City veggie gardens flourish

BY DORIAN BLOCK, DONALD BERTRAND and CHRISTINA BOYLE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Forget budget furniture or do-it-yourself interior design – New Yorkers are switching to homegrown dining in an effort to cut costs as the economy flounders.

The number of green-thumbed residents using the city’s vegetable gardens has increased by the bushel in recent months because of soaring prices in the food aisles.

“We have had a huge increase in our participation this year,” said Jennifer Plewka, who manages Drew Gardens in the Bronx, where membership doubled from 25 to 50 in the last year.

“We have one large family from Bangladesh and they have terrace-farmed an area on the hillside.

“They have three generations of the family coming on a daily basis.”

Community gardens in all five boroughs have seen a steady surge as residents look for creative, and healthful, ways to tighten their belts.

Some neighborhoods have a waiting list of urban farmers wanting to get on board. Plewka says staff at her Bronx garden had to clear out extra land to create more plots as demand soars.

“The prices for food are so high,” said Sandra Carter, 68, who now grows her own collard greens, green peppers, tomatoes and lettuce in the Bronx.

“I’m used to buying in bulk but I can’t afford it; I wait for things to come on sale. And the sales are not sales for me.”

The types of vegetables grown in community gardens across New York varies depending on the ethnicity of the gardener.

People with Southern roots like cultivating okra and collard greens, Latinos favor hot peppers and squash, and spinach is most popular among the Asian community, according to Robert Bennaton, New York City Housing Authority’s community coordinator for the Green and Greening Program.

“It can be an expression of people’s cultural identity,” he said. “But I think that families across the board are thinking that it’s a good idea.”

As city dwellers don gardening gloves and pick up shovels, or even try to grow produce in their homes, demand for vegetable seeds, tomato transplants and fruit trees has risen sharply.

The nation’s largest seed company, W.Atlee Burpee & Co., sold twice as many seeds this year compared with last year, with half the increase from new customers, company President George Ball said.

cboyle@nydailynews.com

How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

Whether genetically modified (GM) foods are beneficial or harmful is still controversial, but some people would prefer to avoid them until the evidence is clear. Most foods we eat may contain ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)–everything from baby formula and food to our dairy to even our meat. If you live in Europe, avoiding GM foods is easier since laws require labeling. However in the US and Canada food manufacturers are not required to label if their food is genetically modified or not. As such, here are some guidelines for steering clear of GM foods in your diet, if that is your choice.

Steps
1. Become familiar with the most common applications of genetic modification. These are the products (and their derivatives) that are most likely to be genetically modified:
* Soybeans – Gene taken from bacteria (Agrobacterium sp. strain CP4) and inserted into soybeans to make them more resistant to herbicides.[
* Corn – Gene from the lepidoptera pathogen microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis inserted into corn genome to produce the Bt toxin, which poisons insect pests.May be present in high fructose corn syrup which is prevalent in a wide variety of foods in America.
* Rapeseed/Canola – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to pesticides
* Sugar cane – Gene added/transferred to make crop more resistant to pesticides
* Rice – Genetically modified to resist herbicides; not currently available for human consumption, but trace amounts of one GM long-grained variety (LLRICE601) may have entered the food supply in the USA and Europe.[3]More recently, golden rice, a different strain of rice has been engineered to produce significantly higher levels of beta carotene, which the body uses to procduce vitamin A. Golden rice is still undergoing testing to determine if it is safe for human consumption.[4]
* Cotton – Used for making cottonseed oil.
* Dairy – Cows injected with GE hormone rBGH/rBST; possibly fed GM grains and hay.

2. Buy food labeled 100% organic. The US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if that food has been genetically modified or been fed genetically modified feed. However, you may find that organic food is more expensive and different in appearance from conventional products. Also, just because something says “organic” on it does not mean that it does not contain GMs. In fact, it can still contain up to 30% GMs, so be sure the labels say 100% organic.
This applies to eggs, as well. Eggs labeled “free-range”, “natural”, or “cage-free” are not necessarily GE-free; look for eggs to be 100% organic.

3. Recognize fruit and vegetable label numbers. The code on that little sticker is quite meaningful. If it is a 4-digit number, then the food it ‘normal’, while a 5-digit number beginning with an 8 is GM, while a 5-digit number beginning with a 9 is organic.[6] Sometimes a market will mislabel a bin of food as organic, or not, but the sticker code doesn’t lie.

4. Purchase beef that is 100% grass-fed. Most cattle in the U.S. are grass-fed, but spend the last portion of their lives in feedlots where they may be given GM grain, the purpose of which is to increase intramuscular fat and marbling. If you’re looking to stay away from GMOs, make sure the cattle were 100% grass-fed or pasture-fed (sometimes referred to as grass-finished or pasture-finished). The same applies to meat from other herbivores such as sheep. There is also the slight possibility that the animals were fed GM alfalfa, although this is less likely if you buy meat locally. With non-ruminants like pigs and poultry that cannot be 100% grass-fed, it’s better to look for meat that is 100% organic.

5. Seek products that are specifically labeled as non-GM or GMO-free. However, it is rare to find products labeled as such. You can also research websites that list companies and foods that do not use genetically modified foods, [7], but be aware that information is often incomplete and conflicting interests may not be declared.

6. Shop locally. Although more than half of all GM foods are produced in the US,[8] most of it comes from large, industrial farms. By shopping at farmers’ markets, signing up for a subscription from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, or patronizing a local co-op, you may be able to avoid GM products and possibly save money at the same time.

More and more small farms are offering grains and meat directly to customers, in addition to the usual fare (vegetables, fruit, herbs).

7. Buy whole foods. Favor foods that you can cook and prepare yourself, rather than foods that are processed or prepared (e.g. anything that comes in a box or a bag, including fast food). What you lose in convenience, you may recover in money saved and satisfaction gained, as well as increased peace of mind. Try cooking a meal from scratch once or twice a week–you may enjoy it and decide to do it more often.

Tips

  • If you have the land, time, and resources, grow your own food. As long as you make sure you’re not buying GM seeds, and aren’t near any GM plants which could cross-pollinate, you’ll know for sure that the food which comes from your garden is not genetically modified.
  • At chain and non-chain restaurants, you can ask which, if any, of their foods contain GMs, but the wait and kitchen staff are not likely to know.
  • Producers who label their food GM-free aren’t making any health claims regarding the product.

Phone home: Purported UFO video to be shown Friday

By Daniel J. Chacon, Rocky Mountain News

A video that purportedly shows a living, breathing space alien will be shown to the news media Friday in Denver.

Jeff Peckman, who is pushing a ballot initiative to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission in Denver to prepare the city for close encounters of the alien kind, said the video is authentic and convinced him that aliens exist. “As impressive as it is, it’s still one tiny portion in the context of a vast amount of peripheral evidence,” he said Wednesday. “It’s really the final visual confirmation of what you already know to be true having seen all the other evidence.”

When Peckman went before city officials this month to discuss his proposed ET initiative, he promised to show the video.

Peckman said the general public will have to wait to see it because it’s being included in a documentary by Stan Romanek. “No one will be allowed to film the segment with the extraterrestrial because there is an agreement in place limiting that kind of exposure during negotiations for the documentary,” he said.

But people won’t have to wait too long to see it for themselves. “There is an open, public meeting in about a month in Colorado Springs,” Peckman said. “We’ll hope to do one in Denver at some point, and then in a few months, there will be the documentary that anybody can have, and it’ll have the footage.”

An instructor at the Colorado Film School in Denver scrutinized the video “very carefully” and determined it was authentic, Peckman said.

Peckman, 54, said the video was among the reasons he was “compelled” to launch the proposed ballot initiative, which has generated news as far as South Africa.
“It shows an extraterrestrial’s head popping up outside of a window at night, looking in the window, that’s visible through an infrared camera,” he said. The alien is about 4 feet tall and can be seen blinking, Peckman said earlier this month.

In a statement, Peckman said “other related credible evidence” proving aliens exist will be shown at Friday’s news conference, too.

In 2003, Peckman authored an off-beat ballot initiative that would have required the city to implement stress-reduction techniques. The “Safety Through Peace” initiative failed, but garnered 32 percent of the vote.

chacond@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5099
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