Aug 15, 2013

Field to tap: The impact of farm runoff on drinking water | Harvest Public Media

Water treatment plant operator Fred Omer gets ready to do an iron test on water samples at the Clarence Cannon Wholesale Water Commission in Stoutsville, Mo. (Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media)

It doesn’t come as a major surprise that agricultural runoff is doing more harm than good to the environment. Agriculture is the nation’s leading cause of impaired water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Storms move pesticides, nutrients and sediment from farmers’ fields to nearby waterways.These will ultimately end up in the Gulf of Mexico where they can threaten aquatic life.

But what about the impact of farm runoff on our drinking water?

Ag runoff feeds into lakes and rivers that hundreds of towns draw their water from. For example, herbicide runoff from a farm in Centralia, Mo., might end up in Goodwater Creek, which empties into the Salt River, which then flows into Mark Twain Lake. That lake provides drinking water for 70,000 residents. Water treatment plants spend millions on chemicals to clean up that surface water.

In Stoutsville, Mo., the Clarence Cannon Wholesale Water Commission treats 1.5 billion gallons of water each year. During a recent visit to its treatment plant, the commission’s general manager, Mark McNally, pointed out a massive bag of fine black powder being funneled into untreated water.

“That's 900 pounds of powdered activated carbon and that actually gets transferred over here and that is basically metered into the water,” McNally said.

The plant uses the powdered activated carbon, or PAC, to remove atrazine, an herbicide widely applied to cornfields in the spring. The PAC alone costs roughly $130,000 a year, a bill the plant has to pass onto customers.

“Aunt Agnes, you know, on Third Street has to pay more for her water because we have to recoup our money,” McNally said. “I mean we’re not in the business to make money. But we can’t go broke.”

In Iowa’s Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, record-high levels of nitrate runoff this year are making it extremely difficult to meet the demand for clean drinking water. The general manager of Des Moines Water Works, Bill Stowe, told me he fears this will lead to damaging long-term effects.

“Our concern obviously is that once you shake customers’ faith in the safety of tap waters, you turn them to other sources like bottled water, which is … certainly a competitor,” Stowe said. “It changes our business model and puts us at risk in the long term as a viable utility for providing drinking water for a half million people.”

Field to tap: The impact of farm runoff on drinking water | Harvest Public Media

Aug 14, 2013


Published on Aug 9, 2013

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Consumerism has become the cornerstone of the post-industrial age. Yet how much do we know about it and what it is doing to us? Using theories of evolutionary psychology to underpin a bold narrative of our times, this film takes a whirlwind tour through the "weird mental illness of consumerism", showing how our insatiable appetite has driven us into "the jaws of the beast". Both an apocalyptic and redemptive view of the human condition.

Consumed - YouTube

Aug 13, 2013

Shift: Beyond the Numbers of the Climate Crisis | Watch Free Documentary Online

What is climate change? For many, it sparks images of polar bears on melting ice caps, rising oceans, and polluting smokestacks. We easily ignored the changing climate when it just led to these distant problems, but now we’re experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. The dots are being connected. These super-storms, droughts, wildfires, they’re getting worse and more frequent because of climate change. This isn’t going to be a film about the daunting facts behind climate change, the ones we feel like we don’t have any control over.

However, it is important to note that the US ranks second among global emissions producers. They produce 19% of all global carbon emissions. The deep dependence on fossil fuel is at the root of the problem. Coal, oil, and natural gas take the blame. It’s not difficult to understand that burning these fuels is bad for the climate, but there’s been a piece missing from the conversation. We know that we humans are causing the problem, but what’s the human cost? Who are the people affected by these fuels, the extractions, the drilling, the mining? What’s it look like from their world?

Sam and his sister Kate are environmentally aware. They turn off their lights. They use their own Virtue bags, ride their bikes when possible, and take shorter showers… all of the usual things. As they started learning more and more about climate change, they began to see that riding their bikes and taking shorter showers wasn’t really going to solve the problem, and, like many people, they didn’t really know where to go from there. They were spending a lot of time talking about the issue, and for such a daunting problem, they wondered why it wasn’t a little more mainstream.

In the midst of the hottest year on record in U.S. history, presidential candidates left climate out of the debates, and it was with this that they realized that sitting around and talking about it was no longer an option. They needed to dive in headfirst and figure out what was really driving climate change and the movement surrounding it. So they loaded up for a 17-day long road trip around the country, a whirlwind tour to see those affected by the fossil-fuel extraction, ending at the Forward on Climate rally, the biggest climate rally in U.S. history.

From the coal-rich mountains of Appalachia to the North Dakota oil fields, down to the Texas tar-sands pipelines, they began to uncover the David versus Goliath story of people that had already taken up action to stop climate change. In some cases, they chose to fight, while others, the fight chose them. Either way, they were all people striving for a better planet. The public realized that climate change is real and that it’s man-caused, but where do we go from here?

Shift: Beyond the Numbers of the Climate Crisis 

Aug 12, 2013

Thomas L Friedman - Middle East, Middle West parallel - Kansas and Al Qaeda

By Thomas L Friedman

THREAT: The use of fossil fuels to power monoculture farms and power wars is unhealthy for the 'commons'

I'VE spent the last few months filming a Showtime documentary about how climate and environmental stresses helped trigger the Arab awakening. It's been a fascinating journey because it forced me to look at the Middle East through the lens of Arab environmentalists instead of politicians.

When you do that, you see the problems and solutions very differently. Environmentalists always start by thinking about the health of the "commons" -- the shared air, soil, forests and water -- that are the basis of all life, which, if not preserved, will undermine the whole society. The notion that securing the interests of any single group -- Shia or Sunni, Christian or Muslim, secular or Islamist -- over the health of the commons is nuts to them. It's as laughable as pictures of gun-toting fighters strutting on the rubble of broken buildings in Aleppo or Benghazi, claiming "victory", only to discover that they've "won" a country with eroding soil, degrading forests, scarce water, shrinking jobs -- a deteriorating commons.

Our film crew came to look at the connection between the drought in Kansas and the rise in global food prices that helped to fuel the Arab uprisings. But I stumbled upon another powerful environmental insight here: the parallel between how fossil fuels are being used to power monoculture farms in the Middle West and how fossil fuels are being used to power wars to create monoculture societies in the Middle East. And why both are really unhealthy for their commons.

My teacher here was Wes Jackson, the MacArthur award winner, based in Salina, where he founded The Land Institute. Jackson's philosophy is that the prairie was a diverse wilderness, with a complex ecosystem that supported all kinds of wildlife, not to mention American Indians -- until the Europeans arrived, ploughed it up and covered it with single-species crop farms, mostly wheat, corn, or soya beans. Jackson's goal is to restore the function of the diverse polyculture prairie ecosystem and rescue it from the single-species, annual monoculture farming, which is exhausting the soil, the source of all prairie life. "We have to stop treating soil like dirt," he says.

Jackson knows this has to be economically viable. That's why his goal is to prove that species of wheat and other grains that scientists at The Land Institute are developing can be grown as perennials with deep roots -- so you would not need to regularly till the soil or plant seeds. The way to do that, he believes, is by growing mixtures of those perennial grains, which will mimic the prairie and naturally provide the nutrients and pesticides. The need for fossil-fuel-powered tractors and fertilisers would be much reduced, with the sun's energy making up the difference. That would be so much better for the soil and the climate, since most soil carbon would not be released.

Annual monocultures are much more susceptible to disease and require much more fossil fuel energy -- ploughs, fertiliser, pesticides -- to maintain. Perennial polycultures, by contrast, notes Jackson, provide species diversity, which provides chemical diversity, which provides much more natural resistance and "can substitute for the fossil fuels and chemicals that we've not evolved with".

Jackson maintains some original prairie vegetation. As we walk through it, he explains: This is nature's own "tree of life". This prairie, like a forest, "features material recycling, runs on sunlight, and does not have an epidemic that wipes it all out. You know during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, the crops died, but the prairie survived".

Then he points to his experimental perennial grain crops: "That's the tree of knowledge." Our challenge, and it will take years, he notes, is to find a way to blend the tree of life with the tree of knowledge to develop domestic prairies that could have high-yielding fields planted once every several years, whose crops would only need harvesting and species diversity could "take care of insects, pathogens and fertility".

And that brings us back to the Middle East. Al-Qaeda often says that if the Muslim world wants to restore its strength, it needs to go back to the "pure" days of Islam, when it was a monoculture unsullied by foreign influences. In fact, the "Golden Age" of the Arab/Muslim world was when it became a polyculture between the 8th and 13th centuries.

Of that era, Wikipedia says: "During this period the Arab world became an intellectual centre for science, philosophy, medicine and education..." It was "a collection of cultures, which put together, synthesised and significantly advanced the knowledge gained from the ancient Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Byzantine and Phoenician civilisations".

What is going on in the Arab world today is a relentless push, also funded by fossil fuels, for more monocultures. It's al-Qaeda trying to "purify" the Arabian Peninsula. It's Shias and Sunnis, funded by oil money, trying to purge each other in Iraq and Syria. It's Alexandria, Egypt, once a great melting pot of Greeks, Italians, Jews, Christians, Arabs and Muslims, now a city dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, with most non-Muslims gone.

It makes these societies much less able to spark new ideas and much more susceptible to diseased conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies. To be blunt, this evolution of Arab/Muslim polycultures into monocultures is a disaster.

Pluralism, diversity and tolerance were once native plants in the Middle East -- the way the polyculture prairie was in the Middle West. Neither ecosystem will be healthy without restoring its diversity. 

This prairie features material recycling, runs on sunlight and does not have an epidemic that wipes it all out.

Paleo Crumble with Maple Roasted Rhubarb

May 16, 2013 | Jenny @ BAKE

Paleo Crumble (Image Credit: Jenny @ Bake)

As an avid blog reader barely a day goes by without seeing a reference to ‘paleo diets’. For those who are unaware the paleolithic diet (or caveman diet) is a nutritional plan based around food types that were available to our ancestors nearly 2.5 million years ago.

By eliminating grains, dairy and processed foods (among other food groups) the diet claims to help you lose weight, reduce the risk of and in some cases reverse the effects of certain diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Paleo Crumble (Image Credit: Jenny @ Bake)

There are as many arguments against this diet as there are for, including lack of conclusive proof, potential nutritional deficiencies, and that restricting your diet to that extent is extremely hard to maintain (read more about it here, here and here).

Whilst I personally don’t have much time for diets that insist that you cut out whole food groups, and I fully subscribe to my Mother’s mantra of ‘everything in moderation’, it’s hard not to agree with the underlying message of the paleo diet. Reduced to the simplest level, replacing processed convenience foods with natural alternatives will help you live a healthier life.

Crumbles (or crisps to you in the US) have to be one of my favourite desserts, a sweet buttery topping heaped thickly above soft tart fruit is my idea of heaven. I could quite honestly eat it every day topped with custard or ice cream, hot or cold or even straight out of the baking dish with a spoon.

Whilst it does have a high fruit content which makes it a healthier dessert than others, it is high in sugar and fat (100g each per tray of dessert) so I tend to reserve it as a treat. This paleo version is not only lower in oil and maple syrup (only 2 tbsp of each) it’s easier to make, and is absolutely delicious. The mixture of nuts, coconut and seeds creates a really lovely texture, with the oil and syrup lightly binding and sweetening the topping without overpowering the natural flavours.

This recipe is easily customisable, as you can substitute the nuts and seeds for whatever you have to hand, and whilst I refrained from adding any spice a teaspoon of cinnamon or nutmeg would make a welcome addition. I chose rhubarb as it is in season at the moment, and I can’t get enough of it, but like with regular crumbles you can use whichever fruit takes your fancy.

Paleo Crumble (Image Credit: Jenny @ Bake)

Paleo Crumble with Maple Roasted Rhubarb Recipe

Serves 4


400g (about 1 3/4 cups) rhubarb cut into 1 inch chunks

50ml (about 1 3/4 ounces) maple syrup

¾ cup of ground almonds

½ cup hazelnuts

⅛ cup almond slithers

⅛ cup whole almonds

⅛ cup sunflower seeds

⅛ cup sesame seeds

¼ shredded coconut

2 tbsp olive or coconut oil (melted)

2 tbsp maple syrup

pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 175C (about 350F)

Spread the rhubarb over the bottom of the baking dish and drizzle evenly the 50ml (about 1 3/4 ounces) of maple syrup.

In a separate bowl mix the rest of the ingredients until well combined.

Using a dessert spoon spoon the mix evenly over the rhubarb.

Bake for 35 min in the middle of the oven, after this time cover with foil to stop the top from burning and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Serve hot.

Paleo Crumble with Maple Roasted Rhubarb by Jenny @ BAKE | The Daily Quirk

Luscious and Local – Rhubarb Sauce: Stevia or Honey Sweetened

By Fairin, June 13, 2013
Rhubarb Sauce: Stevia or Honey Sweetened

Here are some of my secrets for making rhubarb sauce. Watch your pot of rhubarb so it doesn't boil over. Know that the sauce tastes sweeter after it cools. If you want a great red colored sauce use only the red parts of the stalk for that batch of sauce. To remove some of the oxalic acid cover the rhubarb chunks with boiling water. Let it sit for 1-2 minutes and then drain off the water and cook as usual. Removing some of the oxalic acid is an option, not necessarily a recommendation. It seems other nutrients would flush away as well.

Use this beautiful sauce: On pancakes, layered under sliced fresh strawberries, pack as a dessert in your brown bag lunch, serve over your steaming hot oatmeal, served over a scoop of yogurt, or serve along side a meat entree. This sauce freezes very well. So sometimes it goes into my brown bag lunch directly from the freezer! This way it doubles first as an ice pack and then as my dessert or snack.

A word of caution, I want to emphasize rhubarb leaves are toxic because they contain high amounts of oxalates. We have always cut them off as part of the harvesting process and dropped them in the compost bin on the way in to the kitchen. Keeping part of the leaf intact is helpful to keep the stalk fresh and avoids splitting and spoilage when rhubarb is sold at a market. Be sure to cut off all the leaf from each stalk and throw it in the compost or garbage.

4 – 8
Prep time
7 minutes
Cook time
20 minutes
Total time
27 minutes
Diabetic, Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Meal type - Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Child Friendly, Freezable, Serve Cold

4 cups rhubarb stalks (cut stalks into 1 inch lengths)
1 cup water
stevia or honey (add sweetener of your choice to taste)

Step 1

Cut off any remains of the rhubarb leaf from the top of the stalk and trim the bottom of the stock where it was connected to the root. Wash the stalks and cut a few stalks at a time with a sharp knife.

Step 2

Combine the rhubarb and water in a sauce pan. Cook with a loose fitting lid over medium or low heat stirring every 7 minutes or so until all the rhubarb in very soft. The total cooking time averages about 20 minutes.

Step 3

Let the sauce cool. Sweeten to taste with your choice of sweetener. I recommend stevia or local honey. It is easier to judge and adjust the sweetness when the sauce is cool. And there are times when unsweetened rhubarb sauce is called for. Stay tuned for the reveal of that recipe!

Luscious and Local – Rhubarb Sauce: Stevia or Honey Sweetened