the bite, the suffering animal was allowed to die. On the 12th day after the bite,  Officer Borrega from Kern County Animal Control arrived–a day after the cat was legally euthanized.  I explained neither the dead cat nor I had rabies and showed him the healing bite.

I also asked him why he hadn’t called first to see if I was home.  He admitted he knew it was too late to make the call, but it had been a “pretty ride” from Bakersfield to Pine Mountain, a distance of probably sixty miles.

I understand the need to make a unannounced visit when investigating cases of animal cruelty and hoarding. But a drop in for this?

It still makes me furious to witness how the pitifully inadequate Animal Control Budget is spent.  Officer Borrega could have checked out the many reports of animal cruelty and hoarding the Mountain Communities SPCA has filed while he was enjoying his day in Pine Mountain Club.

It makes me sick to think of all the animals who were put down at the shelter on the day Officer Borrega had a pretty ride up to Pine Mountain Club.

Why doesn’t Animal Control allocate some of its budget to hiring investigators who actually resolve problems like the horrendous rate of euthanasia at the shelters, cock fighting, animal cruelty and hoarding?

I wrote a letter of protest to the entire hierarchy of the Animal Control Department as well as Supervisor Watson and never received an answer.

When was the last case of rabies due to a cat bite in Kern County?  No answer to that either.

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What makes the Delta Smelt so Damned Important?

According to critics, using the Endangered Species Act to protect this little silver fish has caused a dust bowl in California’s Central Valley and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

Even an accused environmental radical like me can’t imagine throwing myself into the pumps to save a delta smelt.  So what’s the real deal?

The smelt has no commercial importance, and species go extinct all the time.  That is the nature of evolutionary biology.

But it’s never that simple, is it? Except on TV news.

Like the much vilified spotted owl, the smelt is a measure of how close we are to extinction of an entire ecosystem.  Cutting water to Big Ag to try to save the smelt was also aimed at saving the commercial salmon and recreational fishing industry, the farmers, and the Delta estuary itself where an urban megalopolis draws water.

Why am I surprised to read in RedState.com that the water shut off protecting the delta smelt had “nothing to do with the fish and was done on purpose to destroy the economy of the world’s most fertile growing area, taking our nation down a notch, making us even more dependent on foreign sources for food – and the administration was quite successful in creating a dust bowl region with over a 20% unemployment rate.”

The trumpeted loss of tens of thousands of jobs laid at the feet of the delta smelt have shrunk to much reduced estimates. Smelt protection may, or may not, have cost 5000 jobs and that’s nothing to sneeze at as people line up at food banks.

But has the world wide recession nothing to do with the Valley’s 20% unemployment rate?

What about job losses due to the collapse in dairy prices, the home foreclosure mess, construction slow down, and the past three years of drought? What about farmers selling their water to outfits like Tejon Ranch half a state away?

Even in the best of times, unemployment in the Valley is higher than the state.

But that little guy smelt makes a good sound byte, doesn’t he?  Busting the Endangered Species Act down to dust– as may happen over time in the courts–isn’t going to eradicate the real problems California faces.

And I’m still puzzling over why the administration would want to drive us to ruin, as charged by redstate.com?

I don’t think even George Bush wanted to drive us to ruin.  And I hated that guy!

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Homelessness: It’s always been this way. Nothing we do can change it.

Ever since Reagan, that’s what we’ve been coached to think.  Out there in TV’s FrenzyLand government is always the problem.  A corollary is that money thrown at a problem doesn’t work.

 Think about all the problems that are solved by money. Money buys gas in the car, childcare, pays the rent, stills the anxiety, hires contractors, builds highways and hospitals.

 Conservatives claim they know how to spend money judiciously. Remember they knew who the real Deserving Poor were?

 True story:  I went back home to Canada from Santa Monica in 1980, trying to decide if I  wanted to live there again.  The experiment lasted two years: no conclusive results.  I left at the dawn of Regan’s dismantling of government. I guess the War on Poverty didn’t work. A new dawn and the conservatives were going to get it right. By God.

 When I came back in 1982, Reagan had emptied California’s state mental health hospitals onto the streets.  Community mental health clinics were supposed to fill the need of the state hospitals but that never happened to the extent that it filled the need.

 Broken people sat on curbs with suitcases and raved at the traffic. A subculture had been created that lived like troglodytes under freeway overpasses and vacant lots. Crime increased, of course, because it still takes currency to live in Los Angeles with any dignity.

 I saw sights when I returned that were unimaginable two years prior.  I’m only speaking of California, mind you; but it was happening all over the country.

 I live in a tiny village now  in the California mountains.  It’s too cold here to be homeless in winter. 

 When I go into Los Angeles, I’m stunned by what I see–sights that are now commonplace. I want to remind myself that you have to be really careful what you get used to.  What you get used to becomes commonplace and tolerated.

 I’ll look up soon who said it, but it goes something like this:  you can measure the humanity of a society by the way it treats its children, its old people, and its animals.

 I wince when I see that.  I wish I could just step off the planet for awhile until somebody  can learn how to get it right. It’s not this Administration, and George Bush didn’t get it right either. Do you really hope the next one will?