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August 2005: News

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News from the Mini Farm, Friends and Colleagues

Carol Vesecky sent us a report on an "Afternoon of Solar Cooking," that was given July 17 by her organization Biointensive for Russia. This is a shortened and slightly revised version of her report:

Temperatures of up to 90°F were forecast, but they stayed much cooler as my housemate, Abhishek, and I finished our last outdoor preparations. We cleared more garden paths between beds, swept walkways and deck, spread mulch (dried biomass from the winter crops of fava beans, vetch, and wheat) on the growing beds lying fallow due to the disruption of the Russia trip, and began to organize the setup for the afternoon.

My dish to cook was fava beans and potatoes stir-fried with onions, garlic and ginger, served over brown rice, so I put the frozen favas in a Sun Toy to thaw, dug up the potatoes from one of the veggie beds and started the rice cooking in a Sun Oven by noon. I also picked the last peaches from my tree to serve in a "crumble" recipe.

Volunteers, including the main presenters, Julia Paul and Julie Lovins, began arriving by one o'clock. Julia Paul had driven from Sacramento where she is on the staff of Solar Cookers International (, which has provided 30,000 ovens to households in Africa. Julia set up her displays, while Julie Lovins ensured that all the ovens with "Graniteware" (old-fashioned black enamel cooking pots) inside had their place in the sun. Two more solar chefs, Michael Mora and Don Larson, arrived with ovens and dishes partly prepared. By about three, we had 16 guests and chefs and began the program.

Julia Paul explained how important solar ovens are to families in Kenya, where women and children typically spend eight hours walking for miles to collect wood to cook with. Not only does burning wood cause deforestation, but the inhalation of wood smoke causes respiratory infections that are a major cause of death in children. Solar cooking frees up time for women to start businesses that bring material improvements to the family welfare and which often enable their children to go to school for the first time.

Julie Lovins described the proper placement of pots for cooking in two types of solar ovens: those enclosed with a glass or plexiglass cover through which solar radiation passes, and those that fold out to gather solar radiation and reflect it toward the pot enclosed in a plastic bag and set on a trivet. The sun's angle being important, most solar chefs in our area [south of San Francisco] cook with the sun mainly from spring to fall, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. While the food was still cooking, I conducted a brief tour of my GROW BIOINTENSIVE veggie gardens.

Finally, the various dishes were enjoyed from the picnic table and duly praised by the assembled group. The following got fully or mostly cooked-by the sun-in several hours and all tasted great: cheese strata, baked tofu cutlets, frozen gyozas, fusion rice, ratatouille, fava bean/potato dish, brown rice, root-veggie medley, banana bread and peach crumble.

This is an edited version of a paper written by Fausto Moran Salazar from Ecuador, currently an intern at Ecology Action:

Many people die every year in my country because of accidental poisoning with agricultural chemical products. The levels of pesticide residues in potatoes offered in markets are usually high.

I train farmers to reduce the excessive use of pesticides for potato production. Pesticide residues in the soil have reached massive proportions. Our efforts to grow potatoes in an organic way generally fail because of soil infertility, insect or disease attacks and low frost resistance of the plants. However, in best cases we have reduced the number of pesticide applications from the usual four to ten a season down to just two.

Now in Willits, I was deeply surprised seeing how potatoes using the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method produce higher yields than conventional methods used in my country. Plant spacing is very close. This reduces water evaporation and the amount of organic fertilizer needed. It also allows continuous soil improvement, and the high biodiversity used in the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method contributes to a decrease in insect attacks and plant diseases. My experience at the Ecology Action mini-farm is like receiving a valuable inheritance.

The 5th and 6th "team" at Shutesbury Elementary School in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, recently donated $200 to Ecology Action. The children earned the money by selling baked goods and Newman's chocolate bars and took part in choosing the organizations to receive their donations. They wrote: “Your organization makes a difference because it is researching renewable food sources. We thought it would be a generous gesture to give to you so that we would feel that we were helping research farming efficiently too." We are grateful for this thoughtful gift.

We received a letter and thank you card from the gardeners in a women's detention facility in Ysilanti, Michigan. They were very appreciative of materials sent to them by Ecology Action and have designated four beds in the garden as a GROW BIOINTENSIVE demonstration area.



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