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where there's smoke: A building under construction next to the Logan Police Station caught fire from a welder's spark. Damage was estimated at $50,000. / Photo by Gideon Oakes

Today's word on journalism

August 27, 2008

On protests at political conventions:

"The citizens of Denver and St. Paul, and Americans everywhere, should hope officials in those cities already have considered both the constitutional and monetary costs of silencing voices that have a right to be heard. . . . Well-expressed or wacky. Irritating or illuminating. Respectful or raucous. There's nothing in the 45 words of the First Amendment that sets out any such qualifications or limits on protests. Time and again in our history, from women's suffrage to civil rights to tax protests, to name just some, voices first raised in the streets -- to the disgust or disappointment of some -- have led to significant, positive changes in law and American life."

--Gene Policinski, executive director, First Amendment Center, 2008

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Organic farm expert goes green after time as a Cal Tech bioengineer

By Tamra Watson

May 7, 2008 | Jeff Endelman grew up with a fear of bugs and a dislike for dirty hands. He never went camping when he was 3 years old, and enjoyed doing math problems when he was 7.

Beyond playing T-ball and basketball, he learned how to play a variety of musical instruments including the piano, French horn, and percussion. As a teenager, he became obsessed with his chemistry set, and entered into many science fairs. He even competed in an academic decathlon.

By the time Endelman reached college, he had decided bioengineering was the "wave of the future" and obtained a doctorate at California Institute of Technology. He said he believed it was the only major that combined his academic skills with his passion for outdoors.

However upon finishing his thesis, Endelman felt like bioengineering was "vacuous" or more bluntly said, "empty-headed." For this reason, he said he chose to exit his burnt-out lifestyle of city and books, and trade it in for a life of small communities, open fields, green vegetables and livestock.

In 2005, Dr. Endelman became an organic farmer.

Endelman's transformational choice will help bring about similar changes on the campus of Utah State University -- it's going organic just as he did. Under the direction of USU Extension Specialist Dan Drost and Assistant Professor Jennifer Reeve, Endelman will aid in the progression of the organic farm by researching crop fertility.

Endelman would not be in his current position without the aid of both destiny and free choice, he said. The first opportunity to go organic came to meet him as he sought opportunities to volunteer while attending a community potluck dinner. He was directed to check out a Web Site of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization that grew vegetables for local families; and his transformational choice came when he decided to become a farmer and face all the doubts and criticisms from his parents and friends.

"It was painful on the one hand," Endelman said, "but in the end I met new people, developed new habits and discovered there's a light at the end of the tunnel if one perseveres." Similar dedications have been found throughout the history of the organic farm movement.

The aim of the specific agricultural practice is "to create integrated, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture production systems," as defined by the Institute of Rural Science, United Kingdom.

The application of the organic agriculture method has been gradually progressing since the early 1920s when commercialization of agriculture became a threat to local communities, Reeve said.

The industrialization of agriculture evolved so quickly that by the 1980s, farmers were being warned to "Get Big or Get Out!" Such an attitude encouraged unhealthy environmental practices that forced agriculturists to achieve maximum yields year after year without soil preservation.

Farmers find themselves "trapped," between the two issues, she said.

In a sense, many traditional farmers find themselves influenced by their parental traditions, just like Endelman. However, he said they can change just like he did.

"There comes a point in life where you recognize what you've been handed, and determine whether you want to continue on that same route," Endelman said.

Although his change of venue from genetic engineer to farmer may seem like a sudden U-turn, Endelman said his transformation was gradual.

In 2004, as a graduate student he joined the CSA movement; the system is designed to aid farmers in directly marketing their products to the consumers he said. As one of their customers he received a box of vegetables every week from Tierra Miguel Farms, in San Diego County, Calif., he said. A few months later he found himself volunteering at the farm and learning the basics of organic farming. He continued to work there until his graduation in 2005.

However, when Endelman finished school, he decided not to pursue his career in genetic engineering; instead he moved to Sacramento Calif. to work as a farmhand for Harald Hoven at the Rudolf Steiner College. As a one-year intern, Endelman received free housing, food and $250 a month, in exchange for his labor on the farm he said.

"In hindsight, I realize how much I grew during those months," Endelman said.

Growth came in the daily activities of milking. In the first couple of weeks on the farm, Bella, a dairy cow, took full advantage of his green farming skills. Sensing his lack of confidence, she paced side to side whenever he reached under her to milk.

"Sometimes she walked over the top of me, or kicked the milk bucket over," he said.

However the experience gave Endelman "remarkably fast reflexes" allowing him to move the milk can at a "drop of a hoof," he said.

Bella is part of the 1 percent of organically grown dairy cows raised in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She is not fed any extra vitamins to enhance her milk production; instead she is allowed free pasture to munch daily. Any supplemental feed Bella eats is also organically grown. All of these rules and regulations are outlined in the USDA National Organic Program.

The system also requires the use of natural material for soil improvement instead of synthetic fertilizers. Endelman shoveled plenty of manure and carried it 25 to 30 feet to the farm's vegetable beds.

Such organic practices make the soil healthier, Reeve said. The use of natural matter helps enhance the soil and the plants grown in it. Most research conducted through compost testing reveals organic farming to be more environmentally sustainable, she said.

Studies have also revealed organic farming to be better for the land due to its reduced pesticide use, she said. Traditionally farmers have the tendency "to see one little bug and douse the field in chemicals," Reeve said. These practices leave strong residues in the soil and reduce soil quality.

Due to the reduction in soil health, the organic movement is working on developing softer pesticides, with lower residues. With the development of such products, Reeve said the expensive chemicals will be eliminated and farmers will be able to reduce their overall input costs, and make their operations more profitable.

Education is the key to making these changes, Reeve said. Farming well, in a way to create land resilient to pests requires a lot of knowledge, she said.

Endelman set out to develop this understanding the moment he started to farm. He said learning the inner aspects of farm, even though he wanted to curse at the cow at times, was the only way to really comprehend organic farming.

However, he said the responsibility to learn about agriculture does not only rest with the farmer, Endelman said. "Consumers need to start visiting and getting involved where their food is grown. Only then are we going to truly have a sustainable agriculture system in this country."

Citizens have many chances to support organic farming through local farmers markets, Reeve said.

"I don't understand why someone would buy their summer veggies in the stores of Cache Valley when the farmer's market is cheaper, fresher and yummier," she said.

Part of the reason, she said is many associate the organic farming with the hippie movement, yet such perceptions blind people from the real benefits of organic agriculture, she said. One of these benefits is to stimulate the local economy. "Why buy tomatoes from Mexico or California, or wherever, when they are grown right here?" she said.

Endelman and Reeve hope to create lasting agricultural change in the Cache Valley through the development of the USU Organic Farm. Who knows, they might even find their strongest members among those who hate to get their hands dirty and have a fear of bugs.



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