Monthly Archives: February 2010

Oyster Bay Preschool Creates Sunflower Seed Game

Thu, 25/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

Email 18/02/10
Hi Jude and Michel, I hope you remember us as we certainly remember you for your support to our Sustainability Expo. A few years ago you very kindly donated a book for our raffle at our Sustainability Expo. Well that was an inspiration to us and we have been saving seeds ever since. I just wanted to let you know that we are now distributing a game the children made based on their seed to seed gardening experiences. Originally the children made the game to share with their family at Christmas. Due to the continued children’s love of the game we are launching a shop as part of our website and will be selling the game. Here’s the details of our game:
The Sunflower Game
Follow the growth of a sunflower from when you first plant the seeds to gathering the seeds to replant next season. Along the way meet some of the small creatures and birds that share the sunflower’s habitat. Designed by the children of The Point Preschool and inspired by their involvement in seed to seed gardening and the visitors to the preschool’s playground, an interactive game to share with the family, The Sunflower Game comes with a numbered dice and 6 counters.
I would love to send you one of our games in appreciation of your donation to us and the wonderful work you are doing. Could you let me know an address to mail the game?
I am excited to say that our Sustainability Expo has continued to be a great success and we are now organising our 4th Sustainability Expo for Sat 20th March. If you are visiting Sydney please drop in.
You may like to have a look at our website and also watch ABC Gardening Australia Saturday 27th March at 6.30pm as this episodes features the preschool and our gardening adventures.
Thank you for the inspiration!!
All the best, Catherine Lee, Director
The Point Preschool, Oyster Bay


India bans GE eggplant – Monsanto ‘fakes’ safety data

Wed, 24/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

The Indian Government has banned genetically engineered (GE) eggplant after the ex-Director of Monsanto India admitted the corporation provided ‘fake scientific data’ to regulators. In announcing the moratorium on GE eggplant, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, said there was not enough evidence that GE foods were safe to eat and that they didn’t harm the environment.
‘It is my duty to adopt a cautious precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt-Brinjal until such time as independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and the environment,’ said Ramesh.
The decision followed a public statement from former Director of Monsanto India, Tiruvadi Jagadisan. In his statement, Jagadisan said that the chemical company ‘used to fake scientific data’ to get government regulatory agencies to approve GE crops for commercial release.
The Indian Government decision has implications for Australia, raising serious questions about the safety of the GE foods that have been approved for Australians to eat.
‘India’s GE outrage calls into question the credibility of all food safety data provided by Monsanto,’ said Greenpeace GE campaigner, Laura Kelly. ‘Greenpeace is calling on the federal government to act immediately to review the regulations that allow our regulator to disregard independent evidence on the risks Australians face eating GE foods and consider only the data provided by multinational chemical companies with a history of illegal activity,’ says Kelly.
‘The same gene inserted into GE eggplant has been inserted into the GE cotton grown in Australia in NSW and Queensland,’ says Kelly. ‘This is used to produce cottonseed oil, which is a popular frying oil in fast-food restaurants.’
‘The Indian Government’s rejection of this GE toxin raises the urgent need for the Australian Government to improve current food safety regulations and consider all independent, peer-reviewed studies on the health risks of eating GE toxins in food.’


Seed Savers Stall at Major Kitchen Garden Project in Sydney

Mon, 22/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

CarriageWorks is a major performing arts centre in Sydney. Late 2009 a Kitchen Garden Project was created there. Three Local Seed Networks combined to have a stall at the Expo & Launch of Stage 2 on Saturday 6 February 2010.
North West Sydney Community, Permaculture Sydney North and Paddington Community Gardens Seed Savers ran a stall at the Launch of Stage 2 of the CarriageWorks’ Kitchen Garden Project.

IMAGE: PSN Seed Savers LSN Coordinator Jannine Ord (2nd from left), NW Sydney Seed Savers’ Robyn Williamson & Anja Schiller, and Marilyn Moseley LSN Coordinator for Paddington Community Garden Photo by Michele Margolis

CONTACT DETAILS: Robyn Williamson
Permaculture Designer, Urban Horticulturist
Local Seed Network Coordinator, NW Sydney Seed Savers
See a video of Carriageworks Stage 1 seed saving workshop here:



Organics Use Massive Amount of Plastic

Fri, 19/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

In the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia we interviewed an immigrant agricultural labourer, Mahmoud Rahid, from Bangladesh about the difference between local organic and conventional growing methods. He described he often had to spray conventional crops with what he called “medicine”, but he also did not like how organics are grown with so much plastic.

Mahmoud spoke with us as he sprayed glyphosate weedicide along pathways of the guesthouse where he works. Mahmoud gave us insights into the pros and cons of organics and conventional growing. He has been in Malaysia nine years, six in the cauliflower fields, the last three as a guesthouse gardener.

IMAGE: Mahmoud with his spray equipment
Mahmoud says that, while it is lower in yield, organic produce tastes better than “medicine” (chemical) produce.
However it is not all good news with organics. Farmers lay wide strips of black plastic on the ground to control both weeds and pests. First they shallowly dig in the manure and then water it in, spread out the long rows of black plastic, punch holes into it and transplant the seedlings. The plastic hugging the soil cuts down on the incidence of weeds by stifling any growth between plants and reduces attack from pests because they do not like such an artificial environment.
It seems a huge pity to use single-use black plastic that becomes a big waste problem after the crop; not to mention the great loss of soil biota from soil-baking.

IMAGE: Centre right: bok choy growing in black plastic, polytunnels in background
Mahmoud’s dream is to return to Bangladesh to find a wife. Presently his wage is USD10 per day for ten hours work, and he works seven days a week.


Cameron Highlands pay the price of vegetables for distant cities

Fri, 19/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

Cameron Highlands are near the centre of the Malay Peninsula. The rainforest-clad mountains reach 2500 metres. The area is blessed with plentiful rain, a cool and constant climate and fertile free-draining soils. Or should we say “cursed”? For these characteristics feed globalised trade. And there is a price; a much higher price than the vegetables fetch.
The Cameron Highlands plateau has been relentlessly deforested over the last fifty years. This startling transformation has been to create intensive market gardens that supply distant cities with vegetables and some fruits. To carry out all this work, entrepreneurs have brought labour into Malaysia from nearby less lucky countries, thus creating inequities that eventuate in social problems.
Cool climate and delicate vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and other brassicas, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and the whole gamut of Asian greens are grown intensively. The area is known for its strawberries. Massive quantities of all this are shipped off to the capital Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore and even Japanese cities.

Entering the Highlands
You will experience this phenomenon most dramatically by entering the Highlands from the north. Quickly you ascend on an impressive divided highway from the plains around the city of Ipoh. Bamboo dominates the lower slopes. Further up, fabulous rainforest covers steep mountains, home to the original inhabitants, the Orang Asli. Massive durian, longan, rambutan and langsat trees grow wild.
Suddenly a plateau appears and you blink as the green, curly-haired camel-like humps give way to smooth arcs of silver. Every surface is covered in glinting plastic; polytunnels of intensive horticulture. At the edges there are great gashes into the hillside, marks of expansion into the remaining forest.

Environmental Costs
Farmers and investors prefer to grow in the valleys but they even clear quite steep slopes to gain extra space and sunlight. This increases the chance of erosion and slippage.
To add to this picture of destruction, farmers use enormous quantities of chemicals as fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. They are obliged to do this in order to produce so much so intensively.

Localised Climate Change
A more dire and long-term consequence is local climate change. With the clearing of the forest locals have noted an increase in temperature and a drop in rainfall.

IMAGE: Strawberries growing in glass house
IMAGE: Glass houses covering whole hillsides in Sabah
Who are the Workers? Immigrant labourers come in from Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma and Indonesia. They must work ten hours a day, seven days a week for which they receive around only AUD100 per month. With such low wages they form an underclass, not dissimilar to their status back in their own countries. Social problems of drug and petty crime result as time goes along and they fail to see their situation improve. In fact their relative wage has reduced over the last thirty years according to analyst Vasanthi Ramachandran in her book “As It Is, An Ode to a Decade of Hidden Issues”.
Read about one of these immigrant labourers in our next blog.


Feedback on our Film from New Zealand

Fri, 19/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

Louise Nikau writes about our film, ‘Our Seeds’ from New Zealand.
Kia ora Jude I love it!!! The music, the message, the celebrations, we were inspired and we are planning our own celebrations. Everything was put together in such a beautiful way.
We had a screening last year with a visiting friend’s copy. This will be a repeat with a seed swap. We decided to buy our own (as Amanda is now in Australia). It will be used in comunities all around the Bay of Plenty alongside our kakano (seeds) and the work we are doing. It echoes our place and our people. Another kakano for our collection.
Arohanui, Louise


Former Intern Reports In

Tue, 09/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

Former intern, Matt Brown from Kentucky, made contact with Jude by email in January 2010
‘I watched the videos of you putting Davidson plums to use and Michel bashing the Bunya nut! Ha! It reminded me of when Michel climbed a palm tree to cut out the fruit (growing in the ginger garden at that time) because it was not a native or desirable and he was worried too many seedlings would pop up everywhere.’

IMAGE: Matt, with our son Julien’s dog, Malina, at Seed Savers in 2000
Anyway, I waited below and braced a wheel barrow as he chopped off a 25-kilo heavily-fruited infloresence. What an interesting adventure.

IMAGE: Michel Fanton up a Cocos tree cutting down huge bunches of heavy seeds so they won’t propagate
My only regret is that I was not more adamant about you not calling Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) Kentucky grass (or something like that). I can speak for those of us in KY who can identify that grass (running pest!) and we disapprove of it in our gardens as much as you! And, I don’t believe it is native to KY.
It brought back so many wonderful memories to see you in the kitchen, where I washed many a dish and Michel on the porch where we ate ‘Old Women Sit around and Gossip’ cabbage for lunch.
I have put my horticulture degree to good use doing landscaping with an emphasis on native plants and organic pest control. I also have a small aquatic plant nursery where I use native mosquito fish (Gambuzia) to control mosquitoes using little to no organic pesticides. We did not spray once this past growing season and had only one insect problem. My specialty is installing water gardens and koi ponds. I built a ‘Renewable Energy Garden’ for our state fair several years ago. With the help of some photovoltaic guys who did the wiring, we built a solar powered waterfall that turned a water wheel. We also had a wind mill to represent wind energy and switchgrass to represent energy obtained from biomass. The whole project was full of native plants. Once the fair was over I installed the ‘Renewable Energy Garden’ at a local elementary school to serve as a teaching tool. I was just back there recently and the kids love it. In fact they had loved it a bit too much and we had to repair it a bit, but nothing major.

IMAGE: Matt with Seed Savers friends, relatives and interns: from left, our second son, Zephyr, friend Jerome Marchand, intern Amy Glastonbury, Matt Brown at back, Jude Fanton, our first son, Julien, intern from Japan, Michel Fanton, intern Nikki Warwick.
I don’t mean to take your time tooting my horn, but there was so much I learned from my time at Seed Savers and I will never forget those lessons. I look forward to the time I get to return!

Postscript from Jude: We have cut out all dozen Cocos palms as they are a real weed in our area and produce thousands of seeds each year. We cut down only the tops and ate their hearts in salads – delicious! The trunks are standing as tall compost heaps for vines to climb over.


Contamination of US soya with GM maize

Sun, 07/02/2010 – Jude Fanton

Some 200,000 tonnes of US soya beans have been blocked at EU ports this year because they contained trace amounts of two varieties of GM maize that have not yet been approved by member states.
Farmers’ groups have warned they face a “serious shortage” of livestock feed in a matter of weeks because of the EU’s zero tolerance of unapproved GMOs in imported feed and foodstuffs. European Union buyers have voluntarily moved to stop imports of US soy after soybean meal shipments to Spain and Germany were found with traces of GMO corn. The shipments have been rejected at the EU borders and have been consigned and recalled when already on the market within the EU, unless they have already been consumed. They were found to contain the corn varieties MON-88017 and MIR-604.
Reuters, 6/12/09