Before you report your neighbor for wasting water– read this

A Facebook friend posted a scathing description of her neighbor. The words, “selfish,” and “irresponsible” were used to describe him. His offense, he watered his rose bushes during a drought. Many of the 32 responses urged her to report him to the city. She posted she already had. I didn’t enter a response or hit the “like” button. While I’m glad water conservation sparks attention in the public conversation, these threads of public discourse are superfluous. There is nothing long-lasting about turning your neighbor in for watering his roses or God forbid, hosing down his driveway.

seriousdrought

During each drought period, there is a heightened awareness of water. Articles printed in newspapers and magazines report low reservoir levels, dry wells, and fallow fields. From Texas to Tennessee, electric road signs and billboards read variations of “Save Water, Severe Drought.” And we each become unofficially deputized as water cops, deployed to report the neighbor watering his rose bush.

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“Use what you need,” urged Denver Water during the 2008 drought.

 When the drought is declared over, news stories dry up; billboards replaced, and conversations move to the next crisis. And we remain in the same predicament; half the world population will experience freshwater shortages, referred to as water scarcity by 2030. Water scarcity is expected to result in the deaths of millions and an unprecedented rise in military conflicts. Of all the crises coming to a head– water scarcity is the least understood.

quickie

Clever Campaign to encourage shorter showers launched by San Francisco Water Power Service

I sold 80,000 shower timers before realizing I was saving water in the wrong room of the house. If 7 out of every 10 gallons of fresh water is used to grow food, then isn’t it logical to focus on the kitchen and by extension the farms that produce our food? This is why I became interested in water footprint. But as I’ve visited farms and researched for my book in progress, I’ve learned that water footprints tell a partial story. A richer story is told in color…or rather with the colors of water.

I choose food made from green water, that is rain-fed or dry farmed when possible. I buy organic because chemical fertilizers or pesticides are disallowed. Both kill microbes in the soil, diminishing the soils ability to retain water. When soil can’t retain water, it leads to more runoff, thirstier plants and stressed groundwater supplies. I wrote more on the subject in the article, Why American Soil Makes Us Sick.

Instead of reporting my neighbor for watering his rosebushes, I’d ask him over for dinner, and serve him less water at the kitchen table.

Eat less water at the kitchen table. There is power in the collective!
Be well,

Florencia

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Why eat tomatoes in season?

I woke this morning thinking of tomatoes. Last night I sliced a tomato for my salad and noticed its perfect resemblance to a heart. My kids giggled at the shape. I photographed it before it was diced into imperfect squares.

The season for tomatoes is coming to and end. Yes, I can find tomatoes year-long at the grocery store and at the stands of the farmers market, but the true season is the warm months of summer and early fall. My own tomato vines sparingly bear fruit these days.

Barry Estabrook, in his book Tomatoland tells us what’s wrong with a conventionally grown, out of season, non-local tomato. Besides the fact that it lacks all but scant amounts of flavor, he describes both its environmental and human toll. He describes how tomato growers choose from 110 different pesticides and herbicides to grow a perfectly round, red, out of season tomato that can survive traveling thousand of miles of interstate highway. Florida, the largest tomato producer, followed by California, grow their tomatoes in the sand. I write about the water retention capacity of the soil…sand dries out quickly and requires more inputs of fertilizers. One gardening site compared sand granular to ping pong balls in a mason jar, it holds no water.

Here in California, I ask the tomato vendor if the tomatoes were grown inside, like in hoop houses or hydroponic warehouses. These methods used to grow an out of season tomato rely exclusively on blue water draws — water from reservoirs, rivers and underground water tables. This is water that is often drawn down faster than nature’s rain cycle can replenish. Water from underground aquifers alone are being drawn to the tune of 28 trillion gallons of fresh water a year.

Tomato harvesters pay the biggest price. Barry Estabrook describes the severe birth defects that result from chemical exposure. And many tomato harvesters are slaves or work under slave-like conditions. Yes, slavery does exist on American soil.

Anytime we try to control nature there is a toll on water systems, and here I include humans in my definition of water systems since we are after all composed mostly of water.

A Cup of Tea and Tisane (Tisane Recipe)

Outside of water, tea is the second most popular beverage of choice in the world. Tea plants prosper in hot, rainy climates. This explains the water footprint of 5.5 gallons of water needed to cultivate the leaves in a single tea bag. The largest producer of tea is China followed by India and Kenya. I am a huge fan of tea. Especially upon learning that most tea is grown with green water. According to The Green Blue Book a handy resource for water footprint totals, nearly all tea is rain-fed.

I look for organic loose leaf teas. This simple action supports farmers who are NOT contributing to toxic runoff into fresh water systems. Chances are good that you have non-organic tea from China in your cupboard, I did. China, the largest producer of tea also happens to be the largest user of pesticides. Greenpeace earlier this year found banned pesticides in some of China’s most popular tea brands. One of the widely distributed brands I trust is Zhena’s Gypsy Tea. Zhena’s teas are organic and fair-traded. Look for the fair-traded label on your next box of tea. I write about why fair-trade is best for water in my post on chocolate.

Loose leaf tea minimizes waste generated by tea bags and plastic or paper used to keep the individual tea bag fresher. Loose tea purchased in bulk is cheaper. I buy a pound of loose tea for $10.00 which translates to about $.02 a gram. A box of tea bags (40 g) cost half as much but I pay about $.13 a gram.

Lately, I have skipped the tea and opted for tisanes pronounced tea-sanns. Teas are herbs that have been processed, dried or smoked. Tisane simply use air-dried or fresh herbs. I grow fresh herbs in my yard. My favorite tisane herb combination is lemon verbena and mint in equal parts. You can use many herbs including sage, chamomile, fennel, rosehip, raspberry leaves, and rosemary. A simple online search can give you more ideas and recipes. I offer you my favorite tisane recipe:

Fresh Organic Lemon Verbana and Mint Tisane

You can make this in a cup or in a tea pot (Choose glass or ceramic, metal will change the flavor of the herb). If making only one cup you will need 3 to 6 tablespoons of fresh herbs. I like to make a pot so I can drink hot tisane in the morning and ice for lunch. I cut a nice handful of both lemon verbana and mint (as pictured above). How much herb you use is all a matter of taste. If you find the flavor of your tisane to be too weak just add more herbs.

Remove the leaves from the stems and rinse thoroughly (water saving hint: I capture the water with a bucket in the sink and use the fresh water to water the herbs). Bruise the leaves and place in cup or tea pot. Pour boiling water over the fresh herbs. Sweeten with local honey to your liking.

Garden tip from a novice gardener: Herbs are simple to grow. Truly, if I can grow them anyone can. Herbs do well in pots but spread nicely when in the ground. Most gardening books will caution against placing mint in the ground because it will take over an area. I on the other hand want my mint to grow wide and  vigorous. It means more herbs for tisanes.

Pumpkins and Water

Thanksgiving is officially over and Christmas time is now here (ready or not). It is time to move aside the pumpkins and replace them with holly and snowmen.

On my front porch sits a radio flyer stacked with small pumpkins that were spared the carving knife on hallows eve. It seems a shame to throw them out. A pumpkin has a water footprint of 40.7 gallons per pound. My little red wagon carries about 730 gallons of virtual water (more or less). Pumpkins can be dry farmed. That means that the farmer has cultivated the soil to hold rain and moisture during the dry months so that the crops require NO irrigation. These pumpkins are not dry farmed. The little pumpkins on my porch splashed around in ground water- blue water.

I feel an obligation to be sure this water does not go to waste. The pumpkin cake baked by sister-n-law and served for our Thanksgiving Day dessert inspires an idea. Like my sister-in-law I will roast the pumpkins in my oven and turn them into the tastiest pumpkin cake you could ever dream of. I don’t have my hands on the recipe just yet. But in the meantime I can roast, puree and freeze the pumpkins. Once I get the recipe I will be sure to post for your little pumpkins.

Maybe I will even leave a piece of pumpkin cake out for Santa this year.

Green Eggs and Water

I was first introduced to the concept of water footprint poolside at a hotel in Newport Beach. I reclined on my lounge chair with a book about water and a cold beer to refresh me on a hot Summer day. My beer, I learned had a water footprint of sixty-five gallons. The algorithm used to calculate the water footprint of the average beer adds up all the water used in the production of all the major ingredients, in this case barley and hops. The algorithm goes something like this: water from irrigation PLUS the water from precipitation PLUS water trapped in soil as moisture PLUS ground water utilized by the plant from planting to harvest. The totals are adjusted for water runoff and evaporation. Water footprints can be calculated on all food.

I totaled the water footprint of my breakfast I ate that morning at the hotel. The three egg omelet required sixty gallons of water for the eggs, about one-half gallon for the slices of tomato, thirteen gallons for the half ounce of cheese, and an additional twenty-two gallons for two slices of toast. I washed my breakfast down with a cup of tea with a virtual water footprint of five and a half gallons. Small in comparison to my husband’s coffee. The approximate water footprint of my breakfast was one hundred and one gallons of fresh water. My food measured in gallons.

The omelet and tea I made myself this morning, pictured above, also has a water footprint of 101 gallons. The difference is these are green eggs and tea. Remember the colors of water? The eggs are from my backyard chickens. I know exactly what they eat, some grass from the yard (irrigated with scant amount of water), some organic feed, some compost like veggies, fruit rinds, pasta, rice…..Their manure is scattered around the yard to fertilize my fruit trees and vegetable beds. The tomato was homegrown with a mixture of blue water from the garden hose and water I capture with water collection buckets from the sinks in the house. They are minimally watered tomatoes. The cheese is from pasture-raised cows who eat a diet of rain fed grass. The toast (I forgot to include in the picture) is from my own recipe using organic wheat and local honey (see bread and water). This breakfast is a mixed green and blue water, as most of my meals are. But I try to purchase or raise as many ingredients possible with higher green water footprints. If we all “green” are food just a little more imagine the difference it could make.

For more information on water footprint visit www.waterfootprint.org.

Color and Water

Water is colorless. In the virtual world of water footprints water has been assigned the colors blue, green and grey. Water sourced from ground water, reservoirs, and rivers that scribble across the landscape is considered blue water. Rain water is green water. Grey water is water that has been tainted with pollutants. I hunt for foods grown with green water and minimal grey water to serve at my kitchen table. The lack of information on labels makes it a challenge to know the color of water used to produce food. Take wheat for example, it is anonymous once dumped into food elevators. This became apparent on a recent phone conversation. “What brands use North Dakota wheat” I asked Erica Olson with the North Dakota Wheat Commission. “Outside of our own North Dakota Brands like Dakota Growers and Dream Fields I don’t know who purchases our wheat,” she answered. There is a high probability that North Dakota wheat is inside the boxes of pasta, loaves of bread and bags of flour in your pantry as they grow half of all wheat sold in the U.S. Food label are only required to list the country of orgin not the state or region. I learned from Erica that the amber waves of grain from North Dakota are grown with 100% green water. Not all wheat in the United States is rain fed. In my home state of California, wheat fields utilize high rations of blue water. Alas, even in the dry state of California farmers grow wheat with green water.

One such farm is With the Grain Farm, in Paso Robles, California, owned by John DeRosier (http://withthegrain.org/). John is a dry farmer. His and surrounding farms use wells to tap ground water supplies. The wells act like big straws, sucking up water to irrigate crops. John’s well digs 300 feet deep. It maintains the same level as it did when it was drilled 60 years ago. The surrounding vineyards dig 1000 feet beneath the surface.

The day I visited John’s farm the rain was imminent. Rain is not frequent in Paso Robles. His farm receives on average six inches a year. The summers reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit. “How is it that you are able to dry farm and the farms around you are using ground water?” I asked as he led me down the slope to a patch of clumpy grass, legumes and peas bloom with flowers. “This is where the elegance of the biodynamic farm begins,” he smiled.

He is informed by biodynamic farming methods introduced by Rudolph Steiner nearly 90 years ago. Using biodynamic techniques, he captures millions of gallons of rain water in the soil of his farm. John grows over 20 varieties of wheat on his 100 acres of leased land scattered throughout Paso Robles County. This is in addition to barley, rye and oats. Once harvested this summer, wheat will be available to his CSA members (Community Supported Agriculture). This year his members will feast on pasta, bread and tortillas from wheat milled from his farm. Water conservation on small and large farms occurs throughout the United States. I continue to seek farms and food producers that rely more heavily on green water and share them in these pages.