Friday, November 2, 2012

Clear as Mud

Clear as Mud

Walker's Creek, Georgianna Brush

“Muddy water, let stand - becomes clear” ~ Lao Tzu

Is anything really clear these days? For every good argument, there seems to be a good opposing one. We all seem to agree that we’re living in a world of information overload. The internet has provided us with a wealth of information on everything, and it can be totally confusing for anyone at times. It can also be very wrong and misleading. Probably all social media users will have the lasting memory of the fake images of sharks swimming in the flooded New Jersey Coastal neighborhoods after the recent ‘Superstorm Sandy’.

When it comes to eating healthy, there is not a shortage of information either. If you are like me, you can remember buying an apple and eating it without great apprehension. “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away,” remember? You simply would give it a quick rinse with water or give it a quick wipe with your shirt and proceed to crunch away. After all, apples are natural and good for you, right?

A few years back I remember getting an order of chicken wings for dinner from a popular chain restaurant. (I eat meat, although quite sparingly, but I feel that it is my choice to do so. I also have many friends that do not.) Anyway, the little wings were huge. I remember thinking, “Wow, why are these so big?” At the time, I chose not to question things any further, but I’ll never forget.


As a person who is very inquisitive by nature, I have found that as I age, I am not as inhibited from asking the questions that I feel are necessary to obtain what I feel to be somewhat logical answers. That is simply me. As a gardener, I have found myself asking more questions about the food that I grow or buy to consume. Before beginning Access to the Garden, I never even thought about the concept of eating ‘whole foods’. I never made the correlation, but personally I think that the closer something is to its original source, the better it is for us.

My philosophy has always been that too much of a good thing will kill you. I also agree with the warning that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, that it probably isn’t good for you either. Again, these are my personal choices. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to drink a soda occasionally or consume a funnel cake at the county fair. It simply means that I am choosing to make healthier choices regarding what I put into my body. Less CRAP as the poster says. I actually drank a green juice smoothie recently. (I’m not worried about oxalates.)

We live in a world where knowing that the label "Natural and Wholesome,” does not necessarily signify what’s actually the healthiest for us. The dairy product or meat may actually contain added hormones or antibiotics used for enhanced growth and production. "Natural flavors" are created in laboratories. “Fresh and Ready to Eat” may not actually mean that the fruit or produce is washed in a manner that removes the pesticides, and “Organic” may actually contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) or Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEO’s). To receive an "organic" certification, only 95% of the product is required to be grown organically and 5% can be non-organic or synthetic. "No MSG" can also be deceptive if the product contains other ingredients where MSG is naturally occurring. These are just a few of many examples of what’s happening.

Take it a step further and we learn that retailers have become quite clever by changing the actual serving size to depict fewer calories and zero Trans Fats. Reading a label and understanding the ingredients has become a mystery for any conscientious consumer. To whatever extent that this is all considered good or bad is our own personal perspective. When I spend extra money for produce or cereal that is supposedly organic, personally, I expect it to be. When I read that a ketchup company replaces a sweetener with a GMO beet juice, I'm disappointed.

This week on Access to the Garden I discussed the use of galvanized trough containers as raised vegetable beds. They’re a good height and depth. One issue that was discussed was the "zinc flake-off effect". This is something that I honestly had never considered before. I had automatically assumed that since they were normally used for animal feed and water, that they would be considered safe to use for growing vegetables for human consumption. The discussion and resources were actually quite helpful and there appear to be ways to possibly minimize the potential leaching when they’re used for growing vegetables. The potential for excessive heat build-up in the containers was another issue that can apparently be minimized with the use of bubble-wrap and a plastic liner.

The use of plastic brought on more discussion. If a plastic container has the recycling number 2, 4, or 5 on the bottom, it is generally considered safe. Again, this determination has to be individual and I would suggest doing additional research. The plastic containers that I own do not have any numbers on them.
Many good points were made regarding the use of plastics. Plastic is used to suppress weeds in all kinds of farming, organic too. Plastic is also used in the medical industry to save lives. I use and touch plastic everyday on my wheelchair. As an alternative in container gardening, I often use terracotta pots. They are heavy, possibly pose a great risk of back injury if lifted improperly, and there is no way of knowing what’s in the clay used to make them.

As a somewhat conscientious consumer and as a gardener, I can only try to make the most informed decisions as possible. Whether a gardener or farmer chooses to pursue organic versus non-organic methods is simply their choice. I’ve grown plants organically, and I understand some of the challenges a farmer may face. My choice quite understandably may not be yours. I’ve seen people who run other pages chastised for choosing to eat butter over artificial products. I guess that goes along with the joy of free speech. Personally, I feel that if someone is that opposed they shouldn’t LIKE the page in the first place.

Anyway, as I continue in my quest to decipher some very misunderstood regulations regarding accessibility to community and educational gardens, I can’t help but feel that I’m also sometimes swimming in murky water. It is very similar to planning the height for a raised bed for one individual compared to planning for many. Height and reach ranges vary for children and adults, and a variety of heights are necessary in a true community garden. All considerations necessary must be made.

Knowing which regulations to reference is of extreme importance. One regulation may simply specify “firm and stable” for surface materials when they’re actually required to meet all three criteria, “firm, stable, and slip resistant”. There is a very BIG difference when choosing what to use for parking and an accessible route. Your best bet is to reference your state code as well as both the Accessible Play Area Guidelines, and the latest ADA/ABA Standards for reference. Your organization’s funding source is of huge importance too. I also recommend asking more than one individual. Sometimes a local or state official will simply cite the state code, and sometimes they may not reference all of that either.

Accessible Play Area Guidelines,
2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design,

In both public and community gardens, accessibility is a major issue for many. The law’s intent is not to create an undue hardship, but to provide equal access for people with disabilities. Whether you are privately or publicly funded by state, local or federal funds, including federal grants, you need to be aware of what you need to do and to do it to the fullest extent possible. No public garden is exempt.

Cahaba Lily, Dustin Gavin

The Standells, Dirty Water

Played once by the Grateful Dead, I washed My Hands in Muddy Water


  1. 'Sometimes the lights are shining on me...other times I can barely see.' Or, the best insurance is to try to be as educated as possible. It's a personnal responsibility thing. It works its way outwards to others from there.

  2. What a good blog you have here. Please update it more often. This topics is my interest. Thank you. . . best weed eaters

    1. Thanks! Please check out my Facebook page, Access to the Garden. My apologies for me not keeping up with writing my blog, but unfortunately I've had a few health issues to contend with this past year. Hoping to clear the hurdle very soon. Please check back occasionally.