Letters to the editor, May 2013

This article was originally published in May 2013

Urban beekeeping

Bill Thorness’ article on urban beekeeping (Question for urban farmers: To bee?, April 2013) was fine, but some clarifications are in order for PCC readers and prospective “beeks” (what we beekeepers call ourselves).

City beekeeping ordinances have strict fencing, clearance and flyway specifications, so that a colony’s foragers and defenders do not create a nuisance or hazard to neighbors and passersby.

Foragers recruit other foragers not by airborne dances, but by vibratory “walks” on a “dance floor” area of comb inside the hive. Other means of honeybee communication include touch, mouth-to-mouth feeding and pheromonal scenting.

Indoor overwintering of honey bees was a fad a century ago but proved problematic for any number of reasons. Proper outdoor hive winterizing and leaving sufficient honey stores generally are preferred for overwintering.

There are divergent schools of thought lately causing rancor in the beek community: the Old Guard with their “livestock” methods, wherein honey bees routinely are medicated, selectively bred, artificially propagated and intensively managed for maximum honey production. Breakaway contrarians, however, now are widespread, employing low-intervention, nontoxic, bee-friendly, natural methods that do not treat honeybees as flying cattle.

Finally, consumers should buy honey from trusted local beekeepers, or from natural markets that are provably diligent in verifying provenance. Despite a few high-profile shipment seizures and prosecutions, massive shipments of duty-evading honey from Asia still are passing through North American honey packers and distributors. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and customs agents cannot keep up with testing for and seizing these tainted, adulterated and fraudulent products.
— Alexander S. Templeton, Author, “Beekeeping for Poets,” PCC member since 1983

PCC’s GE fish ban

Thank you for your decision not to sell genetically engineered (GE) salmon if it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. You build trust with each decision to protect humanity. You have my patronage and thanks.
— Tom Pickett

Editor: See News bite PCC first to pledge “No GE Fish.”.

Humanely raised eggs

How would the eggs sold at PCC stack up on the charts in Mercola’s article, What you don’t know about commercial egg farming and the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard?

PCC replies: PCC’s organic eggs rate well in the Cornucopia report. The major local organic brand we sell — Stiebrs — has a “three-egg” rating. According to Cornucopia, “brands with a three-egg rating are very good choices.” Eggs in this category come either from family-scale farms that provide outdoor runs for their chickens, or from larger-scale farms with meaningful outdoor space.

PCC also sells organic, pastured eggs from three smaller, local vendors in all stores, depending on availability. Misty Meadows Farm earns the top rating (“5-egg” according to Cornucopia). Little Eorthe Farm and Palouse Pastured Poultry weren’t rated by Cornucopia but they undoubtedly would get a 5-egg rating, too. PCC also sells non-organic, free-range eggs from Wilcox and non-organic, cage-free eggs (no outdoor access) from Stiebrs, which are not covered in Cornucopia’s scorecard because they’re not organic.

PCC standards

Except for one year, I have been a member of PCC since the 1970s. Most of my income is spent on food from PCC. With pride, I used to feel I could buy anything at PCC knowing it was going to be good for me and the earth.

What is going on? A great percent of items at the stores and new products being brought in are not organic or pesticide-free or non-GMO. How many animals being sold in the meat section were fed non-organic grain sprayed with pesticides or contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Then there are many non-organic, gluten-free products.

I think the public needs to be educated in the store about products. Better yet, why not take a stand and support organic more fully by buying organic, and then non-organic vendors might adjust to organic. I’m glad most of the produce is organic, yet why not look at other ways to make it better in the aisles, shelves and deli?

The Sound Consumer presents a great vision of the kind of organic and non-GMO issues we want and support. But just look at what is for sale in the store. To me, it is incongruous.

My concerns are staying away from the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and GMOs to grow food. I love our planet’s diversity of species, and clean water and soil. Hoping there will be better changes ahead at PCC.
— Name withheld upon request

PCC responds: The food landscape certainly is more complicated than it was 40 years ago, not just because of GMOs and their pesticides but also because of the new additives used to make convenience foods. There’s so much more to navigate and scrutinize and it’s why we give preference to certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products as we work toward our goal of becoming a non-GMO retailer.

PCC’s grocery merchandisers are not accepting new products with ingredients at risk of being GMO, such as corn, soy, canola or sugar beet. This is easier in some categories than others. Of the last 500 items added to grocery, 55 percent have been organic or Non-GMO Verified. Others were chosen because they’re certified fair labor or local. More than 95 percent of the produce sold in our stores is organic.

You’re right that some gluten-free products contain less than the best ingredients. Of 1,500 gluten-free grocery items at PCC, only about one-third are organic. To keep costs down, most manufactures choose non-organic, especially if grains or nuts are involved.

“Organic” fertilizer?

A recent Seattle Public Utilities flyer had a coupon for a bag of Cedar Grove compost, which originates, in part, as City of Seattle yard waste. The picture in the coupon showed “local” and “organic” listed prominently at the bottom of the bag.

The compost may be organic in the sense of organic matter, but yard waste is not “organic” in the same sense that food is. It contains pesticides and fertilizers, GMO food waste, and often things that should not have gone into yard waste bins.

So, are there differences in standards for organic food and organic compost? Should Cedar Grove be calling this stuff “organic”? Maybe everything is “okay,” but I hate the idea that people might think this compost is safe to use in their organic vegetable gardens.
— Dan Gunderson

Editor: You are correct that the term “organic” on compost and fertilizers is not equivalent to meeting organic food standards. For compost and fertilizer, the term “organic” on labels refers ONLY to the fact that it is a carbon-based material. Compost and fertilizer labels are largely unregulated and do not fall under National Organic Program (NOP) rules.

That said, however, the Washington State Department of Agriculture does keep a list of soil amendments, including compost, that qualify for use in organic food production under NOP rules. Cedar Grove compost does qualify. To understand the regulatory loopholes involving soil amendments, revisit The scoop on fertilizer (Sound Consumer, March 2003).

Rain gardens

I work for Cascadia Edible Landscapes (CEL), a Seattle landscaping company that specializes in transforming underutilized spaces into areas of food production. One of our most popular services is the installation of rain gardens, and we are a proud supporter of the City of Seattle’s Rainwise program.

Rainwise offers rebates for installing rain gardens to homeowners living in certain areas of the city. This means that if you have an approved contractor (CEL is an example) build a rain garden on your property, you may be eligible to have the city itself reimburse you for the project costs.

Rain gardens aren’t just about visual appeal. When it rains here, it rains hard, and in urban areas where most of the ground is covered with nonpermeable pavement and asphalt, storm drains in some areas just can’t handle the load. This contributes to erosion and pollution of our streams and rivers.

Utilizing plants that can withstand extremes in moisture, rain gardens act as small bio-retention cells that clean and reduce excess water, and allow it to infiltrate the soil naturally. Rain gardens also provide wonderful habitats for birds and butterflies.

Installing a rain garden is a great way to improve your property and do a little work for the environment at the same time! To learn more and see if your property is located within one of the neighborhood areas that currently qualify for a city rebate, go to rainwise.seattle.gov/city/seattle/overview.
— Rae Russell

“Picnics” at PCC

I just want to say a group of us meet on many Sundays to buy from the Fremont store and “picnic” on the front porch.

It is so much fun with the Fremont Sunday Market and many other events going on in Fremont. Yesterday was Easter and there were many large families and groups picnicking on the porch.

We buy our picnic main courses, eat, chat and laugh. Then it’s other snacks that make us go back inside for another round of purchases. Finally we head in for whatever sweet treats/dessert and tea/coffee we choose, all the while knowing we can trust the quality of what we are eating.

We have done this in good and not-so-good weather since the front porch is heated. It makes for a delightful Sunday afternoon. Thank you, PCC Fremont staff.
— Name withheld

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

A looming olive oil shortage, coffee rust fungus threatening coffee harvests, and a new cherry-plum hybrid are the buzz in agriculture this month.

Cool inflammation with diet

Eating healthy fats, limiting sugar, consuming plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, and cooking with herbs and spices including ginger and turmeric can help fight inflammation.

64 countries around the world label GE food

Since the commercialization of the first genetically engineered (GE) crops in the 1990s, countries have been trying to create policies that sufficiently regulate and oversee these new technologies.