Posts Tagged ‘Shawn Dell’

Here’s a Concept: Alternative Toilets

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Since Thomas Crapper invented the water closet (yes, that’s where the word came from), many experts have come to view our sanitation system as the worst idea of all time. We use 3.5 gallons (per flush) of our best drinking water to dilute a few ounces of “excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner” to create an expensive, wasteful disposal problem.

The World Health Organization recently declared that waterborne sanitation is obsolete, and only waterless disposal of waste will allow enough water for drinking, cooking and washing in the world’s largest cities.

Waterless and low flow toilets could save the average household as much as $50 to $100 a year on water, adding up to $11.3 million everyday nationally. These are not the same low-flow toilets that gained a well-deserved bad reputation ten years ago. Technology has improved even the lowly Crapper so that most new toilets use only about 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf).

Sweden has popularized a dual-bowl toilet with separate compartments and separate ways of treating human waste. This system uses no water and results in a high quality fertilizer and composted human manure as byproducts. The separating toilets cost comparably to American toilets, but may take a while to catch on. Dual-flush toilets are becoming more popular here in the States, and offer users a choice of .8 gpf or 1.6gpf depending on the size of the job.

Composting toilets are completely waterless and can be self-contained or attached to a whole building system. If you have many bathrooms, a whole building system would be the most economical. It connects all the dry toilets to a single, large compost tank usually in the basement. There is no sewer hookup, so the plumbing ends in the compost tank.

A self-contained composting toilet is essentially a compost drum enclosed inside a toilet with a fold-out handle and tray. Some also contain fans and vents to eliminate odors. We have both a low flow toilet and a composting toilet in our home. We bought the composting toilet locally from Stoves Plus in Thompson Ridge. It is interesting to see who goes where, and we often categorized our guests by their level of queasiness with our plumbing.  Once you get over the initial shock of “no water in the bowl” it is easy to appreciate the simplicity of a composting toilet. Wood chips go in, tree food comes out.

Incinerating toilets are similar to composting toilets in that they are waterless. But they use electricity to incinerate human waste to a clean ash eliminating both pathogens (good) and soil nutrients (bad).

Many of these alternatives are costly and require a bit of plumbing know-how to install. If you want to reduce your water use today:

—– Try putting a brick in your toilet tank to save up to 5 gallons of water per day.

—– Install a $5 Frugal Flush Flapper valve in your existing toilet and conserve half your water with each flush.

—– Try a $1 Toilet Fill Cycle Diverter to save about ½ gallon per flush.

—– Pee on the trees if you live in a secluded area where no one will know.

—– Flush less often using the “yellow-mellow” rule

—– Check your toilet for leaks which could waste more than 100 gallons of water per day. Add a few drops of food coloring to the tank and see if any colored water leaks into the bowl after a few minutes.

At $4/Gal., Gas is a Bargain

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Last week, the price of crude oil jumped to $113/barrel, and suspiciously soon afterwards, the national average for regular unleaded gasoline leaped over the $4 a gallon mark. Lost production in Libya was blamed for the gas price hike, yet even at $4/gallon it’s really a bargain. Before you start penning me hate email, let me explain.

Even at $4, we are not paying the real cost of gasoline. Our federal government subsidizes the oil industry with numerous tax breaks, price protection, and research and development funding that totals billions of dollars every year. These subsidies help keep domestic oil companies competitive with international producers, and keep gas relatively cheap at the pump.

In other countries, like Bosnia, you would pay $10.86 for a gallon of gas because there are less government subsidies. Paris is at $6.52, Berlin at $6.42, and $7 in Amsterdam.

That $4 we pay at the pump can be divided into four main categories; taxes, refining, marketing/distribution, and the price of crude (according to a special report by CNN Money).

Crude oil is the most expensive part of a gallon of gas, costing over $2. This money goes straight to big producers of crude, or national oil companies controlled by countries like Saudi Arabia, Mexico or Venezuela.

The federal government takes about 20 cents from each gallon, on top of the state’s tax which varies greatly, but averages about 22 cents a gallon. Most of this money is used to build and maintain roads, (which is why removing the gas tax is a bad idea). Refineries eat about a quarter dollar for each gallon. Some refineries you may recognize are Valero, Sunoco, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.

Marketing and distribution can eat up the rest of the $4 price tag with your local gas station getting only about 10 cents per gallon, transporting the gas to your gas station eating up another quarter, and so on.

But the price we pay at the pump is only the tip of the iceberg of the real cost of gas. Many expenses related to using gas are externalized, meaning we either pay for them through our taxes, or leave them as a balance due for future generations.  These “hidden costs” include military patrols of oil shipping lanes and presence in oil producing countries, air pollution from auto exhaust, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, environmental devastation caused by drilling, pipelines, and oil spills, and economic damage caused by importing foreign oil.

If all these hidden costs were actually tallied into the price of gas, we would pay well over $5 per gallon according to the National Defense Council Foundation. The economic penalties of America’s oil dependence total $297.2 to $304.9 billion annually, making the true cost of a fill-up over $100.

“Lives Per Gallon” author Terry Tamminen estimates that the true cost is actually much higher. Tamminen states that “Americans subsidize the oil and auto industry to the tune of about $6 or more for every gallon of gasoline sold, making the real price at the pump $10 per gallon.”

Tamminen also points out that it is difficult for “alternative fuels to compete against such massive subsidies, until mass-production of alternative fuels (and vehicles that use them) can bring the price down. Such incentives can also be considered an economic stimulus package, because those investments create jobs in America instead of sending more than $650,000 every minute to foreign countries for our addiction to oil (based on $75/barrel for oil).”

A side benefit of climbing gas prices is an increased awareness in the need to use gas more efficiently. A recent survey showed that American consumers list fuel economy as the most important factor when they purchase a new car (the number of cup holders was most important previously). If we had to pay the true cost of fuel at the pump, we would all ride bicycles and drive electric cars.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill RIver School in Montgomery, and an award-winning syndicated newspaper columnist.

Sustainable Living by Shawn Dell Joyce

Friday, August 27th, 2010

by Shawn Dell Joyce

The fact that Montgomery has a farmer’s market is a small miracle. The miracle worker in this case is Donna Dolan Jacke. Donna has a long history of community service, doing everything from assisting Marion Wild in the Montgomery Museum, to being a farmhand for hire to local farmers. About four years ago, Donna put the effort into making a farmer’s market happen every Friday in the Village of Montgomery.

The location has moved a few times to make farm market easily accessible. The Montgomery Seniors, a group that previously met at Wesley Hall, sponsors the market. That means that local seniors get coupons good for discounts on fresh produce, and the farm market proceeds are split with the seniors organization, a win/win situation.

The farm market has had a rough start. Donna thinks location has much to do with it. The Senior Center in Veteran’s Park was too far off the beaten path, and the old post office in the village downtown just doesn’t get much traffic. So, Donna is moving the market again, this time to a place near and dear to my heart.

Starting this Friday, the Montgomery Farmer’s Market will be at the Wallkill River School on Route 17K, all day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can stop for home-baked breads, artisan cheeses, fresh vegetables, fruits, and handmade goodies including art and crafts.  You may catch artists mingling with farmers, sometimes painting the abundant displays. There’s always something fresh and interesting at a farmer’s market.

The Wallkill River School is the perfect place for a farmer’s market since the mission of this nonprofit artists cooperative is to preserve our region’s agricultural heritage while creating economic opportunity for local artists. It’s unusual for an arts organization to have agricultural preservation as part of it’s mission, but when you paint on local farms, and you eat local foods, you have a stake in keeping farmers in business.

When you buy direct from the farmer, you are establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower. Knowing the farmers, you are connected to the seasons, the weather, and the miracle of raising food.  You also help preserve open space because as the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetables increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely.

Everyone who lives in the Wallkill Valley can appreciate the picturesque views of farms in full bloom, rows of corn ripening in the fields, cows lowing in the pastures. Our regional landscape will survive only as long as farms are financially viable. When you buy locally grown food, you are doing something proactive about preserving the agricultural landscape.

Supporting local farms also helps lower your village’s taxes. Farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas other development costs more than it generates in taxes, according to several studies. On average, for every $1 in revenue raised by residential development, governments must spend $1.17 on services, thus requiring higher taxes of all taxpayers. For each dollar of revenue raised by farm, forest, or open space, governments spend 34 cents on services.

If you need any more reason to come to the farm market and support your local farmers, please meet me at the Farmer’s Market on Fridays from 9 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wallkill River School on Route 17K near Route 208. I’ll be happy to show you several more reasons why eating local is best for you and the community.

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning syndicated newspaper columnist and director of the Wallkill River School in

Sustainable Living: Showcase Lawns

Monday, May 17th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Lawns are big business in our country with homeowners spending millions of dollars and many hours manicuring the lawn. But are these showcase thatched patches an environmental hazard?

      Water is in short supply, yet 30 percent of East Coast water usage and 60 percent of West Coast water usage goes to watering our lawns. We pour 10 times more chemicals on our lawns than farmers use in their fields, making lawns toxic for wildlife, soil microorganisms and earthworms, and polluting local water supplies. Up to a third of bagged household waste going to our landfills is lawn trimmings and leaves raked from our yards.

      Traditional gas-powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even the innocuous Weedeater emits 21 times more emissions than the typical family car, while the leaf blower can emit up to 34 times more according to

       All this adds up to about 800 million gallons of gas burned each year in the quest for the perfect patch. But, about 17 million gallons of that fuel doesn’t quite make it to the mower tank and winds up spilled on the ground. That’s more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989, and chances are that most homeowners do not clean it up. If that spilled fuel is left to evaporate into the air, it forms smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight, and seeps into our water supply.

     If your mower happens to be a two-cycle engine, it releases 25 to 30 percent of its oil and gas unburned into the air, along with particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and other ingredients of smog. This unhealthy soup we breathe contributes to cancer, and damages our hearts, lungs, and immune systems.

      Want to lessen the environmental impact of your lawn?

      The “greenest” thing you can do is convert your lawn to a vegetable garden and replace the turf with lovely raised beds of edible greens.

      If that is too crunchy for your taste, how about trading in those gas guzzlers for the old-fashioned human-powered kind? Reel mowers are easier to use, quiet, non-polluting and you don’t have to worry about spilling the gas. With the money you save on gas alone, you could buy a good pair of clippers for the bushes and a scythe for   weed whacking.

      If you want to take the work out of lawn care, consider investing in electric mowers and weed whackers. Electric mowers range in price from $150 to $450, and the average cost in electricity to power the mower for one year is about five bucks, with no spilled gas and less emissions. Propane powered lawn equipment is a good choice when your lawn is the size of a golf course.

      Use less water by catching rainwater in a barrel and attaching a spigot to the bottom of it. You can set up a drip irrigation system that delivers this rainwater to your lawn. Water your lawn early in the morning when less water will evaporate in the hot sun. Run a fountain pump from your bathtub out the window, and reuse your bathwater to water your lawn.

      Leave grass clippings on the lawn instead of using chemical fertilizers. This keeps yard waste from landfills, and cycles the nutrients from your lawn back into the soil. It also provides a little mulch so that your lawn needs less watering.

    Use your brain instead of herbicides. If your lawn has dandelions, then your soil has a high pH level. Lower it with sulfur, or spot treat individual dandelions or poison ivy with a shot of vinegar.

      Set up a compost pile, or buy a composter for leaves and lawn clippings. Some mnicipalities won’t allow yard waste in municipal landfills. Why waste a good thing? Compost it instead.

      Use natural fertilizers instead of chemicals. Corn gluten will add nitrogen to your soil as well as kill weed seedlings. Use your composted yard waste and vegetable trimmings to build healthy soil on your lawn.

Sustainable Living: School savings

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce


We are all concerned about our schools and our rising school taxes. Most districts are facing a decline in state funding of 11% or. in Valley Central’s case; $3.6 million. That’s a lot of money, and we all wonder where it will come from.


Teachers are concerned about larger classes and less funding for teaching materials, salaries, and lower educational standards. Parents are concerned about less funding for the classes that keep kids interested in school, like music, art, sports, and extracurricular activities. Taxpayers are concerned about an ever-increasing burden that is already difficult to bear. Kids face crowded conditions, increased bullying, and less attention from teachers.


It’s a difficult situation for all, without an easy answer. Many school districts across the country are in the same pickle and some have come up with a few creative solutions that could be applied here.


Newburgh has hired an energy efficiency consultant to show faculty and students how to conserve resources and save money. Simple measures like turning off lights in empty classrooms, lowering the heat after hours, and reducing paper waste can more than pay the consultant’s salary, and save school resources over the long term. Engaging the student population in the school’s efforts to conserve, teaches children an important lesson to take back to the home and community.


Batavia schools have found methods for pooling resources and sharing specialized staff and equipment. This sharing cuts down on individual school district’s costs, and helps keep learning standards high.


In Fairfax County, Va., they are asking parents to pay fees for tests like the PSAT, and SAT tests. They are also planning to charge $50 per student to participate in high school sports. The most ingenious suggestion was to raise class size by a half of a student. You have to wonder where they put the other half!


Texas schools find themselves with a decreasing tax base (as property values plummet) and increasing student population. Instead of building more schools, the districts are encouraging home schooling by providing an online curriculum, free computer and internet, and a teacher with an online class size of 500.


Other states also encourage homeschooling by offering homeschooled children the use of the school for certain classes that parents may not be able to provide at home. For example, a high school science lab course would be easier to pay for than to recreate at home. This piecemeal approach to education also brings in additional revenues from homeschoolers already paying school taxes.


California high school students will soon be working from free digital textbooks online rather than the expensive hardcover textbooks at district’s expense.


Perhaps the best approach to solving the school budget crunch is the one right under our noses, and most likely to be missed. Why not have the children come up with the solution? One of the biggest complaints about schools is that they don’t prepare children for the “real world.” Here’s our chance, let’s give the kids a “real world” scenario, and see what they come up with?


Thomas Kerston of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration has come up with a helpful module that could be applied to any classroom. It’s available free online at


We are quick to give our children the latest in interactive online video games, now how about we give them a quality education in life?


 Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Orange County.


Sustainable Living: Mothers Day Alternatives

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

 By Shawn Dell Joyce

     Flowers are big business. The U.S. floral market is a $20 billion-a-year industry, yet the vast majority of the 4 billion flower stems sold here every year come from Latin America. Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have been exporting flowers to us duty-free since the 1980s. As part of the “War on Drugs,” import taxes on South American flowers were eliminated to give farmers a profitable crop to replace cocaine.

           All the flowers in corporate chains and box stores are imported. The cheap abundance of imported flowers not only has an impact on Mom-and-Pop-owned florists and supermarkets, but also makes it very hard for American growers to compete. One grower complained: “We can’t allow other countries to come in and impact our bottom line in the name of free trade. How can you compare foreign labor costs of $3 an hour compared with our labor costs of $12 an hour?”

           “We can’t compete with imports,” a nursery owner said. “Those flowers are loaded with pesticides that local growers can’t even think about using.” A survey on Columbian flower plantations found that workers were exposed to 127 different pesticides. One-fifth of the chemicals used in flower production in South America are restricted or banned in the United States and Europe (such as DDT). Since there are very few environmental laws in South America, these chemicals wind up in drinking water, causing species decline as well as damaging human health.

          Workers are often denied proper protection and become sick after applying herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Two-thirds of Colombian flower laborers (mostly women) suffer from impaired vision, respiratory and neurological problems, disproportionately high still-birth rates, and babies born with congenital malformations. When workers try to organize unions to defend their interests, they are often fired, ridiculed, or harassed.

          In response to the horrendous social and environmental costs of cut flowers, green entrepreneurs have stepped up to the plate. Organic florist Lynn Mehl of Good Old Days Florist in New Windsor, N.Y., had an epiphany recently when she discovered the thorny underside of the floral industry. “I did a little research on my (previous) products and found that roses alone, according to recent studies, can contain up to 50 times the amount of pesticides that are legally allowed on our food. I shop organic, I support fair wages, I cannot consciously continue with a business practice that is against all that I have supported for years!”

       Mehl got proactive about it and located a U.S. import distributor who sells exclusively certified organic, eco-friendly, and soon-to-be fair trade flowers in bulk resale.  She also found some smaller suppliers of locally grown organic flowers in season.  All varieties are not yet available, but will be in the growing season. These include the heavy-demand varieties like roses, lilies, sunflowers, tulips, baby’s breath, assorted greens and ferns. “Ironically,” notes Mehl, “these flowers are more fragrant, last longer, and have very little cost difference. They are healthier for those who enjoy them, help protect the environment, and support sustainable farming.”

       “And would you believe,” adds Mehl, “I am the only professional florist buying these flowers on the East Coast for resale?” 

Want to celebrate both Mom and Mother Earth this year?

—– Ask your local Mom and Pop florist for organic flowers
—– Buy flowers from a local farm like Twin Ponds in Montgomery.
—– Give Mom a live plant from a farm like Manza’s in Montgomery.
—– Give Mom an edible bouquet of salad greens and flowers from a local farm
—– Buy Mom a flat of flowers from Hoeffner’s farm and plant them in flower beds for her

 Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Sustainable Living – Eating (Yuchh) Oil

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce   

Americans eat almost as much fossil fuels as we burn in automobiles.  American agriculture directly accounts for 17 percent of our energy use, or the equivalent of 400 gallons of oil consumed by every man, woman and child per year according to 1994 statistics.

We have seen a major leap in farm productivity in the last 50 years with food production doubling and even tripling in the case of cereal grains. This amazing leap did not come from new farms or farmlands since we have lost more than half our small farms in that same period. Farmlands are also in decline and being gobbled up by urban sprawl.

 These massive gains in food production are due to the use of synthetic fertilizer and, to a smaller extent, better plant hybrids. “Two out of every five humans on this earth would not be alive today” without the widespread use of chemical fertilizer, says Vaclav Smil, Canadian professor, author, and energy expert.

We are eating fossil fuels in the form of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  These marvelous inventions can be traced directly to Jewish chemist Fritz Haber. He won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918 for “improving agriculture” through his invention of nitrate fertilizer. Unfortunately, Haber’s invention was also used by the Nazis to create Zyklon B, the gas used in the infamous death camps.

Today, a formulation based on Haber’s  Zyklon B is spread “in quantities of over 50 million metric  tons per year” on American farms as insecticides according to author and energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins.  This is 20 times more pesticide used than when Rachel Carson wrote her compelling book “Silent Spring,” warning of environmental catastrophe occurring from pesticide overuse.

 The unpalatable truth about our oil-based food system is that “ it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels to make 1 calorie of food energy” according to a study by David Pimentel, and Mario Giampietro published by the Carrying Capacity Institute. This scary statistic only takes into account the production of the food itself. If you factor in the processing, packaging, transportation, refrigeration and all of the other petroleum-intensive processes that statistic can inflate to 87 calories of fuel per calorie of food.


Why so much? Most of our food travels an average of 1500 “food miles” to get from the farm to our fork. Once these “fossil foods” get to our house we spend even more energy on refrigerating and cooking until each bite we eat is literally marinated in fossil fuels.
      We must start the transition now from the “S.U.V. diet” to a “low carbon diet.”  But how can all earth’s people be fed without fossil fuel based fertilizers and pesticides degrading the environment?

 What sustainable agriculture advocates call “organic farming practices” was simply the right way to do it for many centuries. This “new” model could double yields in highly populated countries without significant expense or resources. It is based on ecosystems’ regenerative capacity as a result of different plant associations; some of you gardeners may call it companion and rotational planting. In the Sahel (Africa), yields could be doubled by combining millet cultivation with acacia planting,” illustrates Marc Dufumier of the National Agronomic Institute.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, NY.

Sustainable Living – Eating Earth

Monday, April 19th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Our Mother Earth has about 22 billion acres of usable land. This is contains about 3.3 billion acres of farm land, 8.4 billion acres of pasture land, and 10.1 billion acres of forest land. Not all of the land is fertile, which will affect its ability to produce food. We also must share this land with other species already dependent upon that land for survival.

According to Dr. Sidney Liebes’ book “A Walk Through Time,” if the earth were the scale of a ball that you could hold in your hand, the amount of usable farmland would look like a tiny speck of dust by comparison. Additionally, all the drinkable water would look like a tiny water droplet, while the breathable atmosphere would be a thin coating of shellac.

Our current ecological footprint which measures how much land it takes to feed, clothe and shelter a typical American, is about 9.6 global hectares, compared to the available 1.8 global hectares of usable land. If everyone used resources and land the way we Americans do, we would need three more planet earths to sustain our population.

Some scientists say that not only are we living beyond earth’s carrying capacity, but we are also eating up future generations’ ability to live within earth’s means. We are literally emptying the earth’s bank account rather than living off the interest as our ancestors have done, and leaving a “balance due” for future generations.

British geographer, Ernst George Ravenstein is credited with first estimating the carrying capacity of the earth to around 6 billion. Presently, at 6.5 billion, at least a billion of our population does not receive enough food energy to carry out a day’s work. Even through Ravenstein was operating on statistics from last century, he hit fairly close to home.

The World Hunger Program at Brown University estimated based on 1992 levels of food production and an equal distribution of food, “the world could sustain either 5.5 billion vegetarians, 3.7 billion people who get 15 percent of their calories from animal products (as in much of South America), or 2.8 billion people who derive 25 percent of their calories from animal products (as in the wealthiest countries).”

We have already passed all sustainable estimates and are now entering the “borrowed time” area of the population chart.  In order to provide the projected 9 billion people in 2050 with 2100 calories per day (what food aid agencies declare as the minimum caloric intake) we would have to double our global agricultural
production. Humans have already plowed over most of the usable farm land on the planet, and there is a limit to any field’s fertility.

In Orange County, we have seen our population increase by about 40,000 people per year, and are currently at a density of 418 people per square mile, and just over 816 square miles. This year, Celebrate Earth day by reducing your ecological footprint on our mother.
—– Encourage local farms by buying locally grown
—– Walk, bike, or share a ride instead of driving
—– Eat less meat
—– Invest in a greener home instead of a bigger home
—– Have smaller families and support zero population growth

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery, N.Y.

Sustainable Living – Celebrate Earth Day

Monday, April 12th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce

“May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.”  — United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, 1971

       April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, came on the heels of the Vietnam peace movement. This was a volatile era of monumental social change fueled by sit-ins and teach-ins, demonstrations, rallies, and a changing political consciousness. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson modeled the first U.S. Earth Day as an environmental “teach-in.” Over two thousand colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities across the United States participated.

  It was also the first time we saw the famous picture of the Earth from the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts. It was then that many of us first saw the earth in its entirety, and likened it as Secretary General U Thant did to a spaceship.  Or even more eloquently by astronomer Carl Sagan who remarked:
“… every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived (here)  —  on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level,”  Nelson said. “That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself. Earth Day has become the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated in 175 countries by more than 5 million people.

      Earth Day is a day for envisioning how we humans want to interact with our mother planet. Imagine what our world would look like if all of us 5 million people put our minds together; we could afford to live and work in the same community, our groceries would be local farm products, our buildings would be ultra-energy efficient and even generate their own power, cars would be traded in for bicycles as local economies thrive, Asthma would be a disease from the past as air quality improves.

     Want to celebrate Earth Day locally? Grab some gloves and join “Operation Clean Sweep” sponsored by the Walden Rotary on April 24. Meet at 8 a.m. at the Firefighter’s Museum, Maybrook Village Hall, Walden Village Hall, or Town Hall on Bracken Road to get road assignments and orange litter bags. Bring your children and teach them that we are all stewards of the land. If Montgomery is out of the way, stop along any roadside and pitch in and keep our spaceship clean.

 Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Sustainable Living: How to Avoid GMO’s

Monday, April 5th, 2010

By Shawn Dell Joyce
It is very difficult to avoid eating genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in our country, because they are so pervasive in the food system and unlabeled in the grocery stores. Part of the reason for this is biotech giants fought to keep GMO foods unlabeled.

Some 200 million acres of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, with over 90 percent of the genetically engineered (GE) seeds coming from US-based Monsanto. Scientists have taken genetic materials from one organism (like a soil bacterium), along with an antibiotic resistant marker gene, and spliced both into a food crop (like corn) to create a genetically modified crop that resists specific diseases and pests.

There has been no long term independent testing on the impacts of these “franken-foods” on the ecosystem or human health.  Instead, there is a long litany of concealed truths, strong arm tactics and even outright bribery by the world’s biotech giants. Most recently, the growth hormones from GE organisms known as rBGH, which is given to cows to make them produce more milk, were banned in Europe and Canada after the authorities found out about the health risks resulting from drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH hormones.  Some American milk producers started labeling their milk “rBGH and rBST free.” Monsanto, which sells bovine growth hormones under the brand name Posilac, began suing dairy producers to force them to stop labeling their milk.

In addition to most milk products, GMO’s can be found in most commercially-farmed meats, and processed foods on store shelves. In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn, and 75 percent of all canola are genetically-altered. Other foods like commercially-grown papaya, zucchini, tomatoes, several fish species, and food additives like enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses, also contain GMO’s.

To complicate matters, GMO’s move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind, and natural cross-fertilization.  The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds “representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply” for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the US.

The reports states that “Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level.” There could be “serious risks to health” if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.
What can you do to avoid GMO’s?

• Know how your food is grown by buying directly from local farmers.
• Support organic agriculture, and food producers who label their ingredients, particularly dairy farmers.
• Eat pastured meat raised on organic feed-the only way to ensure this is to buy from someone you know.
• Support farmers who are a sued by biotech giants. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting more than 150 farmers for a total of more than $15 million.
• Demand labeling on all GMO-containing products so that we at least have a choice!