It’s one of those truths that you’d rather not know. That bright red, orange, and green gelatin you slurped down as a child is actually made from animals. Vegans avoid it like the plague because it’s derived from the collagen in an animal’s skin and bones. But what if it was made from humans? How do you categorize it then?
The process the researchers perfected actually involves taking human gelatin genes and inserting them into a strain of yeast. With their technology they were able to grow gelatin with controllable features.
Though I’d be interested to know where the genes are derived. According to Science Daily, not only would this prevent the use of gelatin made from innumerable animals, it would also eliminate the risk of Mad Cow disease in addition to creating a predictable source of gelatin. Working with animal based gelatin is at times unpredictable because you don’t know how the end product will turn out.
Human-based gelatins are actually being studied for use in drug capsules and other medical applications for the most part, though marshmallows and neon gelatin molds are what I initially envisioned.
This is right up there with meat substitutes made from poop. I’m not sure how you categorize it either. It’s not plant-based but it’s not animal-based either. Or maybe it is animal-based depending on where you place humans. But don’t worry, you’re not eating your neighbor here.
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This summer has thus far been brutal across the nation. Drought and high temperatures are making life difficult for farmers and ranchers alike. And it’s no surprise that widespread drought in Texas specifically is causing the deaths of cattle, but the reason behind it is certainly unexpected. According to the Associated Press and seen on Accuweather.com, the deaths are caused by too much water. Cattle aren’t dehydrated in the way you would expect. Instead, they drink too much.
The latest GM crop up for deregulation is Monsanto’s drought resistant corn. Although much of the nation’s corn crop is genetically modified for pests and herbicides, this will be the first GM crop approved for drought resistance. Monsanto wants approval fast because with drought becoming a growing problem throughout the country, there’s big money in getting this seed to market. But the problem is the USDA has openly stated that the new GM corn doesn’t work as well as many natural corn varieties already on the market.
Drought has become a growing problem across the globe and the United States especially has been hit hard. According to the New York Times:
In North America, up to 40 percent of crop-loss insurance claims are due to heavy or moderate drought, according to some estimates. Worldwide, corn-growing regions lose about 15 percent of their annual crop to drought, and losses run much higher in severe conditions
There’s big money is selling a GM corn crop to desperate farmers. Even bigger money considering that the seeds are patented and can’t be replanted so Monsanto gets paid by farmers year after year. But it’s unclear to me why when the USDA has openly said that the seed doesn’t perform well, would they want it on the market. According to the USDA as seen on the New York Times:
“The reduced yield [trait] does not exceed the natural variation observed in regionally-adapted varieties of conventional corn,” the report says, adding that “Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions.”
The USDA deems the crop safe for the environment and for humans though according to Natural News, it has never been tested on humans. So in the end the USDA will likely approve a corn for deregulation that’s both ineffective, could cause contamination with non-gm varieties, and we’re not sure the impact on humans down the road. This is especially scary considering that already approved GM corn crop varieties have been shown to cause organ damage in mammals.
The USDA is currently taking comments on Monsanto’s petition so get your opinion in.
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More on GM Crop Deregulation
USDA Moving to Deregulate Genetically Modified Plums
Country By Country GMO Breakdown: Guess Who Has By FAR The Most
USDA Allows GMO Sugar Beet Planting Even After a Landmark Court Decision Says No
If there’s ever a story that hit me hard, it was this one. I wrote about Catherine Ferguson Academy last year. It was the subject of the groundbreaking documentary Grown in Detroit. The school is one of only a few left in the country for pregnant girls or girls with children giving them the opportunity to stay in school. More than that, the school has taken advantage of the abundance of vacant land in Detroit by teaching the girls to farm. It’s a stable trade which brings local nourishment to a struggling community all with one program. And now thanks to a unilateral decision which according to Civil Eats, “allows Michigan governor Rick Snyder to dismiss locally elected officials and put in place new ones,” the school is on the chopping block and will close this summer, leaving the girls with nowhere to go.
The students at Catherine Ferguson Academy turned a small garden on their playground into a sizeable organic plot complete with apple trees, horses, pigs, and goats. In a country where, according to the movie, 90 percent of moms drop out of school because they get pregnant, there are far too few opportunities left for these young moms.
Pregnant Teens With No Place to Turn
These girls, on the other hand, have the opportunity to graduate and go to college. In fact, 90 percent of Catherine Ferguson girls graduate and they are taught with the expectation that they will go to college, according to Civil Eats. It’s downright incredible. If this isn’t working, than I don’t know what is.
Students are taught to harvest, weed, clear a bed, and market the produce that they sell from the farm. See, that’s the key. They’re not just taught how to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, and produce honey, they are taught how to market the goods that they grow.
Rachel Maddow reports on new laws which dismiss public officials and replace them without election while closing a school that’s working without any push back. And a police department which arrests young pregnant girls protesting and then turns the sirens so loud that reporters can’t hear what the girls are saying.
Watch Rachel Maddow:
If you’d like to support the school, you can sign the petition.
The U.S. is already cultivating 165 million acres of genetically modified crops, up 7 million acres from just two years ago. Modified seeds and large monocultures in general, are monopolizing our nation’s agriculture system like never before and crop after crop are deemed “safe” by the USDA. We’re headed full speed down a dark, winding road and it seems we’re driving blindfolded. And most recently, according to a story on Grist, the USDA is starting a new program which will outsource environmental impact statements on biotech crops to the GMO industry. Obviously, biotech companies are thrilled with the idea.
Once the industry conducts its own crop environmental impact statements, which will no doubt paint a glowing picture of each Round Up Ready gem, it will present the assessment to the USDA in the hopes that they will approve the assessment.
According to Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization Oregon-based ag journal Capitol Press,
Under the agency’s new two-year pilot project, biotech developers would conduct their own environmental assessment of transgenic crops or pay contractors to perform the analysis.
Currently, officials at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are responsible for the studies.
Federal environmental law requires the agency to complete such reviews before deregulating biotech crops.
The goal of the new pilot program is to make the process more timely and efficient, according to APHIS.
The program will most certainly be “more timely and efficient,” for a biotech industry that has gained 7 million acres of crop cultivation in two years, but it’s scary for our food system. This is no surprise considering the USDA’s treatment of GMO sugar beets, announcing that farmers were allowed to grow genetically modified sugar beets this season, “while it finishes work on a full environmental impact statement on the beets’ effect on other crops and the environment.” Later, a court repealed Judge Jeffrey White’s ruling that GMO sugar beets be destroyed because the risk of gene contamination in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was so great. According to Grist, Judge White warned that environmental impact statements on crops were being conducted too fast, and now with this new pilot program it seems the process will go faster than ever.
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More on GMOs
5 of the Newest and Craziest Genetically Modified Foods (3 Are Animals)
What Does the Frankenfish Scandal Tell Us About GMO Labeling?
Why Other Countries Are Scared of GMOs and We’re Not
Country By Country GMO Breakdown: Guess Who Has By FAR The Most
Whether it’s my post on learning top-bar hive beekeeping online, the efforts of the Barefoot Beekeeper, or the Bee Whisperer’s experiments in alternative beekeeping, there seems to be an appetite out there for information on top-bar hives and other natural beekeeping methods. And while many traditionalists will argue that there is nothing wrong with the status quo, with Colony Collapse Disorder continuing to wreak havoc on honey bees around the world, it only makes sense to keep an open mind about alternative approaches to beekeeping.
Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping Basics
For anyone looking to learn the basics, the Wikipedia entry on top-bar hives is a great place to start. Like many sustainable solutions, the top-bar hive is by no means a new idea. In fact, the concept is thought to be several thousand years old. Most modern top bar hives are found in Africa, but they are also becoming increasingly popular with hobbyists in the West.
Unlike the conventional Langstroth hive—which features rigidly spaced pre-drawn frames into which bees build their honeycomb—the top bar hive allows honey bees to build and space their own honeycomb by attaching it to wooden “top bars” (hence the name). Top bar hives tend to be elongated, horizontal constructions—a feature which greatly aids ease of inspection, but is also thought to make them less suited to colder climates due to increased heat loss.
Top Bar Hive Plans and Construction
One of the biggest benefits that advocates of the top bar hive tout is ease of construction and economics. In fact, a top bar hive can be constructed at a fraction of the cost of a traditional bee hive. Phillip Chandler, author of the Barefoot Beekeeper, has created free top bar hive plans and instructions The video below from OutOfaBlueSky offers an easy-to-follow guide to construction.
Top Bar Hives for Sale
For those not wanting, or not able, to construct their own hive, The Backyard Hive offers pre-constructed, hand crafted top bar hives for sale at $295. Featuring a full-length viewing window that allows for easy, non-invasive inspections of the hive, it certainly looks like a beautiful piece of equipment. (Plans of the Backyard Hive top bar design are also available for a small fee.)
Image credit: Backyard Hive
Top Bar Hive Beekeeping Advantages
Beyond ease of construction, according to advocates the primary advantages of top bar hives are that they allow for a gentler, less invasive approach to beekeeping. Because of the horizontal design, no heavy lifting is involved when inspecting the hive and only small amounts of the colony are exposed at a time. (Designs that feature inspection windows may eliminate the need to open the hive at all for inspection.)
This is also true of harvest time, when honey is removed by taking individual frames rather than an entire honey “super”. This is, say top bar enthusiasts, much less of a shock to the bees. In fact, many top bar and natural beekeepers claim that through gentler, non-invasive beekeeping methods, and through nurturing and selecting bees with good survivor genes, it is possible to avoid medicating or feeding bees entirely.
Below is a video of one top bar enthusiast inspecting his honey bees ten days after installing his bees.
Top Bar Hive Drawbacks
With glowing praise for top bar hives to be found all over the internet, it might be hard to understand why they are not more common. The primary reason, it would seem, is that they are not well suited to larger scale honey production, nor to transportation of bees for pollination. Because the hives lack frames, the honey can not be extracted by means of centrifuge—so the usual choice is to produce comb honey—essentially honey that is presented still in its wax comb, usually smothered with liquid honey on top, and which is considered a high-value delicacy by some. Alternatively, honey can be drained from the comb by dripping it into a container, but this takes time and produces less end product than if a centrifuge was used.
Because top bar hives don’t include a honey super—a box that is placed on top of the main hive bodies in a traditional Langstroth hive—it is just not possible to remove the same amounts of honey as from a conventional hive. But that, for many, is precisely the point. With the role of honeybees as key partners in pollination, many “natural” or “organic” beekeepers argue that we should only take small amounts of honey, and consider it a bonus not a primary harvest.
The other potential drawback for top-bar hives is hinted at in the reason the Langstroth hive was developed in the first place. Because bees have a tendency to fill up any unused space with honeycomb and propolys (a glue-like substance), Langstroth developed his hive to feature precise spacing that would not give bees the urge to “build on”. Top bar hive advocates, however, claim that the sloping sides of their hives serve the same purpose—apparently bees do not like to attach comb to sloping surfaces.
Warré Bee Hives
When I wrote about an online course in top-bar hive beekeeping, many commenters suggested that I should also check out Warré hives. According to biobees.com, Warré hives were developed by frenchman Abbé Émile Warré (1867-1951) as a response to the decline in beekeeping he had seen since his youth. Focusing on economical construction (the hive is also known as the People’s Hive), and natural, non-invasive techniques, the Warré hive also allows bees to build and space their own honeycomb, and is said to provide better ventilation than a traditional hive.
Many commercially available Warre hives, like the one featured in an earily silent yet very informative video below, also include viewing windows to allow for non-invasive inspections.
In many ways, the Warré hive seems to be a compromise between the horizontal top bar hive and the more vertical Langstroth hives. Hive bodies are placed on top of each other, but additional bodies are placed underneath as the year progresses—preventing the need for opening the hive. An insulated top also aids heat retention, and may make the Warré hive a better choice for more northerly climates.
Natural Beekeeping and Honey Bee Resources
As always, there is lots more to learn about natural, sustainable beekeeping than can be shared in a blog post like this. Beginners, enthusiasts and the just plain curious would do well to check out The Barefoot Beekeeper’s website, as well as the book, also entitled The Barefoot Beekeeper. The folks behind the Backyard Hive have also produced a DVD about top bar hive beekeeping, also called The Backyard Hive. It is said to cover everything from setting up a hive to installing bees to harvesting honey and much more. And finally, anyone in the UK in August might want to consider attending the UK’s first natural beekeeping conference in Worcestershire.
Beekeepers Opinions Wanted!
As a self-confessed failed beekeeper, I make no claims to being an expert. One thing I have learned over the years is that beekeepers are as diverse as they are opinionated. I would love to hear from top bar and Warré hive enthusiasts and critics alike. Share your experiences, insights, corrections and opinions below—and be sure to include any other resources that we should be made aware of.
More on Top Bar Hives, Warré Hives, Honey Bees and Natural Beekeeping
Natural, Sustainable Beekeeping with the Barefoot Beekeeper
The Bee Hive Redesigned: New Hive for Urban Bees
Learn Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping Online
Help the Bee Whisperer’s Experiments with Honey Bees
I may be licking my wounds as a failed beekeeper, but with Colony Collapse Disorder continuing to decimate the global bee population, none of us can afford to ignore the plight of the honey bees. Whether you have plans to keep bees or not, understanding the importance of this eco art is crucial for us all. I’ve just come across one of the best video introductions to beekeeping I have ever seen. It’s a must see for everyone who eats.
Image credit: TreemediaGroup
When the makers of the End of Suburbia filmed Brother Nature Farm in Detroit, it was an inspiring first-hand account of how urban agriculture activists are working to feed the Motor City. While the slicker models of city farming may have some people worried, and while others are arguing that downtown should be for people not food production, it seems that the new generation of city farmers are filling a vital niche—building community, making use of derelict property, and helping families hit by economic struggles actually survive. A new film sets out to tell their story.
It’s easy to get lost in academic discussions about what’s the best form of sustainable land use, what are the most appropriate models for downtown revitalization and community development, and how do we grow food with peak oil potentially just around the corner.
Yet while all of these topics are important, it’s also crucial not to lose sight of the fact that there are real people on the ground in cities around the world, doing what they can do with the resources available to them. Urban Roots is a documentary created to tell their stories. This isn’t about some theoretical construct of sustainability. It’s about rising food prices, volatile economies, and the fact that when people get together to grow food and build community, amazing things can happen.
More on Urban Farming in Detroit
Future Farming in Detroit or Spectacular Speculation?
Urban Farming, Community Resilience, and the Death of the Motor Industry (Video)
Self-Sufficient Detroit? Urban Food Revolution in Motor City
Detroit Charity Turns Wasteland Into Farms
From Seedy Sunday’s massive seed swap to the celebration of potato day, now is definitely the time of year we turn our thoughts to biodiversity in the garden. And while we continue to get excited about seed libraries as works of art, and even a seed library in an actual library, I’m amazed that I have yet to come across what looks like the most awesome seed bank in the world. Besides an amazing stock of traditional, heirloom seeds, and an evident obsession with our common genetic heritage, what makes the seed bank of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds so special is, well, that it is an actual bank!
Located in the Sonoma County National Bank building, the Petaluma Seed Bank is, without doubt, one of the nicest looking seed stores I have ever seen. Stocking over “1,200 varieties of heirloom seeds, garlic, tools, books, and hundreds of local hand-made gifts and food items”, it’s clear that this is not a case of style over substance either.
But what really brings it all together for me is founder Jeremiah “Jere” Gettle’s passion for, and knowledge of, traditional seeds and their role in keeping us all alive. Check out the video below from Chow—the same people who brought us footage of urban farming and backyard slaughter in West Oakland—to get more on Gettle’s approach to seed saving, gardening, and even how, why and if to smuggle seeds into the country.
Inspiring, visionary stuff. And a great video too.
More on Biodiversity in the Garden
A Community-Run Seed Library: Shouldn’t Every Library Include One?
Public Library Includes Seed Lending Library (Video)
A Seed Library That’s a Work of Art, Literally
Can the Potato Feed the World?
It’s Potato Day in England
Massive Seed Swap Keeps Biodiversity Growing
From starting a community supported bakery, through neighbors removing fences and starting gardens, to exploring permaculture farming at 9000 feet, Peak Moment TV has had some great, in-depth coverage of people who are trying to change our food system. Their latest offering is no exception, looking at what happens you create 25 small groups to discuss food values and issues, and include a local farmer or food producer in each one. It turns out that people change their eating habits, and they actually start talking to each other too.
Created by the Northwest Earth Institute, a Menu for the Future was created as a series of small-scale discussion groups centered around the topic of food, farming and eating. In this episode of Peak Moment, Janaia Donaldson talks to co-facilitators Judy Alexander, Dick Bergeron and Peter Bates about how the groups came about, and what difference they made.
The nice thing that strikes me about this program is the spirit of open learning that was expected from all sides. This was not about city-dwelling organic enthusiasts trying to convert their farmers, nor is it about farmers telling the city folk how it really is. But rather it is an open, constructive dialogue about any and everything that might impact the future of our food.
More from Peak Moment TV
a href=”http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/02/how-to-start-community-supported-bakery.php”>How to Start a Community Supported Bakery
When Neighbors Remove Fences and Start Gardens (Video)
exploring Permaculture Farming at 9000 Feet (Video)
Living Simply as an Alternative American Dream (Video)