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jackiewheeler | Aug 17, 2011 04:55 AM

 As you know, there has been considerable debate over the last several years about the high costs associated with organic and less-processed foods . Everyone (well nearly everyone) agrees that fresh produce and meat, minimally tainted with hormones, pesticides, and preservatives, are key ingredients in a healthy lifestyle for both people and the rest of the ecosystem, but significant barriers exist for those with little access to such foods and or those who cannot afford their higher prices at supermarkets and farmers' markets.

Of course, one "old" solution to this problem that is regaining popularity is home and community gardening. Anyone with a bit of time and access to a small plot of land, even in the densest urban environments, can grow a few fruit or vegetable plants, and the health benefits of this are plain. The cost savings can be significant, too; some inexpensive packets of seeds, basic tools, and a few soil amendments are generally all that's needed to get started.
If you've been gardening for awhile (or, like me, attempting to garden), you're probably chuckling a bit at that last sentence. Gardening can be fun and rewarding, but even in the best conditions a lot can happen to sabotage those promising little seedlings, and much lore (see The $64 Dollar Tomato) exists about frustrated attempts to thwart this failure. Unfortunately, there's yet another threat now, too.

Horse manureOne of the basic start-up ingredients mentioned above is soil amendment, and the king of soil amendments is compost. Compost can be purchased or made with kitchen scraps, yard clippings, manure, and other organic matter. Cost-conscious gardeners are often advised to seek out suburban or rural cattle or horse owners, who are generally thrilled to contribute their livestock's manure to others' compost piles free of charge. However, Mother Earth News and other sources (see this, for example) have recently begun to report disturbing instances of broadleaf plant damage due to poisoning by aminopyralid herbicides. These herbicides, marketed as Forefront, Banish, and other names, are sprayed on hay fields to suppress weed growth. They are allegedly not harmful to livestock, but aminopyralid residues found in manure in the U.S. and the U.K. have been the culprits in leaf and other damage to common garden crops such as beans and tomatoes. Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of these herbicides, now acknowledges the problem on its U.K.website.

Gardening can be such an ideal contribution to food and environmental equity. Available to almost everyone, it provides low-cost, fresh, local food while providing fun and exercise and recycling waste. Sadly, one humble but time-honored component may become essentially unusable unless citizens and the EPA step up and demand more accountability for the life cycle of these and other herbicides.

Essays in the A Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.

Image courtesy Flickr user eXtension horses.

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