Cleaner Streams and the #1 Blogging Cliché

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I know, it’s one of the biggest blogging clichés in the book: the blog that starts out quickly, then ends just as quickly — usually when the blogger realizes that writing a good post once a week (along with fulfilling other obligations) is harder than it seems. So I apologize for the disappearance and will try to improve my short blogging game, while also delivering a longer essay every once in a while. I’ve actually been working on one about lawns for a while and it will hopefully be posted soon. I don’t enjoy being a cliché :-(.

That said, there’s been some good news on the environmental front: there’s been a sharp decrease in the amounts of dangerous pesticides found in America’s agricultural waterways! From the NY Times:

From 1992 to 2001, 17 percent of agricultural streams and 5 percent of other streams contained at least one pesticide whose average annual concentration was above the maximum contaminant level for drinking water. But in the second decade, from 2002 to 2011, the survey found dangerous pesticide concentrations in only one stream nationwide.

And what caused this decline? Republicans’ favorite boogeyman that they keep being wrong about: increased regulation.

The decline occurred in part because manufacturers introduced new pesticides that are less toxic or require smaller applications than older compounds. Much of it was driven by regulatory actions that canceled or restricted the use of particularly hazardous pesticides like dieldrin and lindane.

Republicans always claim that regulations will put companies out of business. But what usually happens is that those businesses, given enough time and incentive to comply, simply adapt. What businesses really hate is uncertainty — if you tell them what they need to do far enough in advance, they’ll make the needed adjustments so they’re ready to sell products that comply with the regulations. Republicans act like businesses are the greatest, smartest, most righteous force in the world capable of solving any problem, yet will simply wither and die in the face of ANY new regulations, regardless of the good those regulations could do for average Americans.

But don’t break out the party hats just yet…

While human-health hazards declined over 20 years, the share of streams whose pesticide levels posed a potential threat to aquatic life remained mostly steady: Between 60 and 70 percent of agricultural streams and roughly 45 percent of streams in mixed-use areas, registered levels above the benchmark for potential harm to aquatic life.

Urban streams — the survey monitored 30 — were the glaring exception. There, the proportion of streams with pesticide levels above the aquatic-life benchmark soared from 53 percent in the first decade to 90 percent in the second, even as other pesticides were phased out.

Read the article to find out why, as well as experts’ belief that stream pollution is probably worse than we think since the survey didn’t measure for all pesticides. In any case, it’s a good reminder that we shouldn’t be complacent. We need to be vigilant and active and demand strict regulations on dangerous chemicals until humans and animals can enjoy America’s waterways, whether they’re in the country or flowing through our cities.

More Quotes From ‘Walden’

Thoreau Simplify

Finally getting towards the end of Walden! I mentioned in my last quote post that I’m not a very good book reader (I lean more towards articles), so Walden has been a bit of a slog since it’s a fairly difficult read. But I definitely relate to Thoreau’s love and enthusiasm for the natural world and living simply, as well as many of his criticisms of civilization and modern society. It makes me wish that I had read Walden and been inspired by it before I began my time living as a ranch hand in Los Alamos, CA — it probably would’ve inspired me to do more journaling of my thoughts and observations, though I’m sure my own thoughts on living simply and connection with nature weren’t nearly as refined as Thoreau’s.

It’s important to note that while Thoreau was definitely in a natural environment living near Walden Pond, his hut was neither remote nor isolated. Thoreau lived just two miles from the town of Concord and visited there a few times a week, and people often visited the pond or stopped at his hut as they were passing through. I guess I find this interesting because it shows that you don’t need to be deep in isolated wilderness to feel distanced from society where one can gain new perspectives on both nature and civilization. I know that gardening in the middle of a major city has affected the way I look at collaborating with nature instead of trying to dominate it — and with a campfire going in my backyard on a moonlit night, sometimes I feel like I’m back on the ranch. You really don’t need much nature to reap its many benefits.

So with that, more quotes!  Continue reading

When Life Gives Your Neighbor Lemons, Ask For Some

Lemons

While on my daily dog walks, I noticed a house a block north of me that has a Meyer lemon tree in its front yard. In case you didn’t know, orange-gold Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange that are originally from China and are primarily found in California and other citrus-growing regions. Meyers are much beloved at farmers markets and prized by chefs for their increased sweetness, lack of acidity, and their abundance of juice, though they often aren’t stocked in grocery stores since their thin skins make them difficult to transport and store. Passing the house several times, it was clear that the family living in the house was not picking these lemons — the branches were sagging with lemons and some had fallen on the ground. I’ve recently become a big fan of hot water with lemon juice both for its taste, health benefits, and because I’m apparently a gajillion years old, so I very much wanted some of these delicious lemons, but I didn’t know these neighbors at all.

People have been saying for years that the concept of the neighborhood is dying and that people increasingly don’t know or feel any connection to their neighbors. Growing up, my mom was very friendly with all the families in a three-house radius — but when those families moved away, they were usually replaced by neighbors who didn’t seem interested in getting to know the families around them. I’m sure my mom reached out to them, but instead of becoming neighbors who my family could socialize with and depend on, they became mysterious strangers whose lives my mom could only piece together through chance observations.

The conventional wisdom now is that people want to be left alone with their computers and huge televisions. Being friendly with your neighbors is a great perk, but it’s definitely considered optional, and I’m pretty bad about it myself. Neighbor relations now mostly seem to fall into the realms of measured indifference, uneasy truce, or outright antagonism, where one of the best possibilities is having a neighbor you don’t ever deal with for any number of potential neighborly indignities like noise, endless and/or inconsiderate construction, ugly/lacking landscaping (which I have been chastised for), etc.

I wanted those wonderful Meyers, but I was reluctant to ask, even though it was apparent that the lemons weren’t being used. After all, people want to be left alone, right? I kept walking by, envious of all those lemons and confused at the thought of what type of person would let such prizes go to waste.

So on at least two occasions, I stole lemons. Continue reading

Bottles, Bins, and Funnels: Gardening in a Drought With Water You Waste

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(I originally posted this on Huffington Post and was surprised when it earned over 1,200 Facebook Likes, which is more than anything else I’ve ever written.)

I currently live in Los Angeles and have lived in California for most of my life, so I’m used to living with drought. I still remember as a small kid when my mom explained to me that I would now be taking showers instead of baths due to a lack of rain, embedding in me the idea that changing personal habits is a necessary and expected response to scarcity. However, one thing I’m loathe to give up today is my garden, where I grow roughly 80 percent of my produce. Gardening is one of the great joys in my life, particularly since it addresses practically every topic I care deeply about — environmentalism, health, sustainability, connection to the land, and anti-corporatism to name a few. I find it relaxing, meditative, and endlessly fascinating, and I’m not willing to give it up.

The drought currently gripping California is the worst in the state’s recorded history, and even though water rates haven’t gone up (as they should), I still wanted to find ways to compensate for the water that goes into my garden. So I began looking for ways to offset my garden water usage, and to my surprise, found a simple way to provide nearly 100 percent of the water I need for my garden using water that would otherwise go to waste. What’s more, it doesn’t require installing a greywater system or any complicated or expensive equipment.

All I needed were bottles, bins, and funnels, and that’s all I need to garden in an historic drought without guilt, the usage of additional water, or a higher water bill. Even more surprising is that I hardly had to change my behavior at all to accomplish this. Could it really be so easy?

I looked at all the times when the most water went down the drain in my house, and found that the three most common points were at the shower, the kitchen sink, and the toilet. Other than reducing my flushes and using a low-flow model, there wasn’t much water savings to be found at the toilet, so I went at the shower and kitchen sink with my bottles, bins, and funnels — and in the process learned a lot more about how I use (and waste) water. Continue reading

Garden Journal ep.1: Crate Planter Boxes

Crate boxes w Paulo

As mentioned earlier, these Garden Journal entries will be recounting my efforts to turn my grassy backyard into an organic vegetable garden from 2013 to 2014 using discarded/found materials as much as possible. So let’s get started with the first order of business: where to put the plants.

March 10, 2013

I had always planned on gardening using planter boxes. The main advantages of using planter boxes are:

  1. Controlling what soil you’re filling the boxes with, making it easier to avoid polluted or undesirable soil (too rocky, sandy, too much clay, etc.).
  2. Keeps your garden looking tidy and geometric.
  3. Reduces the potential for soil compaction since people (or pets) won’t accidentally walk in your planter boxes.
  4. Promotes healthy water drainage.
  5. Easy to make.
  6. No digging required.

Reason #4 isn’t a big deal in Southern California since we hardly get any rain, especially in these crazy drought conditions. Actually, in places that don’t get much rain, planting in indentations in the ground is recommended to help funnel and accumulate moisture around your plants. However, this would also necessitate a lot of digging (to loosen the soil) and dealing with whatever my dirt was like, which is probably hard, compacted, and possibly polluted from decades of car exhaust and fertilizers. And it’s not like using planter boxes is a bad thing to do in drier climates. For me, using planter boxes was an easy decision.

With my goal to use found/discarded materials as much as possible in my garden, I was nicely surprised to see how easy it was to find scrap wood, even in a big city like Los Angeles. People would often leave large pieces of wood by the sidewalks outside their homes that they wanted to throw away, especially if they were too big to fit in their garbage cans. I just had to keep my eyes open for wood when I was driving or walking my dog around the neighborhood.  Continue reading

Quotes, Starting With ‘Walden’

Thoreau Quote Sign - Version 2

photo by Dan Spencer

For this blog (and my own education) I’m hoping to chip away at my pile of books I’ve been meaning to read and re-read about agriculture, environmentalism, food issues, and health. I’m not the fastest book reader, but I’m hoping to tackle books by Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, Wes Jackson, Michael Pollan, and more (any suggestions are welcome) and will post some of my favorite quotes.

I’m currently making my way through Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (or Life In the Woods), a book I’ve started several times but never finished. First published in 1854, Walden details Thoreau’s thoughts and observations from two years, two months, and two days he spent attempting to live simply in a small cabin next to Walden Pond two miles outside the town of Concord, Massachusetts. Wikipedia describes Walden as “part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance” as Thoreau, a transcendentalist, attempted to gain insight about himself, nature, and the ills of modern society through quiet introspection and a Spartan lifestyle in natural surroundings.

Some quotes from Walden:

“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

You can actually visit Walden Pond on Google Maps!


View Larger Map

Also, Walden has become public domain, so you can download it for free from places like the iTunes Bookstore and Amazon for the Kindle.

Greetings From A Gentleman Farmer

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Welcome to the inaugural post of my blog, You Should Be Gardening! This blog will center around my experiences as an urban gardener (I prefer the term gentleman farmer) growing food at my home in Los Angeles in the Crestview neighborhood just north of Culver City. But You Should Be Gardening will be much more than a gardening journal — it will also be home to my thoughts on the importance of gardening, environmentalism, the next stages of the organic/sustainable movement, food issues, and politics in general, along with movie reviews and whatever else strikes me as particularly interesting, funny, or shareworthy. This blog will also document the beginning of a very exciting project that I plan to put into motion in a few months, but I’ll save that for a future post.

And me? My name is Jonathan Kim. This is what I look like.

Me w: BroccoliThis pic is even more impressive if you know that I have a freakishly large head

I’ve worked as a copywriter/hand model, a ranch hand, a waiter, an instructor, a video producer/activist, and a movie critic (which I still do now). I was never interested in gardening at all growing up, and even though I had access to a large garden and appreciated its bounty when I worked as a ranch hand in Santa Barbara County from 2003 to 2007, I was very much a spectator and not a participant. But living on the ranch sparked my interest in gardening, and after hearing Michael Pollan speak at UC Berkeley and reading his 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I finally — at the age of 30 — started thinking about where my food came from. I decided that I would look for every opportunity to grow my own food.

But it wasn’t until early 2013, two years after I moved in to a lovely Steinkamp home, that I began the process of starting my own garden, from the ground up. This is what my yard looked like in March of 2013. Part of this blog will be taking you back in time as I turned my backyard from this…

Garden 03:10:13

Into this by April 2014…

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It was during this process — with a goal of using only found/discarded materials scavenged from construction sites and on the streets of my neighborhood — that I realized that gardening seemed to encompass nearly all of my interests and virtually everything I care about. Gardening is somehow able to combine health, anti-corporatism, anti-consumerism, food politics, independent living, philosophy, woodworking, conservation, nature, science, global warming, history, and my belief that most of our environmental issues can be solved with existing practices instead of pinning our hopes on future technologies. Gardening teaches me about humility, gratitude, abundance, interconnectedness, and generosity in an activity that I also find deeply calming, meditative, and therapeutic. At the same time, gardening provides me with the healthiest fresh food around through a practice that I find endlessly fascinating, where there is always room for improvement even though perfection will always remain unattainable.

That’s why I firmly believe that you should be gardening, in whatever form you have available to you. It may be too important not to — not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and your planet. It will not only change the way you look at the world, but also how you look at yourself.

I hope You Should Be Gardening gives you a look into how I view gardening and all the issues that surround and link to it, and that it maybe gives you some ideas. Or, at the very least, you just get a kick out of it. I plan to keep things pretty lively at You Should Be Gardening, so please continue to check in or get updates via your preferred method by following YSBG on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathan