Just a quick link to an article from Reuters about a California federal court’s decision to block commercial release of Monsanto’s GMO sugarbeets pending a more in-depth USDA environmental impact study.

I’d like to believe this is the beginning of something, but knowing the USDA  and the government’s friendliness toward Monsanto, I’d bet that this is merely a small bump on an otherwise smooth road to approval and release.

Who knew that beets were such a staple crop they were worth this kind of investment?

There’s a lot going on right now in the world of food and food production, and there are some really good articles out there to help you navigate the murky waters. Check these out:

An informative, well-written analysis of the late blight problem for this year’s tomato crop. I’ve heard a lot of fellow gardeners bemoaning late blight this year. But my tomatoes are going strong, and I haven’t seen this problem. After reading this article, I realized why: I started the majority of my tomatoes from seed. Most of the late blight has been caused by commercially produced tomato starts. Score one for the seed savers!

You may have heard rustlings about the new food safety bill. While few would deny that our food system needs some major safety checks, the food safety bill that recently passed the Housedoes very little to regulate the industrial farms. Whether small farmers have as much to fear as they think they do remains to be seen. This bill has yet to pass the Senate (they will vote when they re-adjourn this month), so let your voice be heard by contacting your state senators.

If you’ve been reading the Exchange this summer, you’re aware of some of the issues surrounding Monsanto. Now comes an interesting look at the evolution of coca plants in South America. Glysophate, which is the herbicide Monsanto developed and sells under the Round Up label, has been used in the war on drugs to kill coca and poppy plants. As with the so-called super weeds that have become resistant to Round Up, a new strain of the coca plant has emerged (or been developed) that is unaffected by Round Up. Governments, in their quaint governmental ways, are refusing to talk about the issue.

Ah, money. I love the way you pervert everything you come in contact with.

Around this time of year the exhaustion starts to set in. I’ve saved the majority of my seeds. I can’t bear to look at too many more tomatoes or eat any more kale, and the basil stares longingly, accusing me of neglect. In fact, the riot of vegetables ploughing into one another accuses me.

I’ve canned all I’m gonna can. The freezer is full. My trips to the garden are fewer and fewer.

After a week’s absence, I journeyed out to the garden only to discover that the raccoons had finally shown up. The squash that were supposed to keep them out of the corn had been pulled because they were infested with the vine borer. The raccoons had been pulling the corn stalks down, peeling back the silks and husks and completely eating the corn from the cob.

My beautiful corn. I thought that it needed another month, but as I began to pull the husks back from the ears, I discovered they were mostly ready. So I pulled them. I harvested maybe 15-20 lbs of corn that is now drying. Soon, I will remove the kernels, grind them up, and we will have corn flour.

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At this time, we’ve only harvested five small butternut squash. We’ve one more on the vine. The rest of the squash were a failure.

The beans were beyond failure. We might have harvested one cup of bingo beans and, no lie, a total of three fava beans. Three. Favas are obviously not meant to grow in the Kentucky summer. Lesson learned.

On the whole, I’d say the three sisters was a failure. When you don’t really get two of the three crops, can you call it anything else? What would I do next year? Grow greasy beans (or some other bean suited for Kentucky’s climate), grow only butternut squash, grow a corn that is shorter by a few feet.
I may also let this bed rest, dump my compost into it for a year, and try again in earnest the next.
Is there anything else a gardener can do?

In a classic of Orwellian double-speak, Monsanto now claims to be leading the way in sustainable agriculture.

I’m not sure when the word “sustainable” became synonymous with producing more food from crops stacked with their own pesticide producing capabilities. But in an apparent effort to reframe what has been an already largely degraded term, that’s exactly what Monsanto has done.

Will they still call it sustainable if these new “smart” crops fail or are proven to cause the diseases some studies indicate they will cause? Maybe by sustainable, they mean reducing the world’s population through food-induced disease and death.

Orwell be damned.

Hey you all! Chris has asked me to write a little bit on here to share what I know about canning and preserving. My knowledge is by no means expert or exhaustive – this is just something I got into for fun a few years ago, with lots of trial and error during the summers in between.

My first foray into canning was jelly-making – pepper jelly to be specific. My friend LL taught me how to make this formerly “wha’?? pepper? jelly?” (I had never heard of it, being a Northern Girl) maybe seven years ago. The first time ended in some evil brown goo that was the result of cooking the sugar waaaaay too long. We called it Jelly Moreno. Since then, I have mostly perfected that recipe, which I will share with you as my habaneros come to fruition – but for now I’ll just go over the basics of canning and preserving as I see them.

First, I only do water-bath canning. Not to knock the pressure canner, but the one and only time I tried that for tomatoes, it ended somewhat anticlimactically, if not explosively. Not our fault: it was all due to a faulty pressure gauge (which we cleared up after a few Bloody Marys and a call to the manufacturer), but it definitely steered me back to the ease of the boiling water canning. This does mean that I only work with foods which are either naturally high in acid or have acid or sugar added in order to create an inhospitable environment to any beasties that might try to set up shop. I don’t want to get all microbiological on here, but acidity, high sugar, and high salt will knock out most of the evils. That being said, if you ever notice any mold, weird lid bulges, or off odors in anything that you’ve preserved or canned, it’s best to toss it. Some say that you can scrape mold off, especially on jellies and jams, and to that I say:
How very European of you. You probably won’t die, and Americans are probably too concerned with anti-bacterial this and microbial that, but err on the side of caution – especially if you’re serving any product to children or anyone who may be immuno-compromised. Of course, we can talk about natural fermentation on here too, which invites certain molds and bacteria, but I can burn that bridge later.

The take home message from all this is you should start out with a fairly clean kitchen. Wash your jars before you use them; use produce that if not at its best, then free from mold; and wash your hands and utensils. You can re-use the jar rings, but probably not the lids. Some sources say to boil/sanitize all utensils that you may use, but I rarely go that far. Here are some things you will need, regardless of what you are cooking up:

Glass jars with appropriate lids (if you are canning – plastic freeze jars for the um, freezer)
Sturdy tongs
A jar lifter
A water bath canner or large stockpot (I got mine at the Target a few years ago, but you can sometimes find them at hardware stores or online)
A funnel (there are wide-mouth funnels specifically for filling jars)
Paper towels
Labels and a Sharpie

It’s been more difficult for me to find canning supplies this year than in the past – I hear that the economic downturn has made canning and preserving more trendy – plus my local Kroger has stopped carrying canning supplies because as I was gently reminded by a kind employee earlier this summer, “College students don’t CAN a whole lot, do they?” But the Meijer between Nicholasville and Harrodsburg has a large stock of needful things, and Chevy Chase Hardware does an admirable job as well.

So, go shopping, and I’ll be back next week with lesson one: canning tomatoes!

This past week was another wet one in central Kentucky. Because of that rain, many gardeners and farmers have had problems with late blight on their tomatoes. Mine are certainly starting to come down with it and other fungi and molds. Still, I’ve  picked more than 30 lbs. of tomatoes thus far and have saved seed from Black Russian, Striped (or Speckled) Roman, and Gold Nugget. All this rain makes for some mealy tomatoes. It’s definitely a good year for salsas, enchilada sauce, and marinara.

Speaking of putting food by, I am happy to announce the addition of a new writer to the blog. Vanessa, who’s garden was profiled a few weeks back, will write some entries on canning, pickling, and otherwise extending summer’s flavor. For those of you who don’t know her, Vanessa is one hell of a cook, a real innovator and creative genius in the kitchen. When she’s not besting Will Shorts and the Times crossword puzzle, she’s making ketchup (yes, ketchup), jams, incredible pickles, and the like. As canning remains a mystery to me, I am anxious to read V’s posts.

Would you like to write for the Exchange? I would like to increase the site’s content, and, more importantly, would like to add some different perspectives to what’s posted. As you know, if you ask two different gardeners what they think about something, you’re liable to get three different answers. If you’d like to write, please contact me via the comments section or by e-mail.

If you’re a regular reader, you’re already familiar with the story surrounding Monsanto’s new SmartStax corn seed. However, GMO seed is only part of Monsanto’s global strategy.

As reported last week, Monsanto has been working to change India’s intellectual property rights laws in order to control and profit from research conducted by university laboratories. Unfortunately for us, they have already achieved such breakthroughs in Canada and the United States.

This past week, Monsanto announced a new  research facility located in Manitoba, Canada, and an upgraded facility in Saskatchewan. The facility in Manitoba will be housed at the University of Manitoba, continuing a disturbing trend of the agri-giant embedding itself within a university structure. This is disturbing because of how much influence the company can wield on both the direction of research being conducted at the university and what happens with the research once it is completed.

As the article from last week pointed out, in America, this trend leads to less Federal agricultural research funding to U.S. land grant universities. With less Federal money, these schools will become more dependent on making money from the research they conduct. I’m not suggesting that it’s dangerous for money to be made on scientific research. However, if money and profit are the primary forces guiding what is researched and what isn’t, that leads to larger scientific and ethical dilemmas. When you consider that land grant universities are public institutions, the issue becomes even more pointed.

Finally, two links that further developments in the story surrounding Monsanto GMO seed. The Asia Times reports on the growing controversy surrounding the new SmartStax corn seed, the lack of thorough scientific testing done on this corn, and the evidence pointing to potentially dangerous side effects. What’s amazing is that this story gets more attention outside of the U.S. Not including the business and stock journals that reported it from an investment standpoint, most major U.S. publications have been silent.

The other link is to a frightening story out of South Africa, where three different varieties of Monsanto GM corn have failed. Clearly, all is not as good as the people in charge of our food supply would have us believe…

Folks, there’s much being done about our food and how it’s produced, and it is largely done without our knowledge or consent. It’s plain frightening. Despite of all this, or maybe because of it, I hope you take the opportunity to enjoy your time in the garden and the many fruits of your labor.

The story on Monsanto and Dow’s new SmartStax corn continues to draw scrutiny, this time from concerned parties in Canada, which joined the U.S. in approving the GM seed this week. At issue in Canada are concerns that a thorough enough environmental impact study was not conducted before approval.

In related news, Dissident Voice, an online peace and social justice newsletter, posted an interesting analysis of Monsanto’s role in overhauling India’s intellectual property rights laws. As you may know, Monsanto has patents on the seed it produces. If you are a farmer and you raise crops and save seed purchased from Monsanto, they will take you to court and sue the living bejesus out of you. This article focuses on the relationship between India and its potential market for GM crops and Monsanto’s expansion of its research and development efforts.

Whether due to the recession, a nostalgia for simpler times, or simply a return to common sense, the recent surge in interest in vegetable gardening is encouraging. Part of this story in Lexington has been the emergence of several community garden projects. Organizations such as Sustain Lex and Seedleafare doing a wonderful job of encouraging people to garden while providing them the resources and skills to be successful. On July 30, Jim Embree, director of Sustain Lex, has organized the 3rd annual Lexington Community Garden Tour. Details and a nice write up from the Herald are here.

Finally, this evening in Berea, Sustainable Berea is hosting its 3rd annual 100-Mile Potluck. Participants are asked to bring a dish made from ingredients found within 100 miles of Berea. They are also asked to share the recipe. This year’s potluck will feature a live auction. Items up for bid include more than 40 rain barrels, workshops on seed saving, and unique opportunities sponsored through local Berea businesses. The event runs from 5:30-7:30 and is being held at the Berea Community School.