Month: July 2004

Organicness or Organic-not? 

Fruits and vegetables

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made it official that after October 21, 2002, any produce labeled “organic” for sale in the United States, whether domestic or foreign, must have been produced using the organic standards put forth by the department. Before a product can be labeled “organic” a government-approved inspector checks the farm to make sure it is meeting USDA organic standards. Violators of the use of the “organic” label face a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation.

According to the USDA, organic food “is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” In practice, organic production varies immensely. On one end of the spectrum you have corporate farms that have simply exchanged the fertilizers and pesticides in their tanks from synthetic to organic-approved ones. While the health of the farm workers and consumers may be better on these farms, the vegetables are produced in much the same way as before, but now you may pay a little more for them at the grocery store.

Clay Erskine of Peaceful Belly Farms in Boise is an organic farmer. His farm is at the opposite extreme of the organic spectrum. To him, growing organic is a philosophy that intermixes sustainability, local production and conservation. Recently asked to be on the USDA’s Organic Advisory Committee, Clay promotes making the soil healthier so that plants can be healthier, workers tending the crops can be healthier and the people eating the pesticide- and herbicide-free produce are healthier. It’s also about growing produce locally. “You may be getting a cheap bag of apples,” he said, “but at what cost? When you calculate the true cost of growing, chemicals harming the environment and workers and transportation from overseas is it worth it? It’s beneficial spiritually and psychologically knowing where your food is coming from,” he said.

But is organic food good for you? The USDA makes no claims as to whether organically produced food is good for you or not. Proponents claim that organic fruits and vegetables carry less chemical residue from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers than conventional produce, which leads to lower risk of cancer, heart disease and other ailments. A study by Rutgers University compared organic snap beans, cabbage, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes to their nonorganically produced brothers and found that in all cases were higher in essential mineral content including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium, in some cases as much as quadruple numbers. Scientists in England studying the effect of salicylic acid which helps prevent heart disease and bowel cancer have found that organically produced plants have much higher levels of the acid than conventionally produced vegetables. Other studies have shown increased levels of vitamin C in organically produced fruits and vegetables.

When cruising the farmer’s market you may see signs promoting organically grown vegetables. You may also see such signs as “spray-free,” “pesticide-free” or “naturally produced.” Terms like these aren’t regulated, only the use of the “organic” label is government regulated, but these terms don’t mean that the vegetables aren’t healthy. It’s easy to ask the producer what they put on their crops and how they are grown. Even conventionally grown produce can be prepared to limit the potential leftover pesticide and herbicide residue. By washing and peeling your vegetables it will help to remove chemicals, but what if you don’t want any chemicals at all? Which vegetables should you consider more or less dangerous when grown conventionally?

The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition produced a list of vegetables and fruits that you should seek out the organics because of their tendency to retain chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. They are peaches, apples, pears, winter squash, green beans, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, spinach and leafy greens, potatoes, tomatoes and cantaloupe.

Converting your own garden to organic is an easy task. Simply stop using synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Though you may see more bugs in your garden, the bug predators will rise to the occasion as well. There are many natural solutions including using ladybugs and praying mantis, diatomaceous earth, natural soap spray and good old hand-picking and stomping of caterpillars. Clay Erskine says it’s simple, “Plant more for the bugs to eat.” And if things get really out of control he says, “There will always be a frost. Everything will die and you can start over next year.”


Missing Newsstands 

I don’t want to have to do this, but … Over the last four months a total of four of our newsstand boxes have gone missing. They aren’t easy to pick up and most of them have gone missing in the dark of the night, usually over the weekend. Once taken, they also aren’t easy to hide. We have offered rewards for information leading to the recovery of the newsstand boxes and the arrest of those responsible for their theft. A big red metal newsstand stands out in an apartment and that friend you thought could keep a secret may want to make the reward money, right? There have been some informants come forward, but before we take the next step we want to try something.

The Saudis offered an amnesty to their homegrown al-Qaeda members so why can’t we follow their example? In light of new information, I want to offer a general amnesty to those who may be responsible. If you return the newsstand boxes to our office, or to where you took them from, we will not prosecute. We do want those responsible to understand that we are an independent, low-budget newspaper and cannot afford to replace newsstand boxes continuously as people swipe them off the street. By stealing the boxes you prevent everyone else who used to get their Boise Weekly at that location from getting their paper. Besides, it’s bad karma. For those of you who have seen a newsstand where it’s not supposed to be just let us know. Then next week, when we catch the culprits responsible we’ll pay you $100. Or you can be a good friend and advise your buddy to return the box.

One of my jobs here at the BW is Web master. Now I know that our Web site isn’t always the greatest, after all, I’ve been teaching myself the programming code (see previous note about us being “low-budget”). I’ve also been busy getting the online voting system set in place for the Best of Boise 2004. I’d recommend you not only go to the Web site and vote, but check out the rest of it. A helpful reader sent me a screen capture the other day with an example of what our site looks like on her computer. It was all screwed up. Looks like more late nights for me trying to figure out why it does that. We’re continually improving it and if you gave up on it a while back you should definitely give it another try. My next big project is creating online, searchable and dynamic calendar listings. If you have any ideas about how to improve the site with low-budget solutions then I want to hear about it. Drop me a line at

Danskin Station 

Once upon a time there was a hog farmer named Peter Danskin. There’s a creek named after him just down the road from the restaurant. We overheard an employee tell another table the building used to be a Pony Express stop and stagecoach station. Back then horses pulled wagons up and down the canyon. Today boaters float the Payette River a stone’s throw from the back of the restaurant and the wagon trail between Garden Valley and Lowmanis now paved. Other than that, not much has changed.

Since 1980, except for a temporary closure for a couple years after New Year’s Eve 1999, Danskin Station has been serving food to customers either with the foresight to make reservations or lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a cancellation. (The restaurant only seats about 30 diners.) Inside a quaint, quirky building, we enjoyed a small but diverse menu. A palate cleanser of fresh veggies and dipping sauce greeted us. A bottle of wine and appetizers of green-lipped mussels from New Zealand, followed by lightly battered calamari prepared us for our delicious entrées.

As we ate, a stretch Suburban limo, white with dark windows, pulled into the parking lot and a crew of young men scrambled out. In a small restaurant it’s easy to listen to other people’s conversations when you’re not having your own. We learned that one of their mother’s had provided the limo ride and dinner as a graduation gift. Only problem was they didn’t bring cash or a check and plastic is not accepted at Danskin Station. Arrangements were made to send a check and the boys continued their fine meal.

Our entrées arrived and I enjoyed the fresh catfish Vera Cruz while my dining partner enjoyed her filet mignon. I can’t say we’ve had better or worse, nor could I say we could or could not get a similar meal in Boise for the quality or price, but the overall experience of the drive, the conversation (or overheard conversations) and the beauty of the canyon is worth the trip. A friend of ours was proposed to last year at the corner table. It’s that kind of place.

As we ate, we watched a deer wonder across the highway, waiting, pacing and looking at us inside enjoying a fine meal. Was she wishing she were human so she too could taste the rosemary potatoes?

–Bingo Barnes plays rummy cube with ice.

Spiderman 2 vs Farenheit 9/11 

This week Spiderman 2 trumped Farenheit 9/11 in the box office. Having finally seen both I can officially say that Spiderman sucked and Moore’s movie was marvelous. I suggest you go see the latter. Rather than go on and on about it I suggest you read Bill Cope this week. Even if you don’t read Bill’s column on a regular basis he sums up my feelings about the movie rather eloquently, and I don’t always agree with Mr. Cope.

The movie did get me thinking, however. It addresses the playing of the public’s emotions regarding terror like a puppeteer pulls the strings. Elevated warnings and threats by the Office of Homeland Security will scare people into believing they need the current administration to protect them. A good example of this is the current discussions regarding plans to postpone or cancel the November presidential elections over fear of a terrorist plot to disrupt them.

In the July 19 issue of Newsweek it was reported that “American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call ‘alarming’ intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall.” Later in the story it is reported, “The prospect that al-Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election was a major factor behind last week’s terror warning by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.” In the very next sentence it reads, “Ridge and other counterterrorism officials concede they have no intel about any specific plots.”

Let me repeat that. “No intel about specific plots.” They put it down to increased “chatter.” Is it just me who thinks I’m in some giant nationwide version of Scare Tactics and at any moment Shannen Doherty will come out and say, “Were you scared?”

I’m very hung up on titles for staff. I believe they are a shared language across companies with very different interest that clearly define what responsibilties a particular employee may have. That is why this week during inter-office negotiations over lunch, Boise Weekly has changed my title from Editor-in-Chief to Executive Director. Now you know exactly what I do. Whatever that means.