Progressive Writers Bloc

Grandma's Garden

By Carolyn Westmoreland

My grandmother McNary passed on in the late 1960’s. Her doctor told us that she died in her sleep of old age. She lived with my mother for a little over a year, but until then she always kept her own home, a vegetable garden, and beautiful flowers. She and my aunt were schoolteachers back East, and together they traveled west to homestead land in Colorado. They settled one thousand acres of land out on the prairie. Their garden was one acre, and the rest of the grassland was used to raise cattle after grandma married. They sold butter, vegetables and milk in town and they taught school and piano. No fancy equipment existed then for help with their labor: their well water had to be carried into the house, and there was no electricity. Pesticides were tobacco juice, soap, and other home remedies including chickens and turkeys that ate bugs in the harvested garden. I’m telling you about my grandmother because she is still a guiding light for me. I think of her often.

Pesticides and chemicals are in and on everything these days. In our air, our water, and in the products we use. Our clothing and furniture are not chemical free, and our food is contaminated too. Our government approves the use of new chemicals and combinations of chemicals every year without adequate testing. No one knows to what extent these substances might be harming our health and our planet. Some pesticides, like Methyl bromide, are already known to cause cancer, but due to monetary concerns they are still in use.

Over the last few decades I’ve become a devoted label reader. One of the first things I ask myself when I see an ingredient that is questionable on a label is if this ingredient was used while my grandma was still alive. Silly? Maybe, but going even further with this thought, if I can’t read the label on the product I’m looking at, the item stays on the shelf in the store. Over the years I’ve been called everything from a nut case, to neurotic, but that is OK. I’m seeing some progress. I had to smile last year as I watched the school next door take down arsenic contaminated playground equipment, and they stopped using herbicides on the playground. The smile happened because I took EPA reports to their office, talked with them, and requested repeatedly over the years that they stop spraying poison into my yard where I grow vegetables and herbs. I like thinking that they might have taken some of my information seriously. But, even if this isn’t the reason for the changes out in the playground, at least the kids are a little better off, and I’m very happy without herbicides in my garden.

Have you ever tried to check with a manufacturer on the contents of any of the products you use? Some makers will tell you as little as possible, shuffle your phone call to two or three different offices and sometimes they simply tell you it is a trade secret. Last year I bought some diatomaceous earth from a store in Montana. When it arrived I checked the label and discovered that there were additives in the product referred to as bait. Well, what was in the bait? I phoned the business I bought it from and he told me that he could not sell pure diatomaceous earth for bug control without being fined. According to him it was a very stiff fine too. He couldn’t tell me what was in the bait saying it wouldn’t do any good to phone the manufacturer because any information about the product content was probably protected by copyright.

I can’t help but wonder why it is so hard to find products today that are pure? Why doesn’t a jar of peanut butter just have the word peanuts printed on the label? Some do, but you pay a hefty price for the pleasure of pure, additive free, peanut butter. The additions of cottonseed oil, sugar, palm oil, corn syrup, salt, food dye, etc. actually makes the product cheaper. Shouldn’t this be the other way around?

Just recently the European Union announced that they are going to test all of the chemicals in use in their countries. When I saw this news I felt elated. This should have been done a long time ago, everywhere. We need to know what these materials are doing to our environment, and to human beings. A day after the EU’s announcement, complaints and protests proceeded to fly saying an investigation like this will hurt business; it will put people out of work, and more. So, for now, the EU has backed off saying they are still going to test but in a more limited way. Some of these objections came from the United States.

So, it looks like we are stuck with reading labels and avoiding heavily sprayed crops. I hope you will join me in reading labels if you haven’t been checking them already. Every time you leave a questionable product on the shelf you will have opted for something better. If the junk doesn’t sell, the consumer will be heard. Businesses want your money, and eventually, changes for the better will happen.

If you have a computer and Internet access, look at the online version of this article at for links to excellent sources of information on pollution, chemicals, and pesticides, including pesticide information for Tulare County.

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