Posts tagged: food
For those not living in the 9th-largest economy in the world, California, or in the United States of America, you probably don’t know that we have a voter ballot in California that would require the compulsory labeling of retail foods for human consumption containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients or the food itself being GE.
I’m writing this because I support Prop 37. While I think it may not go far enough*, or lacks some teeth, I believe it to be a step in the right direction. Consumers have a right to know what is in their food, especially due to dietary, health or religious concerns.
I am also writing this because I hadn’t read the actual Article referenced by Proposition 37. I have studied the issue for many years and have always been in support of “Truth in Labeling” campaigns, so a YES for me didn’t require me to read the initiative.** But, after a few discussions on Facebook with friends about the issue and their ensuing statements and No on Prop 37 parroting ($45-million of anti-Prop 37 spending works!) made it clear that they hadn’t read it either.
So, to honor truth and clarity, I took the time to read the entire initiative hosted on the Yes on Prop 37 website. Some may think that the page is biased due to where it’s being hosted and presented, but it’s the actual language of the law as it would be inserted. I invite and encourage you to read it as well. It’s actually not as convoluted as many other propositions, but I also have experience working in the marketing and production of organic processed foods at Eco Ola so some of the language may come easier to me.
I hope my attempt helps dispel some confusion and clarifies exactly what this initiative is proposed to do for Californian consumers. I follow that up with my position regarding the prop. Cheers!
Note: I’ve used italics when directly quoting from the proposed Article 6.6
Article 6.6, otherwise known as The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will require all retail food products for human consumption to be labeled with the phrase Genetically Engineered if the said food meets defined definitions within the article. There are restrictions and exemptions to the law which are covered below.
The initiative also prohibits the use the phrases natural, naturally made, naturally grown, all natural or any words of similar import that would have any tendency to mislead the consumer on any labeling, advertising or promotional materials of the retail food product. This only applies if the food meets any of the definitions in section 110808(c) or (d).
Section 110808 gives definitions to terms used throughout the Act. Two terms Genetically engineered and Processed food ((c) and (d), respectively), are the ones of greatest impact and the nexus of the debate at hand.
Genetically engineered would be defined, for California retail human food only, to [mean] any food that is produced from an organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of:
(i) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or
(ii) Fusion of cells (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive or recombination barriers, where the donor cells/protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.
The section continues with defining further the above used terms of Organism and In vitro nucleic acid techniques to help clarify exactly what Genetically engineered means regarding the proposed law.
Processed food follows in subdivision (d) and says it means any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.
So, for example, if you had a non-GE apple, untouched by any “processing” as mentioned above, you could label it “natural,” etc. But, if you sliced and dried the same said apple into rings and promoted it through advertising saying “naturally grown” you’d be in conflict with the law and any consumer may bring action against the owner/company without needing to establish any specific damage from, or prove any reliance on, the alleged violation (§110809.4 Enforcement). That last part is to say that the person doesn’t have to be affected by it to make a claim. Hence watchdogs could bring cases before if they noticed violations.
I’ve read some arguments saying that this restriction on the use of “natural,” et al. on processed foods is ridiculous. One example is the use of pressing olives for oil or the milling of grains (all flours are milled grains) doesn’t make a product less “natural.” Well, hate to break it to you, but the first definition of the adjective “natural” is:
- existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind: eg. “carrots contain a natural antiseptic that fights bacteria”
The purpose and intention of the restrictions on such descriptors is to ensure truth in labeling.
So, the main thrust of the initiative is to define what genetically engineered means regarding retail human foods and requiring the mandatory labeling of said foods if they fall under the categorizations outlined in the Article. It also puts restrictions on the use of misleading and meaningless propaganda phrasing like “all natural,” etc. if the food is genetically engineered.
Of course, like any legislation, there are exceptions, exclusions, etc., but let’s start with exactly what a food producer must disclose on its product if it is or may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering.
Section 110809, Disclosure With Respect to Genetic Engineering of Food, states that on July 1, 2014, any food offered for retail sale in California is misbranded if it is or may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and that fact is not disclosed.
The labeling requirements are different if the food is a raw agricultural commodity or a processed food. Thus a genetically engineered apple is required to have “Genetically Engineered” on the front of the package such commodity or in the case of any such commodity that is not separately packaged or labeled, on a label appearing on the retail store shelf or bin in which such commodity is displayed for sale. Basically, it must say “Genetically Engineered” on the apple’s sticker or on the description label for that food where it’s purchased in a retail environment.
Processed foods need clear and conspicuous language on the front or back of the package of such food, with the words “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering”. So, the same apple dehydrated and packaged as rings needs to have the above phrases on its packaging since, by the definition of natural the apple rings do not naturally occur in nature without man’s intervention.
The disclosure verbiage also doesn’t have to be placed immediately preceding any common name or primary product descriptor of a food.
The initiative adds in §110809.2, in subdivision (a), that the producer need not identify genetically engineered ingredient(s) if it’s a non-GE animal regardless of whether such animal has been fed or injected with any genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced through means of genetic engineering.
Foods raised or produced without the knowing and intentional use of genetically engineered seed or food are exempted. Subdivision (b) sets requirements for how that’s clarified by allowing sworn statements from sellers/suppliers that such commodity or food: (i) has not been knowingly or intentionally genetically engineered; and (ii) has been segregated from, and has not been knowingly or intentionally commingled with, food that may have been genetically engineered at any time.
They follow in subdivision (c) that a food is exempt from disclosure if it includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes.
Alcoholic beverages subject to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act are exempt, (d).
If no single such ingredient accounts for more than one-half of one percent of the total weight of such processed food; and (ii) the processed food does not contain more than ten such ingredients, (e).
It allows exemptions of disclosure in (f) if an independent organization has determined has not been knowingly and intentionally produced from or commingled with genetically engineered seed or genetically engineered food, provided that such determination has been made pursuant to a sampling and testing procedure approved in regulations adopted by the department. They buttress the above by saying that the sampling must be done according to a statistically valid sampling plan consistent with principles recommended by internationally recognized sources such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA).
If food has been lawfully certified as “organic” they need not disclose, (g).
Food not packaged for retail sale and is a processed food prepared and intended for immediate human consumption or is served, sold or otherwise provided in any restaurant or other food facility that is primarily engaged in the sale of food prepared and intended for immediate human consumption, (h).
Finally, the simple phase of Medical Food in subdivision (f) is also exempt.
The California Department of Public Health, the entity referred to as department in the initiative, can add regulations it determines are necessary for the enforcement and interpretation of this Article but cannot add exemptions beyond those specified in section 110809.2 (§ 110809.3 Adoption of Regulations).
Next follows §110809.4 Enforcement laying out what sections, in addition to any action under Article 4 of Chapter 8, that will be held in violation of Civil Code section 1770(a)(5) and may be prosecuted under Title 1.5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of that code (commencing with section 1750). Consumers can bring actions of violation and need not establish any specific damage from, or prove any reliance on, the alleged violation. Summing it up: it says how it fits with existing laws and their violations, and says consumers don’t have to be directly affected by it to bring it to attention.
They add another sentence saying that the monetary damage, if found guilty, will be in at least the amount of the actual or offered retail price of each package or product alleged to be in violation. Looks like there’s wiggle-room here, but I’m assuming that is to be interpreted as all products out for retail sale in the state of California, and may exclude those still in transit or warehouses.
They also call for amending the Section 111910 of Article 4 of Chapter 8 of Part 5 of Division 104 to read: any person may bring an action in superior court pursuant to this section and the court shall have jurisdiction upon hearing and for cause shown, to grant a temporary or permanent injunction restraining any person from violating any provision of Article 6.6. It ends with this legal jargon, that I admit is a bit confusing (I’m no lawyer), but it seems to say that the person doesn’t have to prove that it’s damaging to him/herself, (a).
Subdivision (b) says the court may award to that person, organization, or entity reasonable attorney’s fees and all reasonable costs incurred in investigating and prosecuting the action as determined by the court.
It finishes with saying that the section doesn’t change department and its authorized agents to bring an action to enforce this chapter pursuant to Section 111900 or any other provision of law, (c).
The rest of the initiative lays out additions and revisions to laws on the books.
All the sections seem like normal protocol for propositions/laws, but I’m curious if Section 9 is phrased that way for other props.
After reading, and now summarizing, the initiative, it appears that human-food products for retail sale (note that wholesale is exempt, no?) must be labeled if it has been altered according to the definitions described in the Act. The Act also adds restrictions to the use of misleading terminology like “all natural” if the food is, or contains ingredients, genetically engineered or is considered a processed food as per their definitions.
Any citizen (of any state, I assume, since it doesn’t specifically say a Californian resident) or organization may bring action, and the review/enforcement looks to be on the onus of the Department of Public Health and the Californian Supreme Court.
First, please, hear me out. I also request that you don’t feed the evil side of life and try to think mean names of me, tell me to get a job (I have many), or to mentally construct red herrings, straw men, or argumentum ad hominem attacks. Thanks.
So, we’ve got lots of things engineered in the world. They are wonderful. Many inventions and creations throughout human history/evolution have lead to our modern world of comfort, safety and convenience, among other things. I’m extremely grateful for many of these things. I love using my computer, flying, ordering In-and-Out french fries (but boy do they sour quickly though due to their lack of preservatives)… There are thousands, if not millions of things, that make my own modern life the breeze it is compared to our fore-peeps.
Depending on your perspective and knowledge of the (real) facts or truth, those three things I just mentioned as personal joys have their downsides.
My computer is made with a mountain of debris and trash attached to it. The precious minerals mined in Africa for the electronics, the vast energy needed to power caffeine-infused late night programming sessions at Apple, and its incessant need for a recharge all add to the contamination of our world.
As a private pilot, flying pollutes, a lot. The planes I fly get fairly good gas mileage as far as planes go (Cessna 172R: ~15 Gallons Per Hour; Cirrus SR-22 G2: ~19 GPH), but they are made out of aluminum (an intensive extraction and energy process), require frequent overhauls (more new parts, lubricants), use electronics and thus carry the same issues as my computer.
Lastly, for my delicious papas from a fast-food joint, they may not be picked under the most optimal of conditions for the worker’s health/comfort/safety, may still be coated with residual pesticides and, getting back on point, may be genetically engineered.
“Well, so, what?” you may say, and add, like my friends have, that genetically engineered foods “safely create nutrient enriched crops with vitamins or higher protein content,” or that they “[modify] apples so that they don’t brown.”
True, those are potentially great advancements or improvements of existing natural foods. But, the key is the potentially. I say that because many of the companies doing the genetic engineering do not allow truly independent reviews of their creations or long-term tests to see the environmental and/or human impact they may cause. Sure, some studies are out there, but they usually are restricted by legal threats or contracts for receiving seed/material samples to have a limited investigative scope determined by the seed owners.
Laboratories investigating the more serious questions of human or environmental impact have been burglarized, vandalized, or burned. Scientists are threatened or harassed. If the technology is so great, then why the meanness directed at them? (And no, these aren’t random acts, their deliberate and premeditated attacks to silence and suppress real investigations into the safety of some genetic engineering.) The companies defend their aggressive defense along the lines of the genetic patenting and ownership of the “technology” inside the living organisms. Well, that’s another battle for which I’m a proponent of and that’s the removal of patenting genes. You can read more about that battle at the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) website.
I’ll put down the tin-foil hat that you may be trying to toss on me and address other points of contention I have with GE-foods.
Many modifications to the DNA of plants is to make them more resistant to pesticide use. Monsanto is the king of this and has many varieties of world-wide cultivated crops and grains. RoundUp Ready™ Soy and Corn are some of the biggest ones in their arsenal.
Pesticide/insecticide use is a necessary evil of monoculture. Usually, you’ve got a massive field of one crop. Enemies and eaters of the crop can just pick their way through it in one line with very little difficulty. Before, farmers would be selective in their application of pesticides. It costs $$ to spray, isn’t a healthy thing to do, and, most of all, it sometimes ends up killing the crop you’re trying to protect!
Now, with pesticide-resistant crops, a farmer, if sufficient capital/profits are available, he can spray season-round ensuring that the bugs or diseases don’t get the upper hand. The increased use in pesticides doesn’t just evaporate harmlessly though; it leaches into the ground, enters streams or water tables. It is absorbed by animals/insects and starts entering the food web. The targeted bug or disease also starts to develop resistance to the gene modification thereby requiring more virulent pesticides and more engineering (re: more $$ for the chemical and ag companies). Not to mention that the food harvested and processed at the end contains genetic modifications that may lead to complications in the end user: you or me!
Another negative downside is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require safety studies of GE-foods. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it examines and tests GE products for potential impact on wildlife, cross-pollination and toxicity — but I call bullshit on that considering that Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary, former Iowa Governor, and named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization is a cheerleader for genetic engineering***. Yet another example of our country putting a fox in charge of the hens.
An organic grower’s crop may become contaminated with cross-pollination or drifting seed of GE-crops, thereby affecting his/her business and potential, expensive, certification of their organic status. But, it’s this “bio-pollution” that hasn’t gotten significant airtime. Some of these contaminations of neighboring farms have allowed seed and chemical companies to actually sue the owners for patent infringement!
Genetic splicing and dicing of foreign genes can produce unexpected consequences that can increase the levels of known toxicants in foods and introduce new toxicants and health concerns. We don’t know the whole story because the lobbyists and armies of lawyers for Ag-Giants like Cargill, Monsanto, Unilever, et al. don’t want us to, again, hiding being proprietary rights and ownership.
But, let’s forget all that and focus on choice because that seems to be the American priority. We are allowed to choose freely to poison ourselves with cigarettes, excess alcohol and a wide variety of potentially crippling or life-ending activities. But, damnit!, we’ve got the free will (legally) to choose to engage in these things. I want the same freedom to have the knowledge and information to make informed decisions about what I put into my body. Also, as someone who has a deep respect for the planet, our home on which we live, I want to make as many consumer choices as I can that have the least potential for contamination to leave as much unspoiled as possible for the future inhabitants, human and non, to enjoy and appreciate.
In conclusion, I agree, Prop 37 doesn’t hit all the points of A through Z, but it is a start and it is written in fairly simple and clear language.
I’m voting Yes on Prop 37 as a permanent mail-in voter in the County of San Diego. I ask that you do your own research, free of dogmas and prejudices, and hopefully you’ll come to the same conclusion.
I intentionally left out many of the talking points of the NO on Prop 37 crowd. I’ve done that because it’s almost entirely bankrolled by large corporations with serious vested interests in maintaining silence and the status quo regarding genetic engineering. Also, a few organizations have good rebuttals of the lies and scare tactics being peddled.
Peace and GE-free Apple Pie,
** Lame excuse, I know. We should always read what we vote on, but real life happens. That’s why I took the hours to hopefully distill this issue for you (but it’s probably too long anyway, :P ).
*** Vilsack “originated the seed pre-emption bill” (Iowa, HF642, Passed April 2005) “effectively blocking local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown.” Source: Wikipedia.
Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute released a report this week concluding that there is no difference between organic or conventionally produced food is a joke. Thankfully, the Cornucopia Institute released a rebuttal of the report’s inaccuracies, falsehoods, and omissions in the widely parroted report which is financed and backed by industrial agriculture corporations, like Cargill and Big Tobacco.
Organic foods are healthier. Period. You don’t need million-dollar studies to know this. Simply purchase a generic, cheap, factory farm egg. Then buy an organic, free-range egg from a local grower. Crack them both open in a frying pan, sunny side up and cook without salt. Notice the color difference in the yolks, the texture of the whites, and finally the flavor.
It simply comes down to: you put crap in, you get crap out. Industrial agriculture is a failure. It’s been mining and robbing our soils of nutrients and microbiological life forms.
Conventional agriculture is also poisoning our world. Excess nutrients from petroleum extracted fertilizers are poisoning rivers and oceans leading to massive, oxygen-deprived dead zones. Factory animal farms produce mountains of excrement that become waste rather than the traditional use as sustainable fertilizer for crops. Need we mention the pesticides, fungicides, genetic manipulation, super bugs, etc.?
Cornucopia Institute and Common Dreams both fail to connect all the dots in its criticism of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute “research” and how it was immediately spread and repeated by the news conglomerates. The reason it received such fast media dissemination without fact checking is due to our “news” outlets inextricable ties to industrial agriculture.
We must erase the notion in our minds that our traditional news sources are independent and objective. They’re marketing and trumpeting arms of the ruling paradigm. Their only purpose is to sell advertisements and prop up the falsehoods and smokescreens of our corporate owners.
Don’t buy their lies. Organic, sustainably grown foods are, have been, and will always be healthier, more nutritious, and tastier than industrial food. Support your local organic farmers. Ask for and purchase organic, sustainably harvested food from the grocery store. Or, best of all, grow your own.
“But the windfall could become a double-edged sword. In February, violence over prime quinoa-growing territory left dozens injured, and land conflict is spreading. “Sure, the price of quinoa is increasing,” says Carlos Nina, a local leader in Bolivia’s quinoa heartland, “but so are our problems.” Apart from increasing feuds over property rights, these include the collapse of the traditional relationship between llama herding and soil fertilization, with potentially disastrous consequences of quinoa’s “organic” status, and the ironic twist that the children of newly prosperous farmers no longer like eating quinoa, contributing to dietary problems.” – Source: Bolivian farmers experiencing boom and potential bust over quinoa
Excitement over getting rich could lead to the collapse of quinoa production in Bolivia, and Peru and Ecuador, if land is not monitored and properly managed. Less use of the llama for soil fertilization and the potential threat of conventional agricultural practices could lead to serious soil fertility depletion and erosion.
It’s interesting to know that the dung of llamas/alpacas doesn’t attract as many pests, but the substitution of the traditional fertilizer with sheep dung does. Unfortunately, to maximize profit and do the same fencerow-to-fencerow blanket cropping that we’ve done in the US, grazing grounds for llamas and alpacas is being lost for constant quinoa production to satiate Western demand.
To top it off, violence is starting to spark in areas that haven’t had much conflict due to centuries of consistent land management and communal ownership practices. Hopefully farmers co-ops and groups like ANAPQUI can help control the growth in sustainable and beneficial ways for all involved.
Interesting fact: Quinoa is not a grain, it’s a chenopod and a cousin of the beet, and is the only vegetable that is a complete protein.
The beauty of long-term travel, aside from being out of an office for an extended period of time, is the flexibility that can potentially develop. So long as you’re not an A-type to the extreme and planning every moment with precision, you can encounter some amazing things by just letting it happen. The it for me is chance, randomness, fate … I’ve encountered it quite often in my travels through South America and have a great appreciation for the unexpected benefits that can arise.
One of my with it, this intangible guide, led me to meet an impressive man and start a friendship and working partnership that will do wonderful things. It all started with a need and desire to reconnect with my family and friends via the internet after a two-week dry spell in communication.
I stroll into Dawn of the Amazon, an establishment alongside the Amazon River run by an expat from Oklahoma. For 3/soles an hour I can get a slow WiFi connection and enjoy the view as I let everyone know that a) yes, I’m still alive and b) the jungle rocks. Sitting at a large table across from Bill, the owner, and another Bill, younger and an entrepreneur specializing in superfoods and sustainable agroforestry.
Like any gathering of gringos, we all start talking and sharing bits about ourselves. The younger Bill and I quickly discover our mutual connection and interest in sustainable systems and start exchanging information regarding our respective projects. We float in and out of conversation as the internet connection lags due to threatening storm clouds. He talks about working with local farmers and teaching them permaculture methods for cash crop superfood production, growing things like sancha inchi and camu camu. He shares his vision for training obstinate water buffalo to do some of the heavy soil moving as draft animals. His enthusiasm, knowledge of permaculture and ideas all spark excitement in my mind. But, I’m still committed to Fundo D’Shati and the work there until my time is up volunteering for them. We exchange contact info and wish each other the best in our efforts to spread the sustainable design gospel.
I return to Iquitos off and on during the following weeks and each time I happen to run into Bill. At each encounter we share more of what’s progressed, what’s failed and what’s new. I tell him that I’d love to organize a visit to the farm to see firsthand his efforts at large scale, sustainable agriculture. Not surprisingly, he’s enthusiastic and welcomes the visit. We organize the details and invite Kyle, my permaculture mentor at Fundo D’Shati and David Slocum, another ex-pat who specializes in indigenous medicine and superfood cleanses on his land outside Belen.
The day arrives to meet Bill and Slocum early in Iquitos. Everyone is on time and we enjoy some camu camu beverages to start the day off right. Once finished, we gather our packs and head down to the docks to catch a speed boat ferry to Mazán, a small town an hour northeast of Iquitos that lies on the Napo River.
This is my first experience being on the mighty Amazon. As soon as we pull out of the dock and enter the main river flow, I start to appreciate the grandeur and immensity that is the Amazon River. To add to the awe, the river is at almost its lowest point but will swell during the summer flow and rise around 30 feet!
We arrive at the small, southern port an hour later and disembark. As we walk up the tall, muddy banks along wooden planks, we see farmers and locals bringing their goods to haul by boat to Iquitos or beyond. It’s very hot in the sun and there are half-a-dozen pigs hog tied and languishing in the heat. The cruelty only increases as we watch a pig farmer push a large hog off a concrete platform, hogtied, which drops and lands hard on its side followed by writhing and screaming on the ground. Kyle and I cringe in disgust and sadness and I start rethinking my pork consumption in Iquitos.
Bill is well known around the area for his efforts to bring sustainable agricultural commerce to the town and quickly finds a motofurgon driver to take us to the first farm. Kyle and I squeeze onto the back as Bill and Slocum ride in the passenger seat. It’s a short ride to the Rodriguez family farm. Along the way Bill talks about some cool ideas he has regarding biofuels and other petroleum alternatives for the motofurgones.
We leave our bags inside the farmhouse, say hi to the cook preparing the lunch for the workers, and set off to explore the land. We walk past one of the water buffalo and a calf, careful to not startle or anger the large beasts. Bill is currently working with a husbandry expert to train the male buffaloes to work as draft animals and be useful for projects of hauling and digging. Currently, they mostly wander around eating things and pooping.
A path from the farmhouse softly curves up a short hill and is flanked by nursery shelters for seedlings and worm composting bins. Bill walks us through the purpose of each bin and planting staging area before walking us out into a large opening that’s been terraced and looks to have a large amount of plants already planted in it. To our left are about twenty men digging and preparing swales on contour. Bill talks about his strategy of incorporating composting banana circles integrated with the swales to provide organic matter for planting and to reduce the labor energy of moving any green debris large distances. The shear size of the swales dug and the number of them make me gasp in awe. Digging the dense, clay soil of the rainforest is no joke and here was tons of man-moved earth before us.
The land we’re on isn’t owned by Eco Ola. The farmers are partners with the company. In exchange for investment and knowledge, Eco Ola gets a portion of the sale of products generated on the land By leasing the land in this manner and keeping the family integrated they become invested in the health, production of it in addition to learning sustainable farming techniques and seeing them in action.
After surveying the land, we head off to see the parcel of nearby land Eco Ola has recently purchased. The land is a former government grant fish farm that did not succeed (largely due to poor education and painfully high interest rates levied on the people receiving the ‘grants’). Two large fish ponds occupy the lower left section of land, fronting a small hill that is in the process of getting swale contours built on it. Bill’s vision for the land, in addition to preserving the remaining rainforest that exists on it, is to create a learning center and visitor space for farmers and other interested activists to come and see how sustainable systems can function and flourish. This dream is active in lots of the farms I visit and volunteer on, but something about Bill’s incorporation of the local people into his business model and intentions makes me excited for a collaboration to see the dream come into reality.
Rider Rodriguez, Eco Ola’s lead foreman and farm manager. He has extensive experience working his family’s farm in the Amazon that Eco Ola is leasing from, and came back from working in Iquitos to help strengthen the partnership between the farm and Eco Ola. He joins us to take a walk through the rainforest on the land and explore what is on it and how best to protect and utilize it as a training tool for responsible, sustainable production of food and medicine.
The start of our hike begins at a large nursery for sacha inchi vines. Sadly, leaf cutter ants arrived only a few hours earlier and wiped the beds of all their leaves. Bill’s composure is impressive despite the setback and he immediately goes into solution mode thinking of different ways to prevent such attacks in the future.
Continuing into the forest, Rider leads us on a rough path along a ridge line. We come across an ojé tree (Ficus insipida a non-strangling, wide branching fig), a large tree with substantial buttressing roots that oozes a white latex sap when cut. The latex is traditionally used as a medicine for treating intestinal helminths.* Rider slices some roots to show us the latex sap.
Our hike continues and winds its way past giant vines, other massive trees and plants. We encounter various stages of forest growth. Some areas are relatively pristine, other patches of secondary growth and tertiary growth from previous cutting surround the preserved, older heart of the forest. The land is beautiful, especially with the rising ridges punctuating the topography. The density of the jungle is beautiful and is impressive, but we do take care when passing by leaves so as not to jostle them and potentially wake any hornets making nests under them.
Mid-way through our journey we come upon a massive ojé specimen. Some of the buttress roots are giant, around 20-30 feet tall and project out over fifteen feet in length. The crown of the tree establishes the topmost canopy, making this area a great sanctuary for many plants and animals. Rider says there are bats in some of the buttress areas and I go in for a look. Sure enough, in one of the darker, deeper reaches I spy a little brown bat hanging and looking at me as if to say, “Who disturbs my sleep?” Thankfully, the little creature allowed me to snap a photo without flitting into my face.
Leaving the ojé grandfather tree, we separate as a group as I snap photos and lag behind. I catch up with them at a recent forest clearing. A middle-aged man is bundling chopped wood for use in making charcoal. I look out on the clearing and see a massive, beautiful ojé tree, lying dead on its side, hacked from its stump by thousands of hatchet cuts. I start to put together that this is the man’s land and he’s the one who fell the tree. Saying hello, I pass him and gingerly walk among small plants that must’ve been planted by hand due to their location and regular spacing. I reach the group, who are all standing on the dead giant surveying its destruction and ask what’s going on. “He cleared this land to plant rice,” Bill says.
I am flabbergasted. We’re on top of a hill, the sun is melting and there is no irrigation system or water nearby to feed the plants. The man has committed economic suicide by chopping the life giving ojé tree down and will quickly spend whatever money he gains from the small amounts of charcoal he’ll produce. We leave the man and continue on our path, passing a large kiln he’s prepared for burning the wood into charcoal.
Rider points out some more medicinal trees as we walk. One species Slocum has actually used to help alleviate menstrual symptoms for his wife. He also shares with us some recipes he makes out of cacao butter, lavender oil and sacha inchi oil to help reduce stretch marks during pregnancy. The shear bounty of medicinal options and ingredients in the jungle (over 40% of pharmaceutical ingredients originate in the Amazon) makes me want to learn more and help preserve this natural resource.
Our trail crosses another neighbor’s clear cut operation. This is about twice the size as the last man’s land and features bananas, pineapple and yucca. The land’s fertility will be sapped in one to two years, leaving it a struggling and denuded expanse. The pressing need for sharing alternative land management practices is palpable and immediate if we’re to help preserve the land and protect it.
We enter into the canopy once again after passing through the clearing. We arrive in a large grove covered by arching trees that look like birch. But these aren’t birch, they’re sangre de grado, another medicinal tree used to treat diarrhea, cancer irritable bowel syndrome, wounds, broken bones and more. The medicine is taken from the latex of the tree which is traditionally accessed by slices in the bark and drained as needed. The grove includes five mature trees, well spaced and the openness of the area has a magical feel that I can’t explain. It’s most likely the contrast and airiness of the trees lanky limbs compared to the vine entangled denseness of other forest sections that lends this space a different quality.
Walking out back to our starting point we pass a couple Peruvian heritage cacao trees, something Bill wants to properly manage to see if they can start producing beans. A few hardwoods, like cedar, line the trail as well. The rainforest continues to be exploited for these beautiful hardwoods and we must develop alternative wood uses and/or sustainable management practices to prevent the over consumption and destruction of the jungle.
Our trail ends with us passing through a marsh area and finishing at another neighbor’s sugar cane distillery. We admire the massive cane crusher that extracts the sweet juice from the sugar cane and is then either consumed raw or distilled in various alcoholic strengths. We are treated to a sampling of the various styles and intensities of cane juice. The strongest, aguardiente, feels like a swift kick to the brain. I couldn’t see myself consuming more than two shots of the liquid without starting to feel quite obliterated. We pay for our samples and head to the town of Mazán to have lunch and discuss what the next steps for the land might be.
After lunch, we pick up another speed boat back to Iquitos, this time Kyle and I enjoy a front row view on the bow and soak in the spaciousness of the Amazonian region and river.
Being able to see Bill’s efforts in action was impressive. It’s one thing to hear someone talking about their dreams and intentions, but it’s quite another to see them in reality. So much so that I am joining Bill this winter to help design the welcome center and host our first cadre of volunteers to build the educational center we’re both passionate about creating, and to share permaculture techniques and practices with them. I look forward to sharing more of our progress and projects as we begin them!
*You can read a sample page of research regarding the ojé tree here that comes from Phillips, Oliver in “Economic Botany”, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Oct-Dec ‘90), pp544-6, New York Botanical Garden Press._