Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Bee's Knees

Hello all!
This week I want to go over the importance of bees!

Bees play a very important role in our environment and unfortunately as many of you may be aware they are going through some tough times currently. As of January of last year the rusty patched bumble bee populations have decreased over 90%. This has been the case for many other species of bees across the US. It is important to understand what factors are causing this and what we can do to help the cause for our little buddies.

I want to help discuss the who, what, when, where, whys that are affecting the bee population and also go over how beekeepers are helping the populations out. In addition, talk about some of the benefits that having bees on the farm can bring.

Here is a quick article showing some of the benefits:

Lastly we will discuss the benefits of the sweetest part of helping the bees out, honey! ft. the one and only Edd Champagne

For the comments we will keep it lighthearted and fun, feel free to leave any fun facts you have of our amazing little buddies!
Mine is the fact that bees can learn and teach other bees how to play soccer! (sorta...)
Link to video:

Happy 10th week ya'll!

What's happening in the duck coop this morning . . .

Monday, June 4, 2018

Final Course Reflection

 It's been a delight learning with all of you this quarter! I know that we've covered a lot of interconnected topics, so I hope this final reflection will be an opportunity for you to pause and think back over the course to what has had the most impact on you and what you most want to remember.
Please answer the following questions in the comments section. Please submit your responses by midnight, Sunday, June 10.
What questions, themes, and/or ideas from this class have been the most interesting for you to consider? What new ideas are you taking away from this course? What new questions do you have?
What do you think you’ll remember most from this class one year from now?

What is one thing you’ve learned in this class that you hope to put into practice in your life after graduation?

Throughout this quarter, John and I have shared with you some of the ways we are working to make a positive difference in the world through experimenting with and teaching small-scale, localized farming. Following our passions, talents, and curiosities has led us to this way of giving to the world. What passions, talents, and curiosities will you be pursuing after graduation and how might these lead you to ways you can make a positive difference in the communities in which you’ll be living and the world at large?

What suggestions do you have for improving future versions of this course?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Week 10 on the Farm: Harvest

Weather Forecast: Tuesday, mostly sunny, high of 68 degrees F; Wednesday, partly cloudy, high of 74.

I have to confess that there were some moments a week ago when I was spending sleepless nights in hospital rooms and 90+ degree days working outdoors in the humidity that I was feeling pretty discouraged about this season. Our first harvest and CSA distribution is scheduled for this week and it's hard to go into harvest season feeling so far behind schedule. It's times like this that make me doubt myself and wonder why I'm doing this small-scale farming thing, especially through the CSA model which puts pressure on me to produce a certain quantity of diverse produce regularly throughout our season. I start feeling inadequate and wonder if I'm just incapable of succeeding at this work that I feel so deeply called to do.

But my Dad is home now and the weather has been giving me a break (thank you, weather!) these past couple of days. We made a big push to get our middle-sized garden (called 'Middle Earth') worked up this weekend and got most of our tomatoes planted on Saturday. The cooler temperatures mean the spinach bolting has slowed down enough that it will be good to harvest this week for our first share distribution and I'm crossing my fingers that the cabbage root maggots have stayed out of the turnips enough that we can harvest those too, as well as fresh garlic shoots. It will be a small share this week and probably early summer shares will be smaller than normal because of the disruptions in our planting schedule due to my Dad's illness. I've sent an email to all of our members letting them know about this situation and received several responses encouraging us to take care of ourselves and our family first. Which reminds me of why I do the CSA--because it allows me to form relationships with the people that eat the food I grow that go beyond an economic transaction to genuine care for each others' well-being.

10th week Spring is always intense for me as we are finishing up planting, beginning harvesting, and I still have all of my K responsibilities to fulfill.That leads to some long days and short nights. Tonight I came in from the gardens around 10pm when it got too dark to see and tomorrow morning I'll be up at first light to harvest, wash, and bag the spinach before my first meeting on campus. So I'll be tired tomorrow. But I'm excited. The spinach is really tasty right now (it loves this cool weather), and I'm eager to get back into my harvest rhythm. I'm also super excited to get the rest of our transplants in the ground this week and to see the Middle Earth garden come back to life. I almost can't explain how happy it makes me to do this work, despite the moments when I'm laying down in the field weeping with heat, exhaustion, and frustration at yet another challenging situation.

Tuesday folks, we're going to have you help us plant Middle Earth with all kinds of summer veggies: peppers, eggplants, squashes, and those potatoes that we didn't get to last week! Wednesday people, if I can get supplies around, we'll get into our big beehive and see what the girls have been up to these past few weeks. Maybe we'll even pull out some honey if they've been busy making more!

I've been thinking about what question I wanted to ask you this week and my mind keeps going to the theme of harvest and the fact that you will soon be reaping a certain kind of harvest from the work that you've done these past four years in college by receiving your diplomas. But diplomas are just symbols that stand in for what you've actually done and learned during your undergraduate careers. As I'm thinking about the moments when I stand in the gardens and see the plants growing and feel my own passion for this work despite all of its horrible moments and know beyond doubt that this is work I'm meant to do, I'm wondering what hard-won self-knowledge you have cultivated and harvested for yourselves during your time at K College. What do you know about yourself now that you didn't when you walked into your First Year Seminar class for the first time? What self-knowledge will carry you forward into the next phase of your life and support you when things get tough?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Hey everybody, hope you all enjoyed the long weekend! For my discussion I want to talk about how edge effects resulting from agriculture can affect native ecosystems. In a sentence, edge effects are a way of speaking about unique ecological characteristics at the edges between two different habitats (agricultural fields and forests, for example). For those of you who want more of a primer, here is a link to the Wikipedia page on edge effects.

What got me thinking about this topic was when we were turning over compost for the gardens near the strawberries. I remember Amy saying that a certain kind of fly only turned up on the farm after she got some compost that had maggots in it. I wondered what the ecosystems might look like at the very local scale, since human development has fractured native ecosystems so much. To that end, I dug up a few articles (sorry in advance, they are primary research) on how crop fields interact with edge effects/edge species.

After reading these articles, do you have any questions or critiques? In your own experiences, on the farm or otherwise, can you think of a time you noticed differences in ecosystems at edges? If so, write a short reflection or even just list some observations you remember from the experience. My plan for class is to start with any reflections by everyone, then talk about the articles and how we do or do not believe their findings should be applied, and what we felt about them in general.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Opioid Crisis: Big Pharma, The FDA and DEA, Kratom, and Kalamazoo


For my time leading class I will be sharing with you all some of the work I did for my SIP over the winter. For a quick introduction to the subject please watch this 3 minute video that succinctly breaks down the issue: If you do not have time to read this whole post and respond, the video will give enough background for you to think and talk about it.

The issue:

The opioid crisis has been a national story of interest in the U.S. for decades and has only been worsening. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens have died in the past decade from opioid overdoses, and over 42,000 passed away in 2016 alone (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2016). This is the story most of the nation is now all too familiar with, but many are unfamiliar with (or have been presented misleading or false information) of a more recent issue related to the crisis. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is attempting to eliminate public and private access to a substance that many assert to be saving countless lives. Some wonder if the agency is in fact involved in a massive, propagandized disinformation campaign against kratom. My SIP looks into what kratom is, why the FDA is determined to see that it be made against the law by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and why people in Kalamazoo continue to use the plant despite the agencies’ denunciation of it.

The DEA and FDA are prioritizing resolving the opioid epidemic, which entails passing laws against opioid analogues that are easily accessible to addicts. However, tens of thousands of kratom users, and several senators and congresspeople, have expressed concern that in addition to ignoring the root causes of the opioid epidemic, the FDA is striving to withhold the substance from those whose lives it is saving – many of whom suffer from opioid addiction. Enacting legislation that bans kratom, categorizing its users as felons, carries undeniable risk of worsening the opioid epidemic and creating “serious public health problems that do not presently exist” (Pinney Associates, 2016). However, before that issue can be addressed, we must understand the psychoactive plant.

Mitragyna speciosa, commonly referred to as kratom, is a tropical tree in the same genetic family as coffee and thousands of other flowering plants, the Rubiaceae family (BioMed Research International, 2015). It is typically used in its dried leaf, raw plant form to make tea, crushed and mixed with food, or filled into capsules. Many of the first reports of its use involve native workers in Thailand, a country where it is now illegal, chewing the leaves of the plant to get through their long and physically taxing workdays. Although indigenous to Southeast Asia, the plant has become a popular natural medicine in the U.S. (National Standard Research Collaboration, 2013). Lower doses of dried leaf kratom, e.g. .5-3 grams, yield a stimulating effect like coffee, whereas higher doses, e.g. 4 grams or more, induce mildly sedative and pain-relieving effects. Kratom also grows in a variety of strains, the most common of which are green vein, which is known to produce more stimulation, and red vein, which is typically taken by those seeking pain relief, sleep aid, or relief of opioid withdrawal.

Millions of people around the world take kratom for chronic pain; weaning off of opioids, alcohol, or other drugs; depression; anxiety; PTSD; and many other symptoms and illnesses. However, the FDA states kratom is just as dangerous as opioids; FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, recommended in November 2017 that kratom be categorized as a Schedule One drug. This came after their failed attempt to schedule the plant in 2015, which was met with such unprecedented resistance from active members of the kratom community; in the forms of petitions, emails, and phone calls to elected officials; that the law enforcement organization canceled their plan to schedule a substance for the first time. The Schedule One drug classification implies that the substances it lists are highly addictive and have no proven medical value or potential.

The FDA also claims that kratom is responsible for 36 deaths, which has been disproved by researchers, doctors, and scientists (FDA, 2017; Pinney Associates, 2017-2018). This is in my opinion the most damning evidence for the case that the FDA has ulterior motive in urging the DEA to schedule the substance in the most restrictive category. I will talk more about this Thursday, but if you are curious about this instance of government-sanctioned misinformation and misuse of medical data, here is a link to a well-written article by a journalist who helped me find the government records myself:

International shipments of kratom are increasingly being seized by U.S. Customs, even though hundreds of which are destined for states where the plant remains legal (United States Customs and Border Protection [CBP], 2015). As a local kratom vendor, this makes my job difficult when coordinating international shipments. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of kratom are not completing shipment to users and suppliers, despite the plant remaining legal in all but few states (CBP, 2015; Botanical Education Alliance, 2018). Enough is still delivered successfully to meet the demand of the legal U.S. market. However, Vendors in Indonesia and other foreign countries must fight for their right to sell to U.S. customers, diligently completing the proper documents to ensure their legal shipments are not intercepted by customs agents.

Kalamazoo is home to an active, informed, and growing community of legal kratom users, suppliers, and advocates. The community attracts supporters of legal and educated kratom use for a variety of reasons, but the most common are to avoid or quit opioids. Kalamazoo is disproportionately affected by the nationwide opioid epidemic:

"From 2015 to 2016, accidental drug-related fatalities in Kalamazoo County more than doubled from a count of 33 to 72. In other words, more people died of accidental drug overdose than motor vehicle accidents in Kalamazoo County last year. Eight out of ten of these deaths involved an opioid. In fact, the opioid-related accidental, crude death rate increased from 11 to 22 per 100,000 Kalamazoo County residents in 2016" (Kalamazoo County Health ​& Community Services, 2017).

The statistics for 2017 will be made available soon, but hope for more encouraging numbers is bleak in Kalamazoo. Current efforts are obviously not enough. Kratom shields millions from the trauma of the opioid crisis in small-scale communities across the U.S. If it works in these cases, implementing kratom into a large-scale, nationwide opioid recovery paradigm should be considered as a possibility.


This is beginning to happen in some parts of the country, although these efforts are met with objection similar to that which medical cannabis receives.

As the first of its kind, a controversial Portland program uses marijuana and kratom to treat opioid addiction:

The clinic discussed in the article above is basically my passion in a nutshell. Sometime down the road, perhaps if my business as a local vendor is successful, I could open a similar institution. Suboxone and methodone clinics can be found in every state, but these drugs are dangerous, fatal, and addictive, just like the drugs that cause the addiction they intend to treat. I will show you some interviews from participants in my study with experience with these clinics and why they prefer kratom.

Most folks in 12-step programs deny kratom's potential to treat addictions to opioids, alcohol, or other drugs and consider use of the substance relapse. Many recovering heroin addicts have been kicked out of treatment centers for using kratom rather than opioids like methadone or suboxone to treat their addiction, which substantially increases the recovering addict's chances of actually relapsing. Here is a decent article that discusses this issue and explains the importance of clinics like the one in Portland I would love to see emulated in Kalamazoo:

As far as other solutions to this issue, the kratom community has displayed great capacity to work towards common goals. I would encourage you to check out the American Kratom Association (AKA). Their website is a goldmine of information on kratom, and educating people on the plant is part of solutions to both the opioid epidemic and kratom misinformation/ignorance. They also helped organize the efforts that encouraged the DEA to change its mind back in 2015: Calling and writing to representatives is a small but crucial part of the solution. It worked!

This community has some members in high places. Pinney Associates is a public policy organization specializing in abuse liability testing and abuse-deterrent drug products assessment. They have been on the front lines of producing unbiased, scientific research on kratom. They often produce results that contradict the FDA's claims shortly after they make them. Here is an article about their famous 8-factor analysis of kratom, completion of which is required by the DEA for determining whether or not a drug should be scheduled:

For your replies:

In your responses to my post I welcome any reactions, questions, or reflections regarding this complex issue. Here is a question to get you started: Has the growing opioid epidemic that plagues our nation and this city affected you, your family, or loved ones? You obviously do not have to share any details that you would be uncomfortable divulging, but talking about these issues and personalizing them is necessary to begin contemplating how to arrive at a future without them. That is a key lesson I learned in doing my SIP, and I will share excerpts from my Kalamazoo residing, kratom using interviewees.