Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Updates From This Summer

It's been a bit of a quiet summer for us at Cultivating Community. That didn't stop us from having fun, though! Here are some updates:

The Cultivating Community Garden, before planting

Catherine and Masha planting pole beans, which ended up being eaten by the bunnies.

Those darn bunnies - if only they weren't so cute!

We tried a bunch of natural pest control, like these ladybugs we ordered for the garden!

The home we made for the ladybugs. Unfortunately, they didn't stay, despite bountiful food (aphids).

Allyson applying "garlic tea" to young pac choi plants.

Catherine making a garlic/pepper spray to put on the cabbage.

Companion planting can also be used to help with pest control. Borage, pictured here, is a companion plant for strawberries, tomatoes, and squash. Added bonus - the flowers are edible!

We took a couple field trips. We went to Rowe's Produce Farm in Ypsilanti, MI. It was great! We all came home with big flats full of sweet berries. Mine were all gone within a week, since I made two strawberry rhubarb pies. Some attendees still have some frozen a couple months later!

We went to the 16th Annual Tour of Detroit Urban Gardens & Farms and went on a tour called "Fresh Perspectives," which was about youth gardens. At Feedom Freedom, a girl explained the container of straw at the opening of the bee hive. The bees need to be able to drink, but if you just give them a container full of water, they can drown. The straw helps them out.

The Genesis Lutheran Church Garden, where high school students learn important business skills by taking care of the garden and selling their produce at a farm stand.

The kids at Focus: HOPE were happy to help us out in the garden. They showed off their knowledge of what plants need on the first day, giving us answers like "carbon dioxide" and talking about using fish as fertilizer.

Russia planting cucumber in the pickle bed.

Khari, Bradley, and Kobe eating homemade salsa with chips donated from the Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory.

We love our volunteers! Thanks to everyone who helped out in the garden this summer.

Shelby found a pumpkin.

Will cooked up some chard.

Theresa harvested some garlic scapes.

And the garden was beautiful!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Why I am the Proud Owner of 1/50th of a Cow

I want to tell you about Bertha. Bertha is a cow, and I own 1/50th of her. Every three weeks we visit. I wave at Bertha from afar, she flicks her tail at me. Then I take home some of her milk.

Bertha's milk is not pasteurized. I own a part of her because it's illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in Michigan. I have a Farm Cow Sale and Boarding Agreement which proves I own Bertha. The contract also allows the farm to board her with my permission, and excuses the farm from any responsibility in my choice to drink raw milk. Since I am not technically buying the milk from the farm, but receiving it as a benefit of my ownership, the government cannot intervene in the milk purchase. Supposedly.

There is a dominant narrative about health in the United States. This narrative supports healing through technology. This narrative says technology helps us live better and longer. This narrative says old ways are backward, slow and dangerous. It asks that we please trust science.

Now,  I like science. Many scientific advances truly serve the public good. But I do see a connection between science, politics and business. And because of this connection, it is crucial that we evaluate whether or not scientific and technological advances are actually used for the public interest.

Does USDA-approved Milk Serve the Public Interest?
By studying homogenization, pasteurization, and dairy cow treatment, it is clear that modern milk is a profitable industry. The more processed a food, the more lucrative.1 The same is true for milk. Milk is homogenized, pasteurized, transported, graded, packed, labeled, and stored before used. The purpose of homogenization is to create a milk product where the cream doesn't separate. The homogenization process involves separating out the cream to make the desired amount of milk fat. Then pressure is applied to break down the fat so the milk all looks the same. Milk producers need a lot of complicated machinery 2 3 and often chemicals 4 to get the job done. Pasteurization, which involves heating milk to kill pathogenic bacteria, also requires extensive machinery. 5 Companies discover, build, patent then sell these chemicals and machines for a high profit.

The way cows are raised, fed and kept healthy also generate a profit. As true in many industries, it is possible to make more money with increased output. The dairy industry discovered in 1994 how to get more with less. Scientists created a new synthetic growth hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which increases milk yields by 10-25%. 6 7 Monsanto makes around 300 million in annual sales for Posilac, the companies version of rBGH, or 5% of the companies earnings. 8 The use of Posilac is lucrative for Monsanto. Unfortunately, the growth hormones and living conditions predispose the cow to sickness. Dairy cows have a 25% greater chance of developing clinical mastitis due to rBGH. 9 In response to this risk, dairy farmers give cows antibiotics. The antibiotic industry was initially very profitable. However, since antibiotic treatments tend to only last 10-14 days, many pharmaceutical companies are closing anti-bacterial development departments in favor of more lucrative medicines which treat chronic illnesses, like heart disease. 10There are still around 7 major drug companies which produce antibiotics. It can cost around $800 million and take over 15 years to research, test and produce the drug.11 Perhaps because of the fact that the antibiotic industry is not as profitable as chronic illness, drug producers continue to push the use of antibiotics in dairy farms. Despite current profits, or lack thereof, there are clear economic incentives for extensive processing in favor of just drinking milk from the udder.

"Frankenfood": Why US Milk Banned in Europe
What I believe is that when it comes to “food science,” we in the U.S. have created what Europe calls “Frankenfood.”12 Countries around the world question the safety of milk produced in the U.S. Europe and Canada ban milk from the United States.13 The U.N.'s main food safety body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, refused to endorse the safety of rBGH. Though the U.S. government argues that dairy cattle health risks are “manageable,” 14 I have decided that I no longer want to just “manage” my health. In my opinion, more healthful ways of drinking milk and eating in general exist. 

Dairy Laws: for Safety or Control?
Unfortunately, the federal government doesn't believe I am smart enough to make that choice on my own. Dr. Richard Raymond, the former Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA from 2005-2008, works currently as a food safety and public health consultant. He writes that “laws are written for a reason, usually to help keep us safe.” Because laws are written exclusively to keep people safe, and the FDA and USDA are here to protect our health, no parent should be allowed to feed their child raw milk.15I must admit, I am pretty dubious of anyone who says, without a trace of irony, that laws are always written with only constituents' safety in mind.

Criminalization of Raw Milk
Though many people find ways around restrictive raw milk regulations, legal cow shares can still be criminalized. When I first contacted the farm about raw milk early this fall, it was the most intense conversation I have ever had about milk. The farm owner, Deb, launched into a really long story about Richard Hebron, the owner of a cow share operation in Michigan. His constituents signed Cow Share contracts similar to mine. Partial owners of fractional cows, these raw milk drinkers were well informed about their choice. It seemed Hebron's business was within the boundaries of the law. In 2006, however, a sting operation stopped him on a Michigan highway. Undercover agricultural agents had followed Hebron for a year, gathering evidence against him. Hebron traveled with unlabeled bottles of milk, and this was the loophole which undid his business. Apparently you can't transport liquid in unlabeled bottles. That night in 2006 the sting operation confiscated seven thousand dollars worth of raw dairy.1 Hebron's case, now before the court in Detroit, is considered a “federal criminal investigation.” 16

Access to Alternatives: Inequity, and Food Justice
But here I am now with my cow share, happily drinking coffee with raw milk and making raw milk ice cream and sharing my raw milk with all my grad school friends. Aren't I happy? Isn't this what I wanted?

Yes and No. I am happy that I have such easy access, but not everyone does. Not everyone has a car to drive out to the farm to pick up the milk, or the time, or the money. I feel satisfied knowing that I took my health into my own hands, but discouraged by the hurdles that most others face. For the time being, I hope to grow the good food movement with the amazing students who keep Cultivating Community up and running, and hang out with Bertha. 


1 The Domestic Foodscapes of Young Low-Income Women in Montreal: Cooking Practices in the Context of an Increasingly Processed Food Supply Health Educ Behav April 2010 37: 211-226, first published on August 18, 2009 doi: 10.1177/1090198109339453 

2 Homogenizer Systems, GEA Process Engineering, Inc., accessed December 15, 2012, http://www.niroinc.com/gea_liquid_processing/homogenizer_systems.asp

3 GEA Niro Soravi, accesed December 16, 2012, http://www.niro-soavi.com/applications/dairy.html

4 Pieter Walstra, Jan T. M. Wouters, Tom J. Geurts, Dairy Science and Technology, Taylor and Francis Group, LLC (2006): 290, accessed December 15, 2012 on google books: http://books.google.com/books?id=qxdmN8JoW 4C&pg=PA290&lpg=PA290&dq=surfactants+homogenized+milk&source=bl&ots=b_n7CDmRT_&sig=2zoVK71ENk5DGoAWsNcuc5I5Bg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gjHPUL7BDIWm9gS_2YHwDw&ved=0CEAQ6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=surfactants%20homogenized%20milk&f=false

5 Pasteurization Systems, GEA Process Engineering, Inc., accessed December 15, 2012, http://www.niroinc.com/gea_liquid_processing/pasteurization.asp

6 Alex Pulaski, “Hormone fuels a fight in Tillamook,” Oregonian, February 27, 2005, accessed December 16, 2012.

7 M. Boutinaud, C. Rouseau, DH Keisler, H Jammes, “Growth hormone and milking frequency act differently on goat mammary gland in late lactation,” Journal of Dairy Science [2003, 86 (2): 509-520], PMID:12647957

8 Thomas Klink, “rBGH and the (mis)Use of Science,” Macalester College (2008) http://www.macalester.edu/academics/environmentalstudies/students/projects/citizenscience2008/rbgh/ActorMotivations.html

9 Kate Huffling, “The Effects of Environmental Contaminants in Food on Women's Health,” Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, v. 1, issue 1, (2006): 19-25, DOI:10.1016/j.jmwh.2005.08.019 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/doi/10.1016/j.jmwh.2005.08.019/full

10 Deborah Gouge, “Big Pharma Abandons Antibiotics: An Opening for Small Biotech,” Seeking Alpha, May 13, 2012, accessed December 15, 2012, http://seekingalpha.com/article/584871-big-pharma-abandons-antibiotics-an-opening-for-small-biotech

13 Deborah Gouge, “Big Pharma Abandons Antibiotics: An Opening for Small Biotech,” Seeking Alpha, May 13, 2012, accessed December 15, 2012, http://seekingalpha.com/article/584871-big-pharma-abandons-antibiotics-an-opening-for-small-biotech

12 Jeremy Stahl, “Death of 'Frankenfood': Is the GMO debate growing up in Europe just as it devolves in the United States?,” Slate, June 14, 2012, accessed December 14, 2012, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/06/frankenfood_debate_over_gmos_in_europe_and_the_united_states_.html
13 Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., “Milk: America's Health Problem,” Cancer Prevention Coalition, accessed December 14, 2012, http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/general/milk.htm
14 "U.S. And Europe Agree to Disagree on Safety of Dairy Hormone: Action by U.N. Food Body Means Disputes About Safety of Hormone in Milk Will Linger," Consumers Union, June 30, 1999, accessed December 14, 2012, http://www.consumersunion.org/food/bghny899.htm

15 Wendy Cole, “Got Raw Milk? Be Very Quiet,” Time Magazine, March 13, 2007, accessed December 14, 2012, http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1598525,00.html

16 David Gumpert, “Obama Administration Continues Attacks on Small Raw Milk Dairy Farmers,” Health Impact News, accessed December 14, 2012, http://healthimpactnews.com/2011/obama-administration-continues-attacks-on-small-raw-milk-dairy-farmers/
Students with Cultivating Community on a Raw Milk Field Trip in November, 2012. Photo credit: Isaac Epstein
Bertha. Photo credit: Isaac Epstein

Friday, October 5, 2012

Drip Irrigation

This past Monday, October 1st, Cultivating Community had a workshop on drip irrigation. We disassembled our current system for the winter. Winterization is really important in places where there is, well, winter. Imagine leaving plastic tubing filled with water in your garden then dropping the temperature and dumping snow on top of it. Not a good idea. It's like freezing snakes and expecting them to come back to life during the spring thaw. I know it worked for Austin Powers. It doesn't work for plastic.

We also removed our rain barrels and turned them upside-down to avoid them filling with water. We wrapped the plastic drip tubing and stored it carefully in the shed. It's on my wish-list to put up some kind of shelving system so we can organize things more neatly.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plant Identification the Artistict Way

I am not a scientist and have limited scientific experience with horticulture and botany. I do know a lot about plants, though, and what makes them happy. I also know a lot about the power of art as a means of honing observational skills, and the role observation plays in learning.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines science specifically as “a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systemized observation of and experiments with phenomena, especially concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe."

A lot of the student volunteers have questions about which plants are which. It's confusing at first because all the plants look like a sea of green. We spend very little time in educational settings or otherwise just sitting and staring at plants. Observation is an educational skill often elbowed out in curricula trying to meet standardized benchmarks. I think it's one of the more critical learning methods. As children we learn to walk by watching the bigger people around us before stumbling about on our own unsteady feet. I learned to make Greek yogurt by watching my YiaYia strain the whey with an old pillowcase. We can similarly learn the differences between plants by observing the details that distinguish them from others.

Garnet, Pat and Harry at work observing in the garden.

Garnet is excited about Zebra tomatoes!
For our workshop on plant identification each volunteer drew a plant with which they were unfamiliar. Braeden had the excellent idea of drawing two plants he had a difficult time telling apart. The results were impressive and we plan on making some greeting cards with the fabulous results.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Composting 101

Happy fall and welcome back, gardeners!

The second work day went swimmingly. Volunteers learned about composting, which was great since our compost needed a little love. We moved all the almost-finished compost that looks pretty much like dirt into the bin on the far right. The new compost will be in the far left bin. Help us out by dumping your foods scraps in the left bin and layering on top with some dead leaves found in the middle bin. A special shout-out to Pat and Garnet who shoveled compost for over an hour!

Some volunteer questions:

  • Q: Will cabbage continue to produce leaves over time, even if it's ripe?

  • A: Here's what I found. The 9th and final stage in cabbage growth is called the mature stage. The cabbage head reaches a diameter of approximated 15-30 cm. There is no visible leaf production after the head has reached the maximum size and hardness. The cabbage head should be harvested soon otherwise it may split.

  • Q: How much carbon or nitrogen is in each food scrap?

  • A: I have uploaded a useful chart from composting 101 onto this website so everyone can use it as a reference.

Estimated Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratios

Browns = High Carbon


Ashes, wood


Cardboard, shredded


Corn stalks


Fruit waste




Newspaper, shredded


Peanut shells


Pine needles






Wood chips


Greens = High Nitrogen






Coffee grounds


Food waste


Garden waste


Grass clippings








Vegetable scraps




Some volunteer suggestions for future workshops:

  • How does drip irrigation work?

We have a rain barrel and drip irrigation system set up already, so we can definitely go over how and why that works.

Again, thanks Hannah, Patrick, Braeden, Garnet, Harry, Kristen, Rebecca, Dan and Diana for all your help!!! Look forward to seeing you again.

Volunteer work days this fall:

Monday, 3-5 pm

Thursday, 2-4 pm

Upcoming workshops:

Thursday, September 20th: How to eat seasonally

Monday, September 24th: Plant ID game

Thursday, September 27th: Natural pesticides

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The harvest is plenty, but the recipes are few... (okay, that's not true)

The Ginsberg Garden is full of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers awaiting hungry stomachs. It's up to you, our trusty volunteers and supporters, to give that produce a good home before the squirrels start nibbling on them! If you're just not sure what you would do with the produce, we've got some suggestions:

-Use the recipes from our Garden Bites party!! We've finally got them typed up for you :)
-Stir fry! All you need is a pan, olive oil, some veggies, and salt and pepper. Dig up some garlic, throw in any veggies you can find, toss in some fresh herbs at the last minute, and salt and pepper to taste. Crack in an egg or two for some protein!
-Salad. Yes, salad. Not quite so boring if you add some arugula (check the hoophouse!), baby kale, and fresh herbs! The green onions are ready to be eaten, too! Those blue flowers dotting the garden are also quite lovely in a salad (both to look at and to eat!). More about borage here.
-Herb bread! Make some bread, chop up whatever herbs you can find in the herb spiral, and either mix the herbs into the bread or mix them in with an eggwash on the crust!
-Herb sugar...because cookies with specs of mysterious green things will really impress your friends! Wash, dry, and crush some herbs (lavender and mint are great!). In a jar or tupperware, layer sugar and crushed herbs until the container is full. Put the lid on and store it somewhere cool and dry for a while (two weeks is usually a good time period to really get some flavor mixed with the sugar, but a few days will do it, too). Open your jar and stir your sugar concoction every few days to spread the flavor. Use this sugar just like you would use plain old sugar in baked goods! If you're scared your friends won't eat your earthy looking cookies, you can remove the specs of herbs before baking :)
-Herbal sun tea! Make it while the sun is still showing its face here in Michigan! All you need to do is put some herbs (sage, mint, even raspberry leaves...as long as they are not yellow) in a jar with some water and find a sunny spot for it to bask for a few hours. Chill and enjoy! Add some stevia leaves (in the pots by the gate) for sweet tea!

What else do you guys like to do with garden produce? Share your creativity! And share your produce with fellow food lovers :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gardening with the band...

Once upon a time, Dérive was on tour in Ann Arbor and needed something to do for an hour. While most bands would kill time by rehearsing, or drinking beer, or playing cards,  Dérive band members decided to work in the Ginsberg Garden! Check out their blog and music at: http://derivemusic.net/