The Three Minute Shower

I started teaching a class called Greener Gardens for UCLA Extension's Gardening and Horticulture Certificate program over five years ago.  The gist of it has been to have gardens that were less extractive on the ecosystem (a perfect example of this was from an essay written by Own Dell) by choosing plants and practices that use fewer resources.  

A big part of the course is conservation of water - hopefully in a way that does not include creating heat sinks and gravel lawns, ala Turf Busters.  Most of that work is just plain awful, without any kind of design. They seem to be in the business of creating barren front yards that pull in and hold heat which will result in homeowners running their air conditioners more.  Actions like this are poorly thought-out and merely provide cover for those unwilling to actually learn about our environment and the quality of life we lead.  IF that quality of life is to be maintained, we will have to give it a lot more thought and accept compromises that actually work.

When there were only  a few million folks in the Golden State, it was much easier to wiggle by without paying attention.  Now that we are considerably more than the population in the 1930's, logistics demands that we all take notice of the amount of water supplied and how we will allocate it.  

The whole water issue is poorly handled at the state, county and city level.  We also are cursed with those communities that think just throwing money at the problem will make the problem go away. But, while we wait for government to do something intelligent like ban fracking and force Nestle to stop its destruction of our water resources (write your state assemblyperson and your state senator; boycott all things Nestle - and there are a lot of products and product lines owned by Nestle), we all need to do what we can.

These actions, even if small, engender a sense of connectedness and responsibility in those that do them towards our water and it's use.  When we first stated Greener Gardens course, I urged everyone to aim for five minute showers. As the drought has worsened and gone into its fourth year, we now speak of three minute showers.

If you decide to reduce your water footprint with your showers, start with a bucket in the shower to catch the water while it warms.  I removed my round water control handles in favor of handles that are shaped more like an exclamation point.  If I turn the hot water handle to the 'noon' position and the cold to a 5 o'clock position, in a few seconds I will have pretty close to a good showering temperature for me.  As I wait those few seconds, most of the water is caught in the bucket and will be used on my container plants.  

Because not all water is caught in my bucket, I start the timer right after I start the water.  

It is important to use shower heads
that save water too.

With the water with the handles in the right place, I hit the timer button and in a few seconds, I jump in.  Under the water, I shampoo my hair first, leaving the shampoo in, while I soap up my body, scrubbing my face last before I rinse.  Water off, reach out of the shower to the timer: two minutes and ten seconds! I admit, because I knew I was being timed, I worked a little more quickly than I would have normally - on the other hand, when I became aware of that behavior, I consciously slowed myself to make this measurement more valid. 

I don't believe that everyone can shower under three minutes.  Still it's a good goal and we should all work towards it.  If we make water-saving part and parcel in our lives, when we approach government officials and bureaucrats of the water companies, we will do so from the place of someone already participating in the solution.


Protest Music

Neil Young's most recent album, “The Monsanto Years” is getting a lot of press for the themes it presents – including some replies from the corporations Young has singled out to criticize, including Starbucks, Monsanto, Walmart and stony silence from Chevron. Starbucks, in it's post-liberal, coffee drinking way, ditched the whole thing by asking for a 'national solution' which is about as likely as USDA or FDA doing anything to actually protect the American people who pay part of their salary – augmented liberally by the companies they have sworn, off camera, to protect.

But Monsanto published a statement on the album that bears some scrutiny because it shows the pattern of their public debate on this and other subjects of interest to any one who eats food:

Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young,” the company said. “Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable. We recognize there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do—and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics.”

“... make agriculture more sustainable.” Speaking of myths...

No Myth Here, Move Right Along

Any propaganda machine uses the exact opposite of what is happening to bolster their argument, so it is no surprise that Monsanto uses the term, “more sustainable” in their response. One wonders how in the world they define “sustainable!” Certainly no where near the way I, or millions of others, would define it! The non—myth list:

Use of GE (genetically engineered aka GMO) crops results in:
Less diversity in our food supply inviting disaster and shortages
More pesticide use; more poison in our food supply
Less habitat for wild birds and butterflies, therefore less wildlife
More corporate control over farmers
More corporate control over our food supply
Lower nutrient content in the food we eat
Resting our entire food supply on a non-tested technology
Corruption on an unimaginable scale throughout all levels of our governments
Lawsuits for farmers that do not tow the GE line
Compromise of all alternative food production because GE crops cannot 'peacefully co-exist with GE crops because pollen is spread by natural processes over which the GE producers have no control and do nothing to mitigate the contamination
Distortion of our legal system to protect the usurpers of our national heritage of plant genetics and seed supplies.
Loss of markets for US agricultural products
Bankruptcies of farmers world wide, culminating in suicides by Indian farmers on a scale that is an international scandal.

On the positive side of the ledger, it has made several chemical companies a enough money to bribe politicians throughout the US and in many countries abroad.

Myths Exploded

In some 30 years of being in the market, not one of these corporations has released a product that has any benefit to a consumer – not more nutrition, taste, availability, cost or convenience. All of the GE seeds have only one benefit: to make money for Monsanto and other chemical companies like them that have turned our food world into a jungle of pesticides and destruction. And yet there are a few well-meaning citizens that support them, having bought the propaganda lie about needing GE food to
  • feed the world (we waste 40% of the food grown, we can already feed a population that is doubled)
  • overcome global warming (they are a part of the problem because their model depends on OIL in every facet of the GE mode of farming, from the increased pesticides and fertilizer and the conventional model of food production)
  • reduce the use of pesticides (we've seen an increase in pesticides – besides, if the PLANT itself IS the pesticide, meaning all of it including the pollen, you have remarkedly increased the pesticides – how many birds and non-target insects are destroyed by your so-called “reduced pesticides?)
  • increase of yield (the Rodale Institute's 30 year study smashes that myth by showing even conventional agriculture out produces GE crops under any circumstance – even the USDA reports that US crop production rose on improvements in conventional agriculture and had nothing to do with the introduction of GE crops in any way – and that's a USDA practically paid for by Monsanto etc themselves!)

Included in the Solution 

I am no fan of the modern farming process. It is going to become unhinged in the very near future and we will have a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Our bet on technology is so huge while we have failed to hedge those bets. I am in strong concurrence with the FAO (Food an Agriculture Organization, an arm of the UN) that has repeatedly warned that our dependence on the BIG farm and big machines and new forms of technology are leading us towards a killing field. More than ever, we are selling out the only form of sustainable agriculture – most of which occurs in the third world. For all they lack, they may well have the key which we ourselves have thrown away. The solution is in technologies that don't make technology companies rich, ironically. The solutions HAVE to include:
  • rebuilding our soils and stopping erosion of that precious layer that is left
  • ceasing all uses of pesticides and fertilizers as we now know them
  • embracing nature into our farms and gardens
  • expectation of lower yields in current productive lands and moving into less desirable lands with smaller farms and dependence on human and animal power – less on fossil fuels
  • breeding of new plants that will grow without the chemical cocktail mix used today
  • improved distribution of the food that is grown
  • teach customers to value all produce not just the blemished free 'perfect' foods
  • more food growing nearer the consumer – deliveries by non-polluting, non-fossil fueled vehicles
  • more citizen control over the food we grow and eat – less corporate control

I would like a repeal of the plant patent laws, but I doubt that will ever happen. Why there is no religious outcry over patenting life, I cannot fathom. That has got to be a sin (probably with a capital 'S') in almost every major religion in the world, yet it is now the law of the land – a law we are hastily exporting world wide.

Rock on in the 'free' world, Neil Young! By the way, do you think Donald Trump has ANY idea about the lyrics of that song? That is an odd track to choose for a Republican candidate's campaign rally.  Really odd.


Making Money Exporting Disaster

(Written on June 4th...)  As the G7 leaders prepare to meet in Bavaria this weekend, small-scale farmers from around the world call on them to abandon their disastrous plan for the corporate takeover of global agriculture and the extirpation of small-scale farmers everywhere - those who produce most of the world's food. True food security must be rooted in local control over land, seeds and water.  (

On a regular basis, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations issues reports on the production of food. Over and over, decade after decade, their findings report that small farms (mostly the work of women), hour for hour, acre for acre, produce more food (and less waste) than the massive farms of the first world. And even with this repeated confirmation, the governments of the Northern Hemisphere, aka the G7, insist on exporting their failed food production to third world countries.

Exactly the opposite of abundance, the G7's initiative
imposes a death sentence on farming in Africa.

It's all of scheme and the G7 either are in cahoots with the corporations (and getting a healthy bank account out of it) or are just flat out stupid. In either case, they are going to be culpable in the famines of the future and perhaps the deaths of millions of folks. And these folks don't get to vote on any of this.

Yet, even though they be among the most impoverished people on the planet, they will pay the price for the arrogance of those who have plenty to eat. No famine will come to knock at the door of Monsanto and other participants in America's Big Ag, or the Big Ag of Europe and the rest of them. Trying to export our model – and make profit when we get to sell seeds, fertilizers and other necessities for farming American style, when such farming is the worst farming you can have. We will not starve not because our farming is so damn good but because we have fertile soils (that are quickly becoming marginalized).

If yield is your only consideration, we do good especially if you only produce two or three different kinds of crops. But that is such a small criteria. Farming American style destroys the soil and the only reason it is still around today is because of those incredible soils and the ability we've had to move water around – but that's coming to an end soon. It is only a matter of time before that incredible topsoil of Iowa and there bouts is washed down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to cover the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

And our use of poisons in our agriculture is truly appalling and will end badly for farmers and consumers alike. There is only so much poison, regardless of which poison the science du jour is selling, you can pour on food before you have destroyed the food. Our wonderfully full grocery stores are primarily illusion that can only deceive a person for so long. All built on corn and soybeans.

The truth is our way of eating and growing what we eat rests on a razor thin margin. And the disrespect shown to our agricultural roots and history is born of the same hubris of the G7 leaders casually condemning the lifestyles of millions of people to the dustbin of history when those poor people have the only PROVEN agricultural system on the planet. It's all backwards. If you're counting on the meals of the rest of your life from the current system, I hope your older than I am and not thinking about being around in twenty years or so. This 'thing' we live with that we call our food system is not robust and not capable of handling a one-two punch from nature – and, as we see by the headlines, nature has plenty of one-two punches to give.

The Great Valley in California is salting up and doesn't have enough water to continue its current production for much longer. The soils of the mid-West are in trouble as noted above. The amounts of pesticides we put on our crops (and their increasing toxicity) will have to come to an end sooner rather than later.  Petroleum, upon which the whole thing is built, is becoming prohibitively expensive.  And then there is Global Climate Change which makes growing ANYTHING a much dicier proposition, no matter what the Senator with a snowball says or what  you believe.  You don't have to believe in gravity, but you'll still only fall DOWN.

It doesn't take even a fool more than a precursory evaluation to realize that the Ethiopian Famine in the late 1900's was caused by this very kind of meddling in the first place. If we had left the Ethiopians alone to begin with and not insisted they plant our more 'modern' wheat and other grains that required more water, ditching their more drought resistant local varieties, the drought, though bad, would not have been the wretched experience it became

Now the G7 has the rest of Africa in its sights for the same exact kind of consolidating destruction that will profit the G7 and leave Africans at the mercy of so-called aid, which is nothing more than MORE of the meddling that precipitated the famine in the first place! We, the people of the G7, are accomplices in this disaster.

The only way to true plenitude is local control of local seeds, local soil and local water. This power grab from the G7 is all of that backwards. It's an outrage and a death sentence for too many people who do not get a vote about their fate.

We, social movements, grassroots organizations and civil society organizations engaged in the defense of food sovereignty and the right to food in Africa, met at the World Social Forum in Tunis in March 2015 to unite those opposing the G8 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition'.
Social movements and organizations from Africa shared their experiences and analysis about the impacts of the New Alliance in their countries and participants from all over the world agreed to support their struggles against this threat to food sovereignty and agro-ecology.
As such, we joined the Global Convergence of Land and Water Struggles and adopted its Declaration. This statement reflects our discussions and our demands to governments engaged in the New Alliance and expresses support for the call on the G7 Presidency made by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
To endorse this statement, please write to Gino Brunswijck:


Drought And The Missing Truth

I drove in today listening to KPCC's Take Two. Not one of my favorite programs because I resent it for taking away the real news and giving me 'news light.'  That seems to be the way the American public wants things, while I really don't like all the feel-good stories as much as I would like what NPR used to do: tell me what's really happening in the world.

A bridge in Pasadena over water that used to be there.

Of course I realized some time ago the NPR I had gown to love was long gone when I heard commercials for Cargil GMOs. We had a good run NPR and I. But I AM listening, so it does mean something – the story I wanted the most was about California's drought and I listened intently.

I know a few things about water use, drought and saving water and I knew I was going to hear about the new mandatory 25% water savings. One of the highlights for me was one guest mentioning Cadillac Desert which I highly recommend for any one living in Los Angeles. The second chapter, called “The Red Queen,” probably the longest chapter in the book, is all about Los Angeles and our water. The Red Queen has to run faster and faster to stay in place.

But in this morning's discussion, like almost ALL the discussions about water in California and the drought on any station anywhere, drones on with replacing toilets, letting lawns die, even asking industry and businesses to conserve water. One guest, the same guest that mentioned Cadillac Desert, said one sentence. Something about agriculture uses 80% of the water. And that was it.

No one on the program said, “WHOA 80%?” 80% did not come up again in the rest of the segment.

Mind you, it's not just Take Two. Everyone is doing it. Everyone is saying low-flush toilets, let your lawn die and all these other mamby pamby things. You can buy a rain barrel to save maybe 5% of each rain that falls on your roof (gosh, f-i-v-e per cent....). Is it any wonder we are not prepared for a drought? Is it any wonder that most the bureaucrats are running around with their heads in a very dark place?

80% of the water usage is 'off the table?' If the 20% we are trying to get to save water save their water, no matter how much they conserve, THAT WILL ONLY MAKE A DENT in California's usage. Why are we NOT talking about the 80% that really CAN make a difference? And all the reporters and all the programs on the radio and, I assume, TV (I do not watch TV) are all on about how homeowners and apartment dwellers can save water.

STOP IT.  It's demeaning to think we can't see through the veil. 

Here's the deal: All the toilets flushing low and all the lawns that die and all the teeth brushed without the water running will not - I emphasize, WILL NOT -  change this picture enough to change this picture. It is far too peripheral. We should be talking about
  1. Million dollar corporations farming land with water that is sold to them below what it costs to produce – meaning that you and I pick up the tab for the difference.
  2. Million dollar farming corporations that buy this inexpensive water and sell it back to municipalities for a profit (that is buying low from us and selling high back to us!).
  3. Million dollar farming operations that grow alfalfa and rice and ship the products to China – California is THE largest exporter of alfalfa to China. These very thirsty crops drink lots of water which, like all irrigation water is sold below cost and we the taxpayer pick up the tab.
  4. Maybe it's not wise to plant a billion acres of almonds in California?
  5. Maybe we, the taxpayers, who have PAID for this water and continue to pay for this water, should have a say-so in what is done with this water? (On second thought, maybe not – I hate lawns in California...) I mean like, if farmers get the water at a discount, maybe we could have some input about when farmers water? When I teach about water conservation I am always accosted with anecdotal tales about water waste seen from I-5 as folks travel between LA and San Francisco – tales of throwing water high in the air at three in the afternoon – maybe we could specify drip irrigation and not Rainbirds if they are using our discounted water?
  6. Note: I am not talking about the revered family farmer on 160 acres or so. I am referring to billion dollar companies that came in and illegally stole water from a Federal government that did not give a rat's ass about how many acres they were watering (the initial reason for building the dams that supply our water was for small farmers not mega-corporations). I think we should go back to the small farmer.

The process needs to go back to the beginning. Water needs to be owned by the people as a whole. It is the property of US – society, if you will. And work forward from there – you cannot pump as much groundwater as you want because WE own it. You cannot grow alfalfa using our water. You cannot grow rice using our water. You cannot buy our water and sell our water for a profit. We will not subsidize millionaires growing crops and holding a monopoly on those crops.

None of this will happen. Our politicians, bought and sold on the free market will not face down the millionaires that bankroll their elections. Reporters, all doing soft news and ignoring real issues while plying pablum about the latest actress/actor scandal, or the wrong target of why things are bad or the football player who got his drunk self arrested – all of this is entertainment and has nothing to do with the facts we need to live in this world today.

It is too much to ask for real solutions. Rain barrels? Give me a break! We need to be putting that water back into ground water for storage for times like 2014, 2015. That water could be there for a very long time – when we have enough rain, that water should be diverted to our groundwater supplies. Probably this could be done all over California, but most certainly, where I live and teach, it MUST be done in Los Angeles. The water that flows through the LA River should be sequestered here in LA for droughts.  Have you heard a single politician suggest that kind of infrastructure?  

So we have a total lack of real leadership on this issue – and it's a pretty important issue as anyone who has gone without water for more than a day can tell you. We have no accountability of politicians because there are no real reporters holding their feet to the fire and we bumble along blaming the 20% for not changing their ways to meet the 25% reduction.

I met my 25% many years ago and so have many of my friends. But if it's just around the edges we are going to work on saving water California will fall into the ocean. We'll become dust and one solid  wind will blow us into the ocean.

Why are we not talking about this real life stuff?