Friday, April 10, 2015

Seek, Read, Digest, Repeat!

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmers Market where we take a look at the nature of things in the agriculture industry and explain them to the reader in terms that don’t require a PHD and a comprehensive set of encyclopedias to understand. For the opening to this week’s post I’d like to talk to you about something I encountered while purchasing a tree at a wholesale nursery.

It probable you’ll encounter this if you are on watch when planting a large shrub or tree. I purchased a Redbud (Cercis canadensis) as they are quite nice this time of year. For those who do not know a Redbud is best known for its vibrant pink flowers this time of the year and is a native plant. It has heart shaped leaves that take on a bronze cast when they are young and again before they drop in fall. So the transplanting went just fine but in the bottom of the plant’s container was a small plant tag that had the following on it.

Front: “This plant is protected from problematic Aphids, White Flies, Beetles, Mealy Bugs and other unwanted pests by Neonicotinoids”

Back: “Treated with Neonicotinoids, These pesticides are approved by the EPA.”

Upon reading this I thought to myself, ‘what the hell is a Neonicotinoid?!’ Honestly, it sounds like an artificial sweetener they might put in diet soda or something. But after breaking out the NC pesticide applicators manual it turns out that Neonicotinoids are a classification of insecticides considered to be neurotoxic. They are used because they are most effective against insects of varied types and less dangerous to mammals. Similar common compounds include Imidacloprid, Acetamprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid, Thiamethoxam, Nithiazine, and Clothianidin.  It is suggested that some of the resulting byproducts from the decomposition of the Neonicotinoid family are still toxic in the environment. That would be fine and well but there’s a problem, Neonicotinoids in specific are applied as a systemic insecticide which means the compounds are only effective if the insect pests eat the treated plants. This means no chance of friendly fire in this sort of insecticide right? Wrong, there are a number of studies to suggest that systemic insecticides also are present when applied in the treated plant’s pollen and or its nectar which means the friendly fire has a chance to hit pollinators. As if this were not bad enough, say a bunch of aphids are on their way out but get eaten before they can die by a lady bug, what do you think happens to the lady bug? Systemic pesticides used in the wrong way, or excessive amounts pose a very difficult problem as their secondary effects need more detailed study. The regular readers of this blog know what I think of pesticide use already but for those who are new or not regular readers I pose the simple statement that follows.

“Chemical solutions to natural problems should always be in proportion to the problem and even then a last resort after all other methods have failed. In of that, we in the agriculture field, find our parallel in the medical field with the overuse of antibiotics. For us to carelessly use chemical solutions for every possible ailment is the act of setting the stage for a grand failure in the not too distant future.”

Much like my stance on genetically modified organisms, I view chemical use through the lens of its long-term effects on the environment, the economy and the people. The issue we face is that there’s too much money wrapped up in the agricultural industry and so some times the primary sources of information be they bio-technology, petro-chemical or agricultural lobby, organic and holistic are all out for your money and thus their scrupulous nature isn’t reliable. Just look at the immense amount of false information over the anti-vaccine movement. Normally the loudest folks in that group are those who read one biased book, go on the internet and think they are better informed than a career immunologist. Not that we don’t get our own share of “blind scholars” in the organic and anti-GMO movements as these kinds of people are everywhere. So I bid you always consider the source and try to verify its credentials and the scope of the information collected to better realize that we are in a new era of scientific dishonesty.

It’s like the old song “Your momma told you, you better shop around” indeed this is the truth when it comes to understanding a topic or a major life decision. You should always seek out answers to your questions and look at the entire scope of a situation. Only consulting one side makes you biased and willingly ignorant. At least if you consult a variety of sources from both sides of a situation you then most likely have the ability to make a fairer set of decisions. Take for instance an incident that happened to me last year. An individual was talking about and handing out flyers about the dangers of fluoridation of drinking water. And so I listened and at the end of the talk I took a flyer for further study. Now according to the flyer fluoridation caused about eighteen separate health issues. Of course being logical I read through them and realized that half of the list leads to the other half. For instance it listed migraines and decreased sex drive and or impotence…really I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do is strenuous physical activity while I’ve got a raging headache so yes you can say that that claim was debunked easily as a logical fallacy. After seeing that I went online to see what utility companies and the federal government had to say about fluoridation in the water, Afterwards I checked independent medical sources, and after that I looked into privately owned water bottling companies, and then I ran the spectrum of anti-fluoridation sources ranging from professionals with health concerns, to conspiracy theorists who claim fluoride allows government mind-control. In the case of the latter part yes that is a thing, it’s mind-bogglingly insane however, the evidence presented would never stand in a scientific inquiry as it preys on fear and ignorance….sort of like most religion. (Go figure)

The next week I had a chat with the person who was behind the flyers and we had a very civil conversation where I explained why it’s bad to just regurgitate stuff found on the internet verbatim without research and that the flyer was sending a incorrect and unfair message. I also took care to politely point out why the health effects were misleading. The person’s response was to sort of blow me off with a curt “well I don’t have time to do research!” Great, fantastic even, you’re in a position of power/authority and you can’t be bothered to make sure you’re giving fair and unbiased information or verify the veracity of your claims in front of a very gullible public? I guess this is why I can’t go into politics, that level of dishonesty and blatant laziness would drive me mad! So I suppose, the moral of this story is that the only thing that can hurt you is less information as, having more information only helps you make better decisions and thus you can have a greater impact on your life and those that matter to you. Having more information ensures that you are better suited to be reliable contributor to the global community and the act of pursuing such a state of balance is one of the most noble endeavors a person can work at.

Now, with the main topic handled I have to cover the market news. Disclaimer, this is probably the biased part of this article, but the Fayetteville City Market is open, in downtown Fayetteville on 325 Franklin Street in the Fayetteville Transportation Museum parking lot. We’re there on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00pm and next Saturday is the start of the official Market season. Also at the booth I will have the first tomatoes of the season, all Aunt Lou’s Underground Rail Road, the easiest southern climate compatible medium size tomato. You can expect more tomato varieties just as soon as they get to size. Also I will have Snow Pea’s and a lovely variety of spring greens so come on down, check us out and don’t be a stranger!

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