Archive for April 2012 | Monthly archive page

Across the nation, as male farmers age and “buy the farm” as it were, their female counterparts are inheriting acres of valuable cropland.  Many ladies are returning from careers away from the vegetable patch, adjusting their livelihoods to keep property in the family.

Growing food is a tricky business, and managing a large plot of soil can be a challenging endeavor.  Traditionally, farm bureaus and other resources where women could go for information and advice have been male-dominated.  Being a novice at anything can be intimidating, and asking questions in a room where you are an outsider both in experience and gender can make for  awkward interactions.  Understanding these situations, many female biologists, ecologists, and veteran farmers have initiated all-women collectives and groups for their fellow sisters to come and glean information.  As of 2007, a full 14 per cent of the country’s farms were owned by women, and the numbers are growing.

Here in San Luis Obispo county, there are a number of resources for women in agriculture.

San Luis Obispo Farm County Bureau Women: Officially founded in 1923, the San Luis Obispo Farm County Bureau Women organization is open to female members of the Farm Bureau, friends, and invited members.  Scholarships are available for landholders and their dependents are available and awarded based on academic achievement, educational goals, and financial necessity.

California Women for Agriculture: Located in Templeton, the San Luis Obispo chapter of California Women for Agriculture promotes the education and economic success of female farmers in the county through sales and agricultural tourism.  They support outreach community programs that enhance consumer understanding of food production, speak on behalf of legislative initiatives, and provide information on food safety, trade,  climate change, endangered species, labor policies, and biotechnology, and environmental health.

The San Luis Obispo County Cattle Women: With over 200 members, the San Luis Obispo County CattleWomen chapter is the largest in the United States.  A small yearly membership fee keeps these representatives of the beef industry up to date on legislation as well as funding field trips for children, rodeos, and awards.  Many open their property to schools and trail riders looking to learn about and enjoy the agricultural spaces along the Central Coast.

Women of the Vine: Founded by a computer tech and marketing entrepreneur with a passion for food and drink, Women of the Vine seeks to connect and assist women across the wine producing areas across California.

 

 

 

This Saturday, April 28, make your way to Four Elements Farm’s 2nd Annual Spring Plant Sale and Farm Festival.  The place will be hopping all day from 11am-10pm with a number of activities including farm tours, watershed ecology walks, kids’ games, yoga, and by-donation workshops.  With food, thousands of organic plants for sale, and music from The Earthtones, Burning Bush, and BoomBala, you will be sure to have a wonderful time and feel good from the tips of your leaves all the way down to the bottom of your roots!

You will find Four Elements Organics off of Hwy 41 between Atascadero and Morro Bay.  Nestled in the mountains of San Luis Obispo county and blessed with a Mediterranean climate, the farm strives to harmonize with nature and work with the land to produce high quality organics.  Extensive cover cropping, frequent rotations to promote healthy soil, home-made biodiesel, and wise water management all combine to create ideal conditions for their wide selection of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs.  Four Elements Organics supplies a number of local nurseries, CSA’s, farmers markets, restaurants, and body care companies along the Central Coast.

Enjoy a day on the farm and celebrate your love for organic agriculture!

 

Before Paul Stamets, I hardly gave mushrooms a thought beyond salad and stir fry, and a mild interest in what popped up from my lawn after a good rain.  After watching his captivating TED Talk, “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World”, I gained a new and profound respect for these amazing organisms.

Imagine, a fungus that clean up an oil spill AND become dinner?  Fungi also can be harnessed to cure diseases, control household pests without the need for toxic chemicals, decompose a variety of substances, and filter polluted water.  Since 1980, Stamets has spread the message of mushrooms through his small buisness, Fungi Perfecti.  Certified organic, Fungi Perfecti promotes the use of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms to improve the health of the planet and her inhabitants.  Through the site, you can order one of Stamets’s fascinating books, buy kits to grow your own mushrooms, collect recipes, or read up on your favorite species.

A dedicated mycologist for over 30 years, Stamets is as fascinating as the subject he studies.  Throughout his career, he has discovered four new species of fungus, created numerous techniques for the cultivation of mushrooms, written six books, filed over 22 patents for fungus-related products, and conducted a plethora of ecological studies.  He has been the recipient of many accolades including the Bioneers Award and the National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s Green-O-Vator Award.  Most recently, Stamets has been given a government grant by the EPA to study the effects of mycofiltration on E. coli-contaminated storm water. Also deeply involved with the conservation of Pacific Northwest’s old growth forests, where many of the world’s most important fungi are found, Stamets is truly a remarkable individual.

Go and explore a compelling part of the natural world with Paul Stamets as your guide!

 

Celebrate Earth Day 2012 in San Luis Obispo by showing your love for Ma Nature this Sunday, April 22 with a number of fun activities throughout the county!

-Get Down to Earth-  San Luis Obispo’s El Chorro Regional Park will be holding their Get Down to Earth shindig as a part of a worldwide recognition of the 42nd annual observance of Earth Day.  Ride the complementary shuttle, bicycle, or carpool to enjoy the free festivities from 10am-5pm.  Check out the booths featuring community organizations, kids activities, for-profit and non-profit businesses, government agencies, and area schools.  The solar powered stage presents the music of Brendan James, Midnight Express, and Up in the Air.  For questions or volunteer applications, contact the Earth Day Alliance at earthdayslo@gmail.com.

-Cal Parks Volunteering- Show your planet a little love by offering to spend the day restoring and cleaning one of California’s state parks.  Montana De Oro in Los Osos is still registering volunteers through the California State Parks Foundation.  Workers will be grading, providing drainage repairs and tread maintenance for Coon Creek and Rattlesnake Trails as well as installing a bluff safety fence and native plantings for the Islay Campground.  With budget cutbacks and the possibility of closures, our state parks need as much support as they can manage!

-The Earth Day Food and Wine Festival- Head to Atascadero for the sixth annual Earth Day Food and Wine Festival, brought to you by the Central Coast Vineyard Team.  The event is held from April 20-22 with the main attraction taking place at the Pomar Junction and Vineyard Winery in Templeton on April 21.  Attending will be over 200 purveyors of local, sustainably produced food and drink, growers, vintners, and chefs.  Live music by the Mother Corn Shuckers will get you dancing and working up a healthy appetite.  Tickets range from $40-100. For details and tickets, visit www.earthdayfoodandwine.com.

Party for the planet! Learn a little something about the environment and have a great time in the process!  What do you do to celebrate our glorious globe?

 

The Surfrider Foundation knows that healthy land ecosystems contribute to clean beaches and oceans.  Here on the Central Coast, sound shorelines translate into pleasant family outings, tourist dollars, and meaningful outdoor experiences.  Through its Ocean Friendly Gardens initiative, the Foundation encourages homeowners to become ocean stewards by adapting their yards and gardens.  Seeing as 1% of all marine pollution comes from surface runoff, adjusting personal habits can go a long way towards reducing the amounts of herbicides, pesticides, gasoline, refuse, and other harmful chemicals that enter the water.

To give your garden a little TLC, apply some CPR, or “Conservation, Permeability, and Retention”.  “Conservation” refers to the wise use of water, energy, and habitat through planting native vegetation.  “Permeability” allows for healthy, biologically active soil and paved surfaces that let rain and runoff percolate down into the water table.  “Retention” devices such as rain chains, water barrels, and gardens hold moisture through the dry seasons and can be saved for irrigation.  For an OFG Activist Toolkit, planting tips, and information on how you can transform your yard, visit the OFG Resources Page!

Join your fellow green thumbs this Saturday, April 21st for the Shell Beach Cliffside Garden Tour and Ocean Friendly Garden Celebration!  The tour will discuss designing with California Native and Mediterranean plants, integrating edibles into the landscape, composting and worm composting, earth ovens, rocket stoves, Biochar, permeable paving, and turf alternatives.  Come and learn how eating local and organic foods and caring for our rural and residential habitats can help heal ourselves and our planet.  What a wonderful way to kick off Earth Day weekend!

Space is limited and registration is required.  The tour will take place at 12pm, 1:30pm, and 4pm.  To reserve your spot, contact Rob Nieto at rbnieto@yahoo.com with your time preference and number in your party.  Confirmation and location will be given with the reply.

Marc Abrahams has a funny way of looking at things.  Literally.  As the editor and co-founder of the scientific humor publication Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), author of many anthologies and articles including the new book This is Improbable, and creator of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, the man has a great deal of experience in squeezing good laugh out of some serious research.  Holding a degree in mathematics from Harvard University, Abrahams has also spent many years developing optical character recognitions systems for computer product companies before founding his own educational software business.  When not producing blog posts or op-ed pieces, Abrahams is most likely busy producing his Internet TV series, giving interviews on public radio, or writing librettos for a series of science mini-operas.  Dubbed by the American Medical Association as “the Puck of Science” and by the Washington Post as “the nation’s guru of academic grunge”, Abrahams harnesses the power of levity and personal charisma to engage the public in science, technology, and medicine.

The next Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be held on September 20, 2012 and broadcasted on public radio and webcast live from Harvard’s Sanders Theater.  The Prizes honor the achievements of those individuals, like Abrahams, inspire interest in scientific inquiry through laughter and creativity.  Many of these recipients are joined by real Nobel Laureates, adding some gravitas to the otherwise silliness of the awards.   Since 1991, 10 awards have been presented, and are available for perusal through their online archive.

The titles of the studies in each discipline are honestly some of the funniest pieces of literature I have ever read, and are worth looking through.  The ceremony itself allows delegations of five people or more to form colorful, costumed groups that can register to be officially celebrated during the event.  Winners are allowed 60 seconds to explain their projects, and are later invited the following weekend to further elaborate their motives and discuss the details of their research.

In disciplines that are regularly ignored or feared due to their intimidating jargon, complex methodologies, or dry content, it is wonderful to hear that there are champions of science that focus on outreach and accessibility.  How could you not giggle at the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™?  Snicker over an engineer demonstrating how to turn a bra into a pair of emergency face masks?  Be awed by an opera based on a bacterium’s struggle to live in a woman’s infected tooth?  Go on and have a smile for science!

There are some animals attending Giants games at AT&T Park as of late, and for once, I’m not talking about the fans.  Between the sealions, seagulls and pigeons, the stadium can become a regular zoo.  Now, add to the menagerie a red-tail hawk fans have dubbed “Bruce Lee”.  Unlike his other feathered brethren, Bruce has been welcomed as a member of the team.  This is because like many other raptors (or “birds of prey”), he likes to dine on the mess-making pigeons and seagulls that like to deposit guano on spectators and steal ballpark snacks. The gull problems, especially during their annoying ninth inning food raids, became such a problem before Bruce’s appearance last year that the team considered seeking the services of a falconer to control the pests.

Bruce arrived last November, establishing a perch above the third-base area of the stadium.  Ever since, he could frequently be seen in the skies above, performing aerial martial arts with his intended meals.  Generally, when he is in the area, other birds are nowhere to be seen, preferring to stay out of the talons of this top predator.  Bruce’s schedule is somewhat less consistent than the team would like, as he disappears for several days at a time after visiting.  The stadium now has a box built in one of his favorite spots in an effort to entice him to stay and build a nest.  Being a young red-tail at less than a year old, he may not be mature enough yet to settle down and build a more permanent home.  Due to the lack of trees around AT&T Park, it might be difficult for him to find a place to establish an abode when he is old enough in about a year.  Citing the nesting pair of red-tails at the Giants’ previous home at Candlestick Park, the team is hopeful that lights and noise will not become a deterrent.

Next time you attend a Giants game in search of the most unrivaled examples of agility, athleticism, and coordination, lift your gaze away from the diamond and up towards one of the team’s most valuable players.

Directly alongside Highway 1 it is possible to witness one of nature’s most extraordinary spectacles.  Behold!  A beach full of snorting, sand-tossing, sun-bathing, breeding, molting, fighting, enormous Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris).  Practically in our backyards in Piedras Blancas, we are fortunate enough to observe these magnificent marine mammals from only feet away.  For eight months out of the year, these pinnipeds spend their lives out in the open ocean, only to come ashore after swimming nearly 12,000 miles to mate in late November, give birth, and raise their pups.

On the beaches, massive males fight for dominance, often leaving each other bloody and tattered. The seals form harems, with a male surrounded by several females and their offspring.  The alpha male spends a good deal of his time keeping betas away from his ladies, and it is quite a scene to see a several ton male move with surprising speed across the sand to ward off competitors.  When feeding, the adults can reach depths of 5,000 feet and spend from 20 minutes to an hour under water.  Females search primarily for squid while males are thought to pursue a different diet of sharks, rays, and bottom-dwelling fish.  In their quest for dinner, males travel along the continent to the Gulf of Alaska and females head out towards the open sea before returning to their rookery on the Central Coast.  Northern Elephant Seals can live up to 14 years in the wild, making the migration multiple times once reaching maturity.

During the 1880’s Northern Elephant Seals were hunted almost to extinction by shore whalers for their blubber and oil.  Only between 20-100 of them remained off of Baja California before being protected by the Mexican government, and later the United States.  Today, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 keeps them secure and on the road to restoring their numbers.  Today, their populations have grown to 170,000 and continue to increase.  Organizations such as Friends of the Elephant Seal have taken it upon themselves to educate the public about the remarkable animals, and offer docent lectures, live web cams, and visitor center.

Get in touch with nature and view these magnificent marine mammals before they take off for another year!

 

“So, what do you think?”

This afternoon, my boyfriend dropped by the shop to show off his handiwork for our latest project.  He has taken several small beer coasters, spray-painted them yellow, and had drawn a picture of a newt in between a warning that read, “CAUTION: NEWT CROSSING”.  They were laminated and mounted on sharpened Popsicle sticks, ready to be placed along one of our favorite creekside trails.  I have been known to waste an hour online researching amphibians, so of course I approved.  We hoped that people would get a laugh out of the tiny road signs, but secretly, I was also hoping that the alerts would also encourage hikers to watch their steps.

San Luis Obispo is home to both the Rough-Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and the California Newt (Taricha torosa).  The two look very similar, but can be distinguished by the Rough-Skinned Newt’s smaller eyes with yellow irises and v-shaped palatine tooth pattern.  Both can grow to a length of 8in with dark brown backs and bright orange undersides to indicate their toxicity.  Known as “tetrodotoxin”, the poison (the same that is found in pufferfish) binds to sodium channels in nerve cells and can cause paralysis or death.  While they are harmless to humans, some people have reported skin irritation after handling the animals, so it is highly recommended that those who touch the amphibian wash their hands very well after an encounter.  Newts are preyed upon by the Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), one of the few species that shows resistance to their life-threatening chemicals, but have few other predators to worry about.

California Newts are more common to the coastal areas of our state, while the Rough-Skinned Newt has a range that extends upwards towards Alaska.  Both inhabit the cool waters of ponds, lakes, streams, pools, and slow-flowing portions of rivers.  Terrestrial juveniles and adults can be found in adjacent woodlands where you are most likely to spot them under logs, rocks, and in leaf litter.  Rough-Skinned Newts are the most aquatic of the Taricha species, but can move to land for months or years at a time.  The newts dine on amphipods (tiny aquatic crustaceans), insects, snails, leaches, worms and tadpoles.  They breed during almost every month of the year, with low-level populations mating from February to May and higher-level populations copulating from the spring to early fall.

Currently, the California Newt is listed as a California Species of Special Concern, as their numbers have declined due to the introduction of non-native species, pollution, and human development.  If you are lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of one of these amazing creatures during wet weather or on a trek through your nearest watershed ecosystem.  Keep an eye out for signs of prime newt habitat!

Chocoholics rejoice!  Your sweet little habit may be keeping you slim and healthy.  Researchers from the University of California at San Diego have recently published findings in the Archives of Internal Medicine that assert regular chocolate eaters are actually thinner than those who stay away from the confection. While the metabolic benefits of moderate chocolate consumption might be “calorie-neutral”, results of the study found that adults who ate chocolate more frequently had a lower body mass index.  This was despite the fact that frequent consumers did not eat fewer overall calories or exercise more than their counterparts.

In another piece of sweet news, heavy chocolate consumption has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. A study appearing in the British Medical Journal confirms a relationship between cardiovascular health and through chocolate’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  Positive effects also include improving insulin sensitivity, mood stabilization during bouts of depression, reducing incidence of stroke, and lowering blood pressure.

The beneficial metabolic properties of chocolate are most likely due to compounds called “polyphenols”, chemicals that potentially inhibit pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that digests dietary fat.  Another hypothesis postulates that chocolate may even aid in upping the amount of energy that our cells produce.  While most of the studies did not differentiate between milk, light, or dark varieties of chocolate, the research suggests that all calories are not handled equally by the body.  Some nutritionists say that dark chocolate in particular is a smart choice for dieters as it is bittersweet and not as hunger-stimulating as forms with higher levels of sugar.  High fat content may help to satiate the body and curb appetite for longer periods of time.  Small amounts of caffeine stimulate the burning of calories while the body is at rest.

So, the next time you want to demonstrate your affection for a loved one and your concern over their health all in the same gesture, pick up a large box of the new “Vitamin C”.  Finally, a more delicious way to diet.

 

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