J500 Media and the Environment

Podcast: Juniper Gardens

Aye Aye Nu came to America as a refugee from Thailand six years ago. She came here through Catholic Charities, which placed her and her now 9-year-old son, Nito, in Kansas. In their time here, Aye Aye says Nito has grown to like American food more than the natural food she grows on the farm in Kansas City. This is a common trend in immigrants to America. However, Aye Aye continues to get a lot of joy from working on the farm and selling what she grows at the Farmers Market. She and the other refugees at Juniper Gardens are able to reconnect with the land, and their agricultural pasts, everyday on the farm.

Listen to the podcast.

Podcast Transcript

Justin Leverett: This is Juniper Gardens, an urban farm near the I-70 underpass just outside Kansas City. We spoke to Aye Aye Nu, an immigrant farmer, and Rachel Bonar.

Rachel BonarRachel Bonar: I work for Catholic Charities and the Refugee Resettlement Department. And this is a training farm for refugees. Right now, we work with women. And we would work with men if they wanted to but it’s not a consistent, yearlong income, so most of the men have other jobs and the women can come here.

Aye Aye do you want to, do you have anything you want to say about the farm?

Aye Aye Nu: I don’t know, Rachel.

RB: How has it been for you to be a farmer?Aye Aye Nu at market.

AA: I think, so, I like to farmer, because, the vegetables are good for healthy. Like, because, um, be stronger, be happy farm. We plant the garden, because we have food, no problem. We can spread it too for other, for market, for money. I think about, another, like, for others, for friends, maybe we need to, like share together, for other people, for, like, happy. I think about that.

JL: So the food you can make you can give to people, your friends.

AA: Yeah. We like to sell, fun, you know, market. Like, “Hey, my friend, take home. Take home.” They say, “Thank you, we are hAye Aye's flowers.appy.” I think about like that.

RB: Aye Aye plants beautiful flowers.

AA: I sell my flowers, happy, you know like, sometimes. Not sometimes, always. I see them, I say, “Oh my flowers go up. Go up.” Like, you know, my baby.

JL: How long have you lived here?

AA: I am six years here.

Aye Aye and Nito Nu.JL: Six years here. Do you have family? Do you have kids?

AA: Yes, my son. He’s 9 years old. His name is Nito. He’s a very handsome boy.

RB: He’s so cute.

AA: He’s so cute. He’s in first grade.

Aly Van Dyke: Does he help you, on the farm?

AA: Only he helps me watching TV, at home.

JL: so you get to cook for him with the food that you make here?

AA: Yeah, sometimes he like to eat my food. Sometimes, always he like to eat American food. Cheese, sour chicken, some place, like KFC, Papa John’s or something. Cheese and bread, like how do you make it here? I don’t understand.

RB: Grilled cheese.

Matthew Bristow: Back home, when you grew all year round, and now here it’s only half of the year, like six months. What do you do in the winter since you cannot grow?

Aye Aye Nu on farm.AA: Stay home. Um, I have this last year I looked the job in the Triumph Company. Because of very far drive I will quit from this job.

RB: Everybody works at the Triumph. It’s a pork processing plant, a slaughterhouse, in St. Joseph. So it was an hour away. A lot, a lot of people are actually moving, refugees are migrating from other places in the United States to come here to work at that place. It pays pretty good, but it’s really, really hard work and everyone’s working second and third shifts, so it’s overnight. So when Aye Aye was working, her son was home by himself. Like she would leave while he was at school and then he would come home from school and be by himself.

AA: He say, ‘Ma, when are you done with this job, when you quit?’ he ask me one time. I say, ‘Nito, I will quit this job, ok?’ He say, ‘Ok ma.’

JL: What to you sort of hope for the future? Do you hope more people will get involved?

AA: Uh, future? I have my son, I think about only my son. I don’t have thought for future. Because, only my son. Because he go out, like he go be interested in something, maybe college. Or maybe something.

JL: What do you hope for in the future?Farmer and children at Juniper Gardens.

RB: My hope would be, um, for this year I have a lot of hope for the Farmers Market here on site. I really want to, um, make that more a part of what we do. And I’m hopeful that we can, whatever the women want to do we can make it happen that you know we can work on any of the barriers that are standing in the way. And if Aye Aye wants to have her own farm, sell at lots of markets, then I hope she can do it.

-By Group 2: Justin Leverett, Matthew Bristow, Aly Van Dyke and Tina Wood

Pictures also submitted by Katherine Kelly and the New Roots for Refugees Facebook page.

See our video of market reserach!

Reconnect: With Your Health


Most people know bananas can corral Charlie horses. Some figure carrots help eyesight. And we know eating oranges keeps you from coming down with scurvy.

But what if our food could go beyond fixing our hiccups? What if, instead of filling prescriptions and taking a conga line of pills, we could find natural remedies right there in our fruits and veggies?

Turns out, we can.

People started using herbs and produce as medicine more than 5,000 years ago. Although food has changed a lot in that time – with the advent of pesticides, herbicides, additives and artificial flavoring – food still contains nutrients that can tame the common cold and keep your blood sugar low – you just have to know what to look for.

For the most part, foods with the highest nutrients, and therefore more medicinal, are the foods grown organically and, preferably, local.

“Conventional vegetables that are brought in tend to lose essential nutrients before they are bought,” said Pov (pronounced Paul) Huns. He used spinach as an example, saying spinach loses essential nutrients when it hasn’t been consumed in at least a week.

Pov is an urbaepazoten farmer in Kansas City, Kan., and grows more than 40 vegetables on his 4-acre farm. He started his farm, not for the tax write-offs or the sales income, but for the health benefits of naturally grown, local food.

Try Pov’s ginger or epazote for your irritable-bowel syndrome.bitter-melon

Menstrual cramps? Put down the Midol and have some bitter eggplant.

Got high cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or high blood sugar? Pov’s bitter melons might help. New research has found that this fruit may be an alternative medicine for HIV.

lemongrassCan’t beat your cold? Have some organic, locally harvested lemongrass tea.

And if you’re not satisfied with your allergy pills, try his pak choy. The blooms are supposed to help with the itching and sneezing.

But Pov isn’t the only local contributor to the medicinal food movement.

honeyKansas City also has a few resident-beekeepers. The honey from their well-kept bees have many medicinal purposes: preventing seasonal allergies, treating cuts and burns, upping your energy, providing natural vitamins and antioxidants, helping you lose weight.

It’s incredible to think that food has the power not only to sustain us, but to keep us alive and healthy too. That health care doesn’t have to come from a bottle, but can come from a vine out of the earth or the honey of a bee.

That the food we take so much for granted could help free us from the prescription-world we live in and release us into a world where food, grown as it should be, where it should be, provides us with all the nutrients and medicine we need.

By Group 2: Matt Bristow, Justin Leverett, Aly Van Dyke and Tina Wood

Thanks to Botanical Research Center, Gourmet Sleuth, Alumni Roundup, Food Subs and Alibaba,  to for the pictures

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

Huns Garden Offers Homegrown Healing

When Pov (pronounced Paul) Huns heard that his neighbor’s granddaughter had been sick for two weeks and was running a fever, he knew just what to do.

He walked down to a little patch in his 4-acre garden next door and found a tall, green herb. He cut a few stalks and carried them up the hill to his neighbor’s house. He knocked, and his neighbor, Dawn Beckett, opened the screen door.

Urban farmer, Pov Huns

Urban farmer, Pov Huns

“Boil these in four cups of water for 10 or 15 minutes,” he said, handing her a fistful. He told her the herb, lemongrass, makes a tea that would make her granddaughter, Leanna, feel better.

Dawn did as Pov instructed and today claims that Leanna’s fever fell 20 minutes after drinking the tea.

“I know it works,” Dawn said. “I trust him over a doctor. I can’t say nothin’ but the best about ‘im.

Leanna, 9, still drinks the herbal tea, and says it’s delicious.

But Pov said he was just doing what his grandpa taught him to do in Laos, before Pov and his family were forced to leave the country as political refugees.

Born Zoou Pov Huns on April 6, 1966, Pov grew up in the rural hill town of Ban Nam Tao, Laos. Pov would know this home for only nine years.

In 1975, Pov, his mother, father and six younger brothers escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand. He spent the next five years of his life in the Ban Vinai camp with about 45,000 other refugees.

The Huns came to America in 1980, eventually settling in Fresno, Calif., where Pov finished high school and graduated from junior college and a vocational school. Although he pursued degrees in medicine and chemistry, he wasn’t able to afford the cost to finish his degrees and stopped a year short of completing his schooling. He settled in Kansas with his wife, Lor Chaxamone, in 1996.

It wasn’t until 2004, after he and his wife had welcomed four children into the world- Tzouapang, 13; Victoria, 12; Bryan, 10; and Charles, 8  – that Pov bought the vacant lot, 4730 Metropolitan Ave., Kansas City, Ks., where his farm now grows.

Pov said his initial intent was to use the land to build a new house for his family, but as the housing market started to sour and his cholesterol began to climb, Pov decided to turn the lot into a farm, where he could grow food for his family, and make himself healthier.

Pov plants lettuce in the rows between his wife's irises.

Pov plants lettuce in the rows between his wife's irises.

Pov said he especially needed the antioxidants naturally found in food, which are lost when produce is shipped over long distances.

“If you’re looking for nutrients, healthy eating isn’t enough any more,” he said. “Stores don’t have foods with antioxidants. When you buy local, the antioxidants stay with the food.”

Today, Pov’s farm grows 40 different vegetables, most of which have unique health benefits: Epazote, or “Mexican basil,” to reduce gas; bitter melon (which, Dawn warned, is really bitter) to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar; and bitter eggplant to ease the pain of menstrual and postpartum cramps.

Although Pov grows herbs for today’s common ailments, his farming methods are anything but ordinary.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “Most of what I do is the opposite of what you’re told to do.”

Pov works 4 acres of land yet doesn’t use a single drop of water to irrigate – he lets Mother Nature take care of that.

Farmers are told to plant onions 8-to 12-inches a part. Pov plants a bulb every 2 inches, then lets the onions pop themselves out of the ground. Because of this, Pov said he can harvest about 400 onions in 20 minutes.

The most notable feature of Pov’s unorthodox farming is the abundance of weeds sprinkling his land, some of which grow shoulder-high. The practice, he is told by friends and visitors, would make some ancestors turn in their graves. But to Pov, weeds are just “natural nitrogen.”

“It’s common practice for Americans to keep weeds out, and I’m the one that says keep the weeds in,” he said. “I don’t add fertilizer. I add weeds.”

Pov also puts his unsold vegetables back onto the farm as fertilizer.

“Whatever Mother Natures gives us, that’s what we take,” he explained. “Take only what you need and use. All the excess, return it back to the ground.”

Pov uses string from the dollar store to help his peas grow tall.

Pov uses string from the dollar store to help his peas grow tall.

Pov knows there isn’t a lot of money in farming – he made a net income of about $895 last year from the farm. But he said the money doesn’t matter to him. Pov farms for his health; he farms for his family; he farms for his neighbors and anyone else who desires more natural treatment for illnesses.

And, he said, he farms for fun.

By Aly Van Dyke

More photos found here.

Find out more about the urban farmers in Kansas City at the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture Web site. Visit its blog for informationa about the KC Urban Farms and Gardens Tour.

A Lasting Connection

At The University of Arizona, I learned journalism basics:

What I'd lost.

What I'd lost.

•    keep intros short
•    lead with the news
•    get the names right
•    And, most importantly, always pick a personal interview over a voice on the phone.

After jumping head-first into a new school, new city, new job, I lost that golden rule of journalism. I lost what it meant to talk to someone face to face, and what that could do for the story.

This class and the service-learning project helped me find it again.

When I first learned about the farmer project, I thought it was just another crazy thing I had to add to my already overloaded schedule.

No way, I thought, would I have time to interview this farmer in Kansas City. No way could this man have anything to say that I couldn’t get over the phone.

No way would I visit his farm not once, but twice, and leave the second time promising to return this summer to help with the harvest.

Now I know better.

The personal connection I was able to make with Pov Huns stretched beyond reporting his story into coming to terms with the life I, and so many like me, are living.

People like me let their schedule rule their life. They’re always running late, always sacrificing quality of work, and life, in the crunch of time. They’re watching their life pass without having a chance to see it, afraid that pausing for too long will prevent them from moving forward.

Connect with farmers, connect with food.

Connect with farmers, connect with food.

But that’s not what happens. When you pause, when you take time to connect with people, you get to meet immigrants from Zambia and urban farmers in Kansas City. You get to see people, really see them. And you get to learn more about yourself and your world than you ever did from inside your hourglass.

This project helped me see that I shouldn’t be disconnected from anything, so I’m starting with my food. No longer will I buy green beans from the frozen section when they’re in season and grown by people I can meet and connect with.

I want to know the name of the woman who grew the tomatoes in my lasagna; I want to be able to describe the man who harvested the lemongrass in my tea. I want to connect to food, to people, to my life in ways I couldn’t see before.

Life is about connections; it has to be. And this service-learning project helped me see that.

Without the service-learning project, I would have continued chasing after that last hour, last minute, last second. But now I see there’s more to life than making deadlines, and that there’s a physical person behind the voice who has more to say than words can tell.

No way will I ever lose that again.

By AlyV

Waiting for the Dew to Rise

For the past 28 years, Glenn Anderson has spent his fall mornings watching, waiting for the dew to release the almonds blanketing the farm floor before he can harvest them.orchard_in_winter1

Glenn owns Anderson Almonds, a 20-acre California farm that grows raw, certified organic almonds. In his hay-day, Glenn sold almonds to raw food and organic lovers throughout the entire country.

But Glenn Anderson can’t sell raw, organic almonds to us in Kansas anymore, or really anywhere farther than a few hundred miles from his central-California home. Neither can his peers.

And we have yet another federal mandate to thank for that.

On Sept. 1 2007, Glenn and his peers suffered the fallout of a law passed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The law requires aalmond-buttonll California almond growers to sterilize, or “pasteurize,” their crop.

Now, almond farmers with nationwide markets have to either spray their almonds with propylene oxide, a known carcinogen, or clean them with 150-degree steam.

Both methods rule out raw-food status and cut directly into the niche market served by small, family farms like Anderson Almonds.

“My market is essentially gone,” Glenn said. He said 90 percent of his business was done online.

The law, passed by the USDA and the Almond Board of California, was in response to two salmonella outbreaks linked to California almonds. Though the 2001 outbreak in Canada was not linked to a particular farm, the 2004 outbreak was traced back to Paramount Farms, the largest supplier of pistachios and almonds in the world.developing_almonds_may

But the 2007 law doesn’t harm the factory farms that caused this mess. In fact, the law allows some of these large farms that pasteurize their almonds to label their product “organic.”

And the law certainly doesn’t protect customers. Instead, the lack of regulation on organic labels coupled with the new pasteurization law confuses customers and leaves them buying a product they’re not getting.

About the only things the law did were to upset enough raw farmers and their customers to land the USDA with a lawsuit over the issue and to force American consumers to buy foreign almonds, reducing the American-grown, organic almond sales to 1 percent of the national market.

First it was subsidizing corn for ethanol, then it was requiring wind turbines to have coal as a fall back. Now almonds. What’s next? How much longer do we have to wait for the dew of Big Ag to release our small, organic farmers?

By Aly Van Dyke

Thanks to Anderson Almonds and The Cornucopia Institute for the pictures.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

The Ax in My Side

I’m so glad my TV got fried during that electric storm.

Now I don’t even have to cr1546_deforestationoss paths with that horrible excuse for “entertainment” on the History Channel: Ax Men.

You know, that show that paints loggers as these heroic, last frontiersmen who brave the elements of nature for their high-risk job.

What a bunch of crap. Ax Men no more promotes American heroism than Stephen Colbert actually supported George W. Bush.

Do you know what the catch for this season is? It’s a competition between five logging companies in the Northwest to see which one can tear down the most trees. Yeah, real heroic, guys.

Here’s what the show fails to mention:

  • More than 1.2 billion people across the world rely on forest resources to survive.
  • About 70 percent of the planet’s plants and animals live in forests. Some forests – such as the old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest where our friends the Ax Men are so happily chucking away – are the only places where certain animals live.
  • Every two seconds, a forest the size of a football field is cut down – now for our viewing pleasure. Eighty percent of the planet’s ancient forests are gone forever.
  • Because of the vast number of harvested trees, deforestation contributes 20 percent to 25 percent of all carbon emissions.

But the craziest thing about all this is?

Most of the information I cited is on the History Channel Web site.

Here’s an organization that loyally promotes deforestation, but has an entire Earth at Risk package describing the main factors of the earth’s destruction, highlighting deforestation as one of them. The channel also cites global warming as the cause of two “Mega Disasters” that could wipe out large portions of the human population.

I mean, are these people idiots? Do they actually watch what they expect us to? Is this some sad attempt to “show both sides of the story”?

Or is it a way to justify the money they make by destroying the earth?

I’ll let you be the judge. But as I said, I’m just happy I don’t have a TV.

Which one is it, History Channel?


Thanks to YouTube (2) for the videos.

Thanks to Brockernation for the picture.

America’s Dilemma

Trojan PinataIllegal immigration is about so much more than taking jobs away from Americans.

At any time, there are between 12 million and 20 million illegal immigrants in the United States, according to the Census Bureau’s best guess. Most hold jobs Americans consider too lowly to do – jobs like those in agriculture.

Illegal immigrants usually work as seasonal workers, picking oranges in California or harvesting cranberries in Maryland. It’s no secret that illegal aliens work for cheap.

But as much as people complain about lower wages making job competition fruitless, it’s the cheap labor of immigrants that helps put food on the tables of most Americans, and most of the world.

Industrialized agriculture provides a large majority of the food for the world, so they employ a ton of people, some being illegal immigrants. Let’s think about what would happen if the America were to completely stop the influx of illegal immigrants.

• Big Ag would lose its stake-holdings in American agriculture, leading to an increase in the need and development of local farms.Immigrant-crossing sign
• The surge in local farming would decrease the methane, carbon dioxide and the rest of the pollutant cocktail that comes transporting food thousands of miles away or herding millions of pigs into tiny spaces.

But …

• Food production would plummet.
• The cost of food would skyrocket.
• Millions of people wouldn’t have access or be able to afford food.
• Starvation and undernourishment would affect thousands more than the 900 million people already suffering from lack of adequate food.
• The U.S. economy would go into the tank.

So, stop illegal immigrants, give Americans more jobs, reduce emissions and increase local farming? Or grant them amnesty and a chance to improve their lives, continue to feed Big Ag and risk the earth’s sustainability?

Is there a right choice?


Thanks to Guinness Wench and More Marin for the pictures.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

My Green Thumb Just Got Weedy


I’ve always lamented my lack of a green thumb. Even as I write this blog, my latest botanical victim is wilting on my desk, clinging on the last moments of its short, neglected life.

Whatever thumb-less hand I’ve played in the demise of plants over the years, another, more sinister villain lies in waiting, creeping ever closer to the brink of a mass vegetation massacre.

I’m talking, naturally, about weeds.

“But weeds have been around forever!” you say, and I can’t argue with you there. I may not have the back pain resulting from hours spent releasing the roots of tomatoes and begonias from the fists of weeds, but I know they’re a problem.

The new, bigger threat? It’s about to get worse.

As global warming continues to heat the earth, the harsher conditions will make it harder for our favorites to thrive, opening the rows to the infestation of weeds.

Weeds are what scientists call “generalists.” Generalists can generally thrive anywhere, under any conditions, at any time (think rats). Their success relies mostly on the fact that generalists have greater genetic diversity, allowing them to adapt more quickly to changes in environment than more specialized, and valued, organisms.

According to several studies on weed/crop competition, weeds grow faster and easier as carbon dioxide increases. That means as temperatures and CO2 in the atmosphere continue to rise, the amount of weeds will grow too.weed

I don’t have a garden, for obvious reasons. But if I did, I know the last thing my plants should have to worry about are weeds encroaching on their plotted right to life. So for my future garden, and the successful gardens already out there, I pledge to use my car less, rev the engine a little softer, drive a little slower.

Who knows. Maybe a greener life will be just what I need to get this thumb of mine to change tint.

All weeds are a problem, even cheesy TV shows about illegal ones.


Thanks to Diptesh Chatterjee and S. Paul Davis for the pictures.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

Pigs of an African Past

Nabombe Silangwa doesn’t understand why Americans use the term “pigsty” to describe a dirty room. She doesn’t get the phrase “to eat like a pig” either.

“Where I come from, pigs are the cleanest animals we have on a farm,” she says.

cute-pig1For Nabombe, pigs were the pride and joy of her family’s small farm in Zambia.

She describes pigs as “neat freaks,” as obsessive compulsive. She says they won’t eat food if it’s touched anything but their snouts, and that their living quarters are divided – one corner for food, another for waste.

How far the “civilized world” has digressed.

According to an article by Jeff Tietz for Rolling Stone, pigs on American factory-farms have slightly different living conditions:
• Pigs can’t move.
• Pigs can’t breathe.
• Pigs can’t wash.
• They stand in their own feces – that is until it drops through a 1-foot hole along with anything else that might fit (placenta, piglets, syringes).
• They die of infections from the small quarters and their diminishing immune systems.
• Their stench assaults the nostrils of residents several miles away.
• Their feces creates pink pools of toxins, which bring death to any who dare come near.

Rather than a cherished member of the family, as they were on Nabombe’s African farm, pigs held in factory farms are a threat to the lives of any organism in the vicinity, including humans.

Neighbors of one factory hog farm – a Smithfield Foods farm in North Carolina – say they can’t leave their homes some days because the odor is too overpowering. Many residents continue to collapse from the stench, and few homes can mask the smell.

Pigs in America are an emblem for the dirty, the foul, the uncivilized, the wretched. And why should they be any different? We made them that way; we gave them the reputation we so ardently abhor.

My friend Nabombe doesn’t understand America’s portrayal of the pig.

I wish I didn’t either.

Something about this seems too dramatic; I’ll let you be the judge. Personally, I would recommend putting this one on mute. The pictures do tell a compelling story.


Thanks to the University of Western Ontario for the picture.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

The Night I Lost My Dairy Innocence
February 20, 2009, 12:58 am
Filed under: Society + Media


The late-night stock crew at Dillons thinks I’m crazy, but knowing what I know now, I couldn’t care less.

I sat down to read a series of articles on organic dairy last night, and after finishing the second, I knew I couldn’t sit around wondering anymore. I had to know: How does the milk at my grocery store – Dillons – stack up on Cornucopia’s ranking of organic dairy?

So I put on my boots, grabbed my reporter’s notebook, and headed to Dillons on a mission.

What I found, was phenomenal.

Three of the seven brands had USDA-organic labels. Two of those brands had rankings at Cornucopia’s Web site: Naturally Preferred and Horizon Organic. The first, a Kroger Co. brand, got a 1 on the scale. Horizon got a zero.

The 1 rating for Naturally Preferred means that Kroger didn’t bother to send a response to Cornucopia’s survey and that its dairy comes from “unknown sources.” Zero means the cows are part of a factory farm, and that the company didn’t respond to the survey.

The only truly organic milk I could find – Iwig Family Dairy from Tecumseh – didn’t have a stamp. But I checked out the Web site, and after reading what it takes to have a truly organic farm, Iwigs is legit in my book.

I just don’t know where to go from here. I feel like this has been a huge advancement for me as I’ve never even thought about buying organic milk before – just assuming that the Kroger brand I buy every two weeks “can’t be that bad.”

But if we are invested in organic food, and we can’t even trust the USDA labels, what else can’t we trust? And how can we protect farmers who do provide organic milk from being shut down by companies that can charge less for their “organic” milk?


Thanks to Global Health Center for the picture.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.