Category Archives: Water

Loss of A Landmark: 200 Year-Old Arizona Cactus Collapses

[NOTE: I guess there are no coincidences. Thursday Sept. 1 I took part in a final Zoom call with some friends in Arizona, who are part of an experimental community east of Tucson called Saguaro-Juniper, or S-J for short.  S-J is named after the famous Saguaro cacti that grow around there.

Then this morning, Friday, I read that one of the most iconic, venerable and largest saguaro cacti, aged at least 200 years old, had suddenly collapsed in a state park not far away.

The S-J community was started by Jim and Pat Corbett, remarkable Arizona Quakers who were seeking a way to live more simply and harmoniously with nature in the desert. Thirty-plus years later, their experiment continues in the swirl of punishing climate change and continued social-cultural struggles.

Jim Corbett was truly one of a kind: a Harvard philosophy grad who was also a cowboy with Indian heritage, a Sanctuary activist, a desert wanderer, a cantankerous Quaker mystic, and a writer.

Jim published two books: Goatwalking (1990; 2021), which described his religious journey, desert wanderings, organizing to aid desperate Central American war refugees, and a prophetic understanding of how human eco-damage was careening toward a crisis. He followed it with Sanctuary ofor All Life, which explored many dimensions of  the new S-J experiment, and which he finished on his deathbed in 2001. Jim’s ashes were scattered in the hills of his beloved desert.

It was the books, especially Goatwalking,  which put me in touch with the Arizona group. I was part of a project to bring Goatwalking back into print after 30 years, which we did just over a year ago. Our two-year round of biweekly Zoom calls began amid the republication effort, then continued as some of us explored the two books, which we found appealing in seemingly endless ways.

There’s no end to this exploration, but with the second August, we were ready for a change. S-J itself faces major transition, as a founding generation ages out, the climate crunch Jim Corbett foresaw arrives, and new blood is needed.  So maybe it’s fitting, at least symbolically, that news of the bicentennial saguaro giant’s fall reaches us now. And as this Washington Post report points out, even the decay of the cactus feeds more desert life.]

Washington Post — August 31, 2022
A centuries-old cactus survived everything. Then summer rains came.

Derek Hawkins

A massive saguaro cactus stood for 200 years in Arizona’s Catalina State Park until it collapsed after fierce monsoons. (Arizona State Parks)

The saguaro cactus towered over the hilltop outside Tucson like a massive hand rising out of the earth.
Generations of hikers posed for pictures at the base of the hulking, treelike plant, whose longest arms stretched almost 30 feet into the air above Catalina State Park.

Artists painted it. Scores of animal species relied on it for food and shelter.

Older than Arizona itself by nearly a century, it weathered droughts and monsoons, searing heat and cold snaps, that worsened with climate change. It outlasted the ranchers who grazed cattle and built dwellings near its roots. It survived wildfires and invasive grasses.

But at some point this month, after fierce rains swept through the park, the cactus split at the trunk and toppled to ground, removing one of the area’s most cherished landmarks from the skyline.

The collapse of the iconic plant, estimated to be 200 years old, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from its many admirers following an announcement from Arizona State Parks and Trails this week.

“It’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow,” Neil Myers, a landscape artist who painted a 24-by-30-inch portrait of the cactus in 2007, told The Washington Post. “The way it loomed over you, like an emblem of old creation, was just beautiful.”

The cactus’s death also rekindled concerns about the environmental threats facing saguaros, which are highly valued among some Native American tribes and whose blossom is the Arizona state wildflower.

It’s difficult to blame human-caused climate change for the destruction of any individual plant, particularly one as old and top-heavy as this one. But scientists who study saguaros say extreme weather is a growing menace that could drive down their overall numbers.

Years of drought and inconsistent monsoon rains in the region can starve the cactuses of water, according to biologists from Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. This can threaten the survival of young plants, which because of their significantly smaller size and capacity can’t store water as efficiently as older plants. A 2018 report from the park found that prolonged drought may be increasing the mortality rate of young saguaros and reducing the growth of new ones.

“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” said Cam Juarez, engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

In addition to climate-related perils, saguaros face competition from buffelgrass, an invasive species introduced by ranchers to feed cattle. The dense grass grows rapidly across the desert, hogging moisture from the soil that saguaros and other plants need to thrive. It’s also extraordinarily flammable, burning several times hotter than other vegetation, making wildfires more destructive.

The saguaro in Catalina State Park withstood those challenges for many decades.
It sprouted from the desert floor in the early 1800s, long before Arizona became the 48th state in 1912, on the site of an ancient Hohokam settlement. It emerged slowly in the beginning, growing no more than 1.5 inches in its first eight years. In that fragile period, it likely would have been sheltered by a “nurse tree ” — typically a paloverde, ironwood or mesquite — that protected it from animals and harsh weather.

In the mid-1800s, a ranching family, the Romeros, moved into the area and built a compound within feet of the cactus. At this point the plant still would have been small, armless, nondescript. The family grazed cattle in its midst for more than a decade before they moved elsewhere, likely driven out by repeated raids from the Apache tribe that were common in the region at the time. The remains of their settlement are still there, and the trail leading up to the site is now known as the Romero Ruin trail.

At around 50 to 70 years old, the cactus would have started sprouting arms. At 125 years old, it would finally reach what scientists consider saguaro “adulthood.”

Throughout its life span, it provided a habitat for all kinds of desert creatures.

“Many birds, including cactus wren, woodpeckers and owls use saguaros for nesting. Larger birds of prey will use a tall saguaro for a hunting platform,” said Michelle Thompson, a spokesperson for Arizona State Parks and Trails. “Bats may use the pollen and nectar from cactus blooms. Birds, bats, mammals, reptiles and insects can all use the fruits for moisture and nourishment.”

Though the rains are the most likely culprit, it’s not clear what exactly brought down this giant. “It could have been the extremely moist monsoon season,” Thompson said. She noted that the park has experienced higher-than-average rainfall during this season after a historically wet year in 2021 and the second-driest season on record in 2020. It also could have simply been the end of the cactus’s life cycle, she said.

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the 200-year-old saguaro at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona, will soon begin rotting. (Arizona State Parks and Trails/AFP) (Handout/Arizona State Parks And Trails/A)

Now splayed across the ground in several pieces, the saguaro will soon begin rotting. Insects will flock to it. That, in turn, will attract birds and small mammals, as well as reptile predators such as snakes and lizards.

“It’s a consolation that this beloved cactus will remain there,” read a post from the Catalina State Park’s Instagram page, “providing habitat and food for many creatures as it decomposes.”

Myers, the landscape artist, said he was inspired to paint saguaros after he relocated to the Southwest and fell in love with the scenery. This one was special, he said, because of the way it rose over the hill where it lived, with the desert sky and Santa Catalina Mountains as a backdrop.

“This one stood atop in that place like a sentinel,” Myers said.
“They’re the most anthropomorphic plants that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I know it’s part of a larger natural process, but I hope that when people see that one laying on the ground that they take some concern for the ones still standing.”

 

Derek Hawkins is a reporter covering national and breaking news.

 

Hello, Cowpeas — haven’t we met before — before the, you know, disaster?

The Guardian — August 20, 2022

Diet for a hotter climate: 5 plants that could help feed the world

As the planet warms, these five drought-tolerant and highly nutritious crops offer hope for greater resiliency

Cecilia Nowell
11th Hour ProjectAbout this content

Over the course of human history, scientists believe that humans have cultivated more than 6,000 different plant species. But over time, farmers gravitated toward planting those with the largest yields. Today, just three crops – rice, wheat and corn – provide nearly half of the world’s calories.

That reliance on a small number of crops has made agriculture vulnerable to pests, plant-borne diseases and soil erosion, which thrive on monoculture – the practice of growing only one crop at a time. It has also meant losing out on the resilience other crops show in surviving drought and other natural disasters.

As the impacts of the climate crisis become starker, farmers across the world are rediscovering ancient crops and developing new hybrids that might prove more hardy in the face of drought or epidemics, while also offering important nutrients.

“You hear all the statistics like, ‘We’ve lost 90% of our varieties’. It’s only recently that I realized the greatest sadness isn’t that we’ve lost that diversity. It’s that we don’t even know that we’ve lost that diversity,” says Chris Smith, founder of the Utopian Seed Project.

Here’s a look at five crops, beyond rice, wheat and corn, that farmers across the world are now growing in hopes of feeding the planet as it warms:

Amaranth: the plant that survived colonization

Twig with amaranth flowers and a heap of seeds on white background
Indigenous farmers have long grown this drought resistant crop, which is now experiencing a resurgence. Photograph: Picture Partners/Alamy

From leaf to seed, the entirety of the amaranth plant is edible. Standing up to eight feet tall, amaranth stalks are topped off with red, orange or green seed-filled plumes. Across Africa and Asia, amaranth has long been eaten as a vegetable – whereas Indigenous Americans also ate the plant’s seed: a pseudocereal like buckwheat or quinoa.

While amaranth leaves can be sautéed or cooked into a stir-fry, the seed is commonly toasted and then eaten with honey or milk. A complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a good source of vitamins and antioxidants.

In the Americas, Spanish colonizers banned the Aztecs and Maya from growing amaranth when they arrived on the continent. However, the plant continued to grow as a weed and many farmers saved amaranth seeds, passing them down for generations, until their descendants were allowed to grow it again.

Today, Indigenous farmers in Guatemala, Mexico and the US are collaborating to grow this drought-resistant crop. Like fonio, an African grain, amaranth is not a new crop, but one that is experiencing a resurgence as communities adapt to the climate crisis. “Everything that’s new was old once,” said Matthew Blair, a professor at Tennessee State University and co-president of the Amaranth Institute.

Amaranth has found its way into European kitchens, with Ukraine coming in as the crop’s largest producer on the continent.

Fonio: the drought-resistant traditional grain

A farmer with his back to the camera sprinkles fonio seeds on to brown earth
Farmer Jeane Pierre Kamara 49, sows fonio cereal seeds on freshly plowed land along with fellow farmers in the fields of Neneficha, south-eastern Senegal.Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian

For thousands of years, farmers across west Africa have cultivated fonio – a kind of millet that tastes like a slightly nuttier couscous or quinoa. Historically, fonio is considered to be Africa’s oldest cultivated cereal and was regarded by some as the food of chiefs and kings. In countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, fonio would be served on holy days, like at weddings and during the month of Ramadan.

Today, attention is increasingly focused on fonio for its resilience and health benefits. As the climate continues to change, fonio’s drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soil has made it a standout crop in water-scarce regions. It also has important nutritional value as a low glycemic, gluten-free grain – making it a good source of amino acids for people with diabetes or gluten intolerance.

A metal dish containing cooked fonio with shredded chicken. A hand is putting a spoon into the dish.
A Freshly cooked fonio dish with chicken, served in a restaurant in the Neneficha area, south-eastern Senegal. Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian

While Europeans once called fonio “hungry rice”, European companies are now manufacturing their own fonio. The Italian company Obà Food helped introduce fonio to the EU in December 2018. And in the US, the Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam sources fonio from the aid organization SOS Sahel for his brand Yolélé, also the name of his cookbook celebrating west African cuisine.

Cowpeas: the fully edible plant

A farmer stands on a plot of land with plants growing up to her knees, harvesting cowpeas
Farmer Amina Guyo harvesting cowpeas on her land in Moyale, Kenya.Photograph: Luis Tato/FAO/AFP/Getty Images

In the 1940s, more than 5m acres of cowpeas were grown in the US – the majority, as their name suggests, for hay to feed livestock. But long before cowpeas – also called southern peas or black-eyed peas – came to the Americas, they were grown for human consumption in west Africa. Although cowpea production has declined in the US in recent decades, the crop is hugely important in much of Africa. Nigeria is the world’s largest cowpea producer.

As scientists look for alternative crops, Blair said it was important to identify ones where the entire plant is edible. Although historically people have mostly eaten cowpeas’ seeds, the leaves and pods are also a good source of protein.

Because cowpeas are highly drought tolerant, they’re also a good candidate as the climate changes. At Tennessee State University, Blair is part of a team studying the introduction of cowpeas to Latin America, as an alternative to beans, like pinto and black beans, with similar flavor profiles that may soon become more difficult to grow.

Taro: adapting the tropical crop for colder climes

Three bunches of taro next to each other on a table. Taro is believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated plants.
Varieties of taro at the Utopian Seed Project. Photograph: Yanna Fishman/ The Utopian Seed Project.

In the tropics of south-east Asia and Polynesia, taro has long been grown as a root vegetable, not unlike the potato. But as rising temperatures threaten cultivation of the crop in its natural habitat, farmers in the continental US are trying to adapt the tropical perennial to grow as a temperate annual, because it cannot survive the cold of US winters.

At the Utopian Seed Project in North Carolina, founder Chris Smith and his team have been experimenting with tropical crops, looking for ways to help the plants survive the winter. Today, they’re growing eight varieties of taro, including ones sourced from Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii, China and Puerto Rico.

“We want to introduce taro because we truly believe that that will give us a more secure food system,” Smith says. “But the beautiful byproduct is that that also allows us to engage with foods that are traditionally from either Indigenous or peasant farming communities. And I think it really gives those traditionally underserved populations an opportunity to engage with the food system that they don’t usually get.”

Like fonio, amaranth and cowpeas, taro isn’t a new crop – it’s just new to the US food system. Which is why the Utopian Seed Project isn’t just learning how to grow taro, but also teaching people how to cook it. “These crops are just foods that are embedded in cultures around the world in a way that they’re not embedded here,” Smith said. “It takes work to build that community and desire for that crop.”

Kernza: the crop bred for the climate crisis

A field of kernza plants at sunset
Kernza ripens in a breeding plot at the Land Institute. Photograph: Scott Seirer/Scott Seirer for the Land Institute

While many alternative crops are just plants that were grown somewhere else in the world generations ago, others have been cultivated specifically to withstand climate change.

In the 1980s, researchers at the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute identified a wheat-like grass called intermediate wheatgrass as a perennial cereal crop that could be developed as a substitute for annual grains like wheat. The goal was to minimize the environmental impacts of grain production.

In 2019, the Kansas-based Land Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on sustainable agriculture, introduced Kernza, a cereal crop developed from intermediate wheatgrass and trademarked to ensure farmers know they’ve bought seeds from the official breeding program. Although researchers are still working to improve the grain’s yield, farmers in Minnesota, Kansas and Montana are today growing nearly 4,000 acres of Kernza.

“Growers immediately understand the benefits of perennials on their landscapes,” said Tessa Peters, director of crop stewardship at the Land Institute, “and for those working in grain-producing areas, Kernza is very appealing.”

Good Grief! Here Comes The Tomato Crisis!

Spaghetti Sauce Is Under Threat as Water Crisis Slams Tomatoes

Kim Chipman — August 13, 2022

(Bloomberg) — Tomatoes are getting squeezed.

California leads the world in production of processing tomatoes — the variety that gets canned and used in commercial kitchens to make some of the most popular foods. The problem is the worst drought in 1,200 years is forcing farmers to grapple with a water crisis that’s undermining the crop, threatening to further push up prices from salsa to spaghetti sauce.

The blogger, in wetter, redder times.

“We desperately need rain,” Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association, said in an interview. “We are getting to a point where we don’t have inventory left to keep fulfilling the market demand.” Continue reading Good Grief! Here Comes The Tomato Crisis!

This is Why they still call it Cape FEAR . . .

I have friends who are shocked that I drink bottled water, and have for years. This article explains why. I have lived in this “forever chemical-soaked” region for 20 years. Someday (maybe; not very likely) this toxic horror show will get fixed. In the meantime, I have to drink water every day. I choose stuff that’s been filtered a few times more than what comes from the top; so sue me.

The cast of villains here includes everybody’s favorites: for lefties, big corporations spew the poisons nonstop & laugh at regulations. For righties, “big government” has spent lots and failed miserably; so too have the “small” & supposedly “closer-to-the-people” units: cities, counties, the state. For nativists, foreigners (esp. China) are in on it too, owning the world’s biggest hog slaughterhouse nearby. Etc.  Maybe we should try that old standby, Thoughts and prayers.

I welcome the exposure this article delivers. But I’m more than a little jaded: in these twenty years, big journalistic exposés have floated by every few years. Usually they’re pretty good, now and then a reporter gets a prize. And nothing seems to change.   So take a look, while I go refill some plastic jugs at our community co-op superfilter water machine.

The Guardian —by Tom Perkins — July 12, 2022

Cancer and questions plague North Carolina residents of PFAS-polluted region

Exposure to harmful PFAS remains almost impossible to escape – particularly for the people of the Cape Fear River basin.

Cancer fears plague residents of US region polluted by ‘forever chemicals’ Continue reading This is Why they still call it Cape FEAR . . .