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Friday, May 14, 2010

Some random environmental connections to community gardens

A couple of news items in the past few weeks deserve mention and I think an awareness of possible consequences. 
The first was an article 2 weeks ago about Super Weeds in the New York Times of May 4th, 2010.  
A couple of quotes from the article:
"Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.
“The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture when they’ve always promised, and we need to be going in, the opposite direction,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington."
So almost all of the soybeans and most of the corn grown in the USA come from Roundup Ready seeds and the weeds have evolved to resist this pesticide. Sounds like the promise of genetic engineering has not come to pass and in fact the worst nightmares of those who urged caution (like myself) have come true.
And just today in a related story, the government has approved the expansion of planting Eucalyptus trees genetically modified to tolerate colder temperatures. It is called a field test but it includes  "200,000 genetically modified eucalyptus trees on 28 sites covering about 300 acres".  Of course the USDA and the company planting the trees, ArborGen are saying that the planting of these fast growing trees will mean that the timber companies can produce more wood from fewer acres of land.
But will purposely planting an alien, invasive, fast growing species of tree outside of its normal range have unintended consequences? Oh and by the way these articles were in the business section of the newspaper, not the science section!
In more positive news more closely related to community gardens, NYC's Mayor Bloomberg shared the stage with Rachel Ray to announce her contribution to a program supporting school gardens in NYC. While the press event included way too many collaborators - a possible recipe for failure - the Mayor and others were promoting school gardens and connections between schools and community gardens.
Words we would never have heard out of their mouths just a few years ago....
Mayor Bloomberg, “From GreenThumb gardens to public housing gardens to countless community gardens, so many New Yorkers are greening our urban landscapes and greening their diets too."
and probably even more significant because he mentions the positive educational benefits of school gardens:
 NYC School Chancellor Klein. “And the gardens aren’t just about eating well. Research shows that school gardens are excellent learning environments, and students exposed to them do better on science exams.”
I sincerely hope that the programs mentioned in the last story will be wildly successful. At the same time, the potential negative environmental impacts of the first 2 stories will lead government and business to rethink those ideas in favor of more environmentally benign ones.     

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