13 facts you should know: more from "A Taste For Change" symposium at CBG

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Sat, 02/17/2007 - 14:33.

A week has past since I attended "A Taste For Change" a symposium on sustainable food at CBG, but it still has me thinking.

The keynote speaker, Jerry Brunetti was quoted in the PD this past week in an article about the benefits of a diet low in processed foods and refined sugars. I was disappointed that the symposium was barely mentioned. If you have read my two previous postings you know that I have been praising this event. I found the dialogs daring, extremely educational and inspiring.

The speakers and panelists presented the audience with a lot of fascinating and startling facts during the day. Often the same facts kept appearing in different talks. One of the speakers even joked about it.

I compiled a list of some of the most interesting facts I heard, things I thought everyone in NEO should know.


1. Approximately 800 million people in the world are under nourished and 1 billion people are over nourished.

2.  8-9 billion lbs of pesticides per year are used in the U.S., this equals approximately 30 lbs per person. (What are we using all the pesticides for? see fact #3 below.)

3. 80% of Earths biodiversity is microbial, 50% of Earths biomass is microbial. (And we thought the war in Iraq was a loosing battle!)  

4. Three crops: corn, rice, and wheat represent 2/3 of U.S. agriculture. 

5. The U.S. Farm Bill essentially subsidizes junk food, they subsidize crops like corn, wheat and soy but not carrots, broccoli etc. They also subsidize feed lot beef but not grass fed beef.

6. The USDA says there is no nutritional difference between foods grown on factory farms and foods grown on organic and sustainable smaller farms. This is not true. For example, cattle that are allowed to eat grass produce meat with substantially more vitamin A. Free range eggs are also typically more nutritious. 

7. Sugar is more addictive than nicotine or alcohol. 

8. Americans are remarkably unhealthy for living in a rich 1st world country. Americans have relatively high rates of depression, obesity, hearth disease,  diabetes, cancer, infertility, asthma and allergies and we rank #20 in infant mortality.

9. Issues with farm solutions: human health, obesity, child behavior, animal health

10. In 1960 there were 6.6 million U.S. farms, in 2000 there were 1.9 million. Susidies forced out smaller farms because the greater the number of farmers there are the more political power they have. Big business does not want farmers to have political power.

11. The newly drafted Iraq constitution states that GM (genetically modified) foods must be used. The man organizing Iraq's nearly formed department of agriculture is a Cargill executive.

12. In Boston, a program called The Food Project offered free soil tests of vegetable gardens in residential inner city neighborhoods. 88% test unsafe because of high lead levels.

13.  Americans have become less resistant to bacteria because of current farming and food preparation practices. In the past, a life time of exposure to bacteria through gardening, raising animals, and preparing foods from scratch created stronger immune systems.



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Wonder what %age of NEO gardens have lead

These are all very interesting/disturbing, but the thing that really has me thinking is the 88% of Boston inner city gardens being unsafe because of high lead levels. I assume that is the case with Cleveland as well - so what about the inner ring, like Lakewood and the Heights? And what is the harm caused by such gardens? Getting lead on you and your family from the garden itself, and the dust entering the home, for sure. What about absorption and pick-up of lead by food grown in the garden. Is there food that is safe to grow in such soil?

Disrupt IT

What to do with lead contaminated soil

Wil Bullock the speaker from the Boston Food Project had some answers to your question, as did some members of the panel and the audience. First it depends on how contaminated your soil is. The EPA considers below 400 parts per mil safe for growing food, some other organizations say 300. That said, 26% of soil tests in Boston were over 1,100 pp mil. Root vegetables, potatoes, carrots, raddishes, etc are the worst to grow in contaminated soil. Other types of vegetable can be grown in less contaminated soil. Covering over contaminated soil currently seems to be the best (easiest and least expensive) solution. There are plants that draw lead out of the soil, but then there is the problem of what to do with them once their lifecycle is over -- there is always the risk that they will get into the food chain somehow. The Boston Food Project gives free compost to cover contaminated soil. Once the soil is covered suffiently plants can be grow in the top layers. I am not sure how deep this must be or what happens if some of the roots eventually reach the contaminated soil. I know some herbs and vegetables have deep roots. The composting in Boston sounded like a successful program, but I wondered how much was need to cover a typical backyard garden and how it got there. Not every inner city family with a little plot for gardening has access to a pickup truck to haul compost to make their garden safe. Bullock did not say if they made deliveries. Lynn Gregor, one of the panelists who works with Cleveland community gardens, said that the community gardens here have been tested for lead and other contaminents, and most were safe according to the tests. She also said that currently they are recommending covering contaminated soil rather than growing lead extracting plants for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

Lead Contaminated Soil

I was one of the aforementioned audience members at this Botanical Gardens Food Symposium and found it particularly interesting.  An excellent thread which addreses this topic can be found at:


The Bioneers organization I mention via follow-up comment (at thread's end) mentions the potential fungi / mushrooms have to remediate toxins and serve as natural pesticides. An interesting fact is that though the mushroom becomes toxic as a result of the shroom's diligent duty - it actually serves as an agent which simultaneously compacts and traps the toxicity.  To illustrate, one particular strain of fungi (Paul has plethora of patented strains) can handle many orders of magnitude in volume of soil so these 'soldier 'shrooms of sustainability' really can accomplish great things.   As technology chair for our local Bioneers organization -http://bioneers.org - I feel I have an important role to play in fostering collaboration between various technology providers across technological disciplines to promote and foster sustainability.  Among the many technologies we will incorporate those which integrate with our earth's natural processes (biomimicry) - including vermicomposting (digesting waste with red wigglers ) and aquaculture (http://www.realneo.org/node/3203). 

For a great read on this subject - specifically the role fungi can play in meaningful, natural, and cost-effective bio-remediation check out 'How Mushrooms can Save the World' by Paul Stamets ( http://www.amazon.com/Mycelium-Running-Mushrooms-Help-World/dp/1580085792).  This text was heralded at this Food Justice event by our venerable sustainability champion and Bioneers Chair Nancy King Smith along with our local Beaming Bioneers conference scheduled for later this year at the CSU Levin Forum (http://realneo.org/image/great-lakes-bioneers-cleveland-planning-retreat-a-success)

Look for more detailed commentary and insights regarding the Food Symposium at CBG very soon.