GF Blog 23 – Week 29

18th August

What is real? More to the point, what is the opposite? Unreal, imagined, fake? I have investigated both this week – Fake News and lots about ‘Real Food’.

Since my report 7 days ago the number count of deaths in Hawaii has risen steadily. As I commence writing, on Thursday, it stands at 111.

Officials are hesitant to issue any statements in answer to the many questions and criticisms thrown their way since last weekend. It is by no means simple to tell what is real and trustworthy, as social media posts have begun to spread wild and fanciful reports about the causes of the fires on Maui.

Here is the official line – a cause is yet to be determined but security footage of a tree falling on a power line at a Maui bird sanctuary is being investigated as a possible trigger. Others point to the role of downed power lines elsewhere on the island and flammable grasses.

Very quickly this has escalated to legal action against Hawaii’s state power supplier: –

One case is a ‘class action’ (case supported by a sizeable group), filed by 3 Oahu-based firms on behalf of a Maui resident.

Five individuals and one business, together have filed another lawsuit, but it is not a class action.

A third case is a class action on behalf of two Lahaina residents, by a Honolulu-based law firm and two firms based in California. Californian companies, it should be noted, are very familiar with causes of wildfires – as I discovered in a report dating back to 2018: –

Power lines touching trees caused FOUR California wildfires that destroyed 134 buildings last fall, state officials reveal

State officials said Friday that Pacific Gas and Electric Co power lines coming into contact with trees caused four Northern California wildfires in October

The fires burned more than 14 square miles last fall and destroyed 134 buildings

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said three of the fires may have been prevented if PG&E made an effort to clear trees of power lines 

The blazes were in largely rural Nevada and Butte counties and no one was hurt 

Probable cause in Hawaii also = Power Lines

I very much hope those lawsuits will encourage all power companies around the world to start working on plans to prevent ignition from their cables flayling around in high winds. That should be one strategy of many being researched, so we can arrive at plans for avoidance of fires in such a way and/or better ‘treatment’ once ignited.

So what about the Fake News?

The Independent provides a well-balanced report, including (this may or may not be nonsense), from TikTok, that wealthy property developers have been trying for some time to persuade indigenous families to move out of Lahaina. They supposedly offered very high prices but still the locals were not willing to shift. Thus, the sense that perhaps underhand, unnatural means were used to start fires deliberately and clear the whole community. I don’t find that impossible to believe, but how could the fire ignition have been achieved? What technology might have been used? One suggestion is ‘space lasers’, beaming power, which I had to look up:-

With the help of lasers, energy from the sun harvested in space could one day be redirected back to Earth to meet terrestrial power demand. This process is called power-beaming. Satellites equipped with solar panels collect high intensity solar radiation using giant mirrors to reflect solar rays onto smaller solar collectors. The collected energy is then beamed back to Earth as a microwave or laser beam — the two leading methods of power beaming technology.

Fire-lighting by space laser, is that Real or Fake? I am not equipped to judge. But I certainly wanted to find out more in this article, about power-beaming and Space Based Solar Power (or SBSP).

Microwave beaming systems could provide upwards of 1 GW of energy to terrestrial receivers, which is enough to power a large city. Laser systems produce 1-10MW per satellite and could theoretically be deployed in constellations of hundreds.

The technology has enormous implications for the battle against climate change, with global companies and great powers now vying to develop their own SBSP systems. The US, the EU, Japan, China and Russia are conducting research on SBSP and power beaming. However, sceptics of SBSP point to cost, maintenance and environmental challenges. Microwave transmitting solar satellites would need to go about 35,000km into space from Earth to optimise functionality, making them virtually impossible to repair in a timely or regular manner. Also, a single solar power station may have to cover as much as 5 square miles – equivalent to 1,400 football fields.

While laser-emitting solar satellites only need to venture about 400 km into space, their relatively small generation capacity would mean hundreds, or even thousands, would need to be launched in order to make a substantial impact. It is estimated that a single satellite launch can range in cost from a low of about $50 million to a high of about $400 million. In August of last year The Pentagon paid SpaceX $316 million to launch a satellite.

With terrestrial solar energy being touted as the ‘cheapest electricity in history’ begs the question: why go through the trouble to produce energy in space?

Even though the potential for solar power on Earth is great, it’s even better in space. About 30% of solar energy is reflected back into space by the atmosphere, and every night we are left completely in the dark. In an average winter month in Europe, only 3% of sunlight reaches Earth. Seasonal variations also affect the efficiency of solar power generation, whereas in space there are no clouds, seasons, atmosphere or night-time.

Estimates hold that SBSP could generate 40 times as much energy as Earth-based solar power. SBSP also bypasses the problem of energy storage by providing a continuous stream of radiation from the sun that could be beamed down on demand. The ability to deliver power at will to any location on the face of the Earth would be especially beneficial for power users in remote locations, such as isolated towns, large mining and manufacturing operations, or electric transportation systems.

Remote military bases and outposts are another example of a potential SBSP consumer. Nowhere is the cost of electricity higher than in forward-deployed military bases. Cost estimates for fuel during Operation Iraqi Freedom at times reached hundreds of dollars per gallon. This doesn’t include the high human costs of lives lost protecting those supply lines.

China plans on putting a commercial-scale solar power station in orbit by 2050. Further projects include human missions, lunar landings, lunar sample returns, Mars missions, SBSP satellites, and deep space probes. On March 9, the China National Space Administration and Russian Space Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the joint construction of a permanent research station on the Moon.

While interest in SBSP is growing, technological maturation is likely decades away. However, the pace of development depends on investment and favourable government policies. Falling costs of space launches, solar panel technology, and spacecraft components will help. Efforts to combat climate change require an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach, and that could very well translate into the development of clean, space-beamed solar energy.    

SOURCES:- (Luke Harris and James Grant) and Global


It is scary how fast the school holiday is flying by, putting me under more pressure to complete the package of materials schools and/or communities will need if they want to run a Harvest 4 Climate Hope.  Happily, I am getting lots of support along the way, beginning on Monday with a very helpful session on nutrition and healthy eating from Mel Martin. Mel has a really good website and a blog to rival this one! It is well-researched, very informative, historical and funny at times. You may think it has no link with climate hope, but that is not true. We have to understand the vital element of being consumers, choosing how we spend our £s and pennies. Will the money go to support processed, poor-quality, sugar-filled stuff or will it support responsible growers of REAL FOOD, who also are doing the right things for the planet?!

The key thing I learned from Mel was to do even more homework! I have been studying food and farming for months but still she told me new facts, both inspiring and shocking – conclusion, you can never exhaust the possibilities for learning about food and its impact on the body. For instance, at half term we will be making, testing and studying fruit juices especially apple juice, with Cornish Orchards team. So already I was thinking a lot about acids and sugars; Mel told me that the human body has on average 5L of blood and the max sugar level it should have in the blood is 4 grams. Then, shock horror, she said ‘in a 250 ml glass of fruit juice, you can expect to have 24.5 grams of sugars’. We then looked at some packaging (I deliberately got the Honest Value apple), where you see it says 15g sugar per serving of 150 ml. But that amount is much less than most glasses, it is deceptive.

Label shows lots of sugar
but only Amber not Red

Take this link, to find out more amazing info on the ways our food industry dupes us, by defining a serving as a tiny amount. It’s Mel’s blog post on breakfast foods, which I found absolutely fascinating: –

The other important things I learned on Mel’s Monday visit but have not had time to research further were: –

1) Be ultra aware of the ways that carbohydrates break down into sugars; our saliva breaks down the bonds in the carbohydrate by the time it is passing down the gullet; hey presto, the result is a burst of sugars into the blood. 2) Spread out the speedy impact of sugars in carbs, by always aiming to surround them with protein and/or fat. An easy example would be, to eat a dry date plastered with a healthy nut butter. By the way, those Carley’s Organic ones are perfect; I see on the label of almond and chia seeds, never using refined oils, palm fat, emulsifiers or anything artificial, a serving of 100g has about half in fat, protein 21g, fibre c 14g, carbs 18 of which less than 5g is sugar and 0.002 is salt!  2) Do not cook with vegetable or seed oils, at a high or very high temperature. It is better, if possible to find alternatives of an animal base (butter, lard, duck fat) or ghee or coconut.

The next couple of days I kept experimenting in the kitchen and must be honest, I have a way to go yet perfecting the 2 Hearts of Green biscuit recipes I want for Harvest workshops. The sweet one isn’t too bad, just a bit dry and over packed with nuts and seeds. The savoury has been rubbish, not once but twice! Strange flavours, soggy textures, yuk; out they went. The birds were happy though!

My best home-grown Real Food this week was the figs. Loads😊
& the best vegs – Kale from Riviera Produce, spinach, chard and salad leaves from REAL FOOD Gardens

Mel talked about ‘REAL FOOD’ a number of times. I am excited to hear she will be setting up The Real Food Revolution to bring nutrition ed into schools, but the title seems like a silly one to me, though it is definitely the trend right now:-  Real Food focuses on food products that have been minimally processed or in a way that does not lessen their quality or diminish their properties. This movement, which is fashionable around the world, defends the right to healthy and environmentally friendly food.

The produce from REAL FOOD GARDEN, Runners Up in the Cornwall Sustainability Awards 2022, is amazing in size and quality. Their land is just over 10 miles inland from Meadow Barns; I can only assume there is a wonderful little micro-climate there. I see online that they are offering their own version of Harvest 4 Climate Hope, only it is SOON! September 9th open event (which I can’t attend unfortunately), where you are invited to delve deep into agroecology or enjoy the harvest in an amazing setting. IS there a reader out there who can go on our behalf and send in some pics and a paragraph at all?

Agroecology is another new word for me and has really set me pondering, ALL THESE BUZZ WORDS – Real Food, Regenerative Food Production & Agroecology

Trying to break these terms down and really grasp differences is a real challenge. For instance, one source on agroecology tells me there should be 5 ‘areas’, another has 10 rules, whilst a further set of websites talk of 13 principles that I must know and observe. Maybe the image below can help, because the colours define the farm-based elements in green and the more socio-political ones, in orange. Together they indicate an approach that is scientific, multi-layered and complex, involving both a set of practices and a social movement.

Then I found a source with another load of lists, but honestly you may prefer to skim over these, because then you will find the conclusions I arrive at, in conjunction with David Thomas, agronomist at Riviera Produce. That next section will most likely be easier to grasp and more rewarding to ponder.  

Agroecological principles*:

  • Promoting recycling of biomass (e.g. plant material and agricultural residues) and optimising nutrient availability
  • Ensuring favourable soil conditions for plant growth, particularly soil organic matter and biota;
  • Minimising losses from the agricultural system e.g. through water harvesting, soil and energy management;
  • Maximising species and genetic diversity (plants and livestock);
  • Enhancing biological interactions and synergies to promote ecological processes and services.

Agroecological management practices*:

  • Relying on soil biota, e.g. earthworms, to enhance soil structure and fertility, the formation of water stable aggregates, and soil water infiltration;
  • Using legumes and symbiotic N-fixing bacteria to fix biological nitrogen;
  • Using biologically active soil amendments (e.g. composts) to suppress soil-borne diseases and enhance soil structure and fertility;
  • Practicing passive biological control of pests using field margins or beetle banks to encourage presence of beneficial insects;
  • Designing cropping systems to disrupt pest life cycles or attract pests away from sensitive crops (including push-pull systems);
  • Using crop rotation to manage soil fertility, weeds, and pests and diseases;
  • Using diverse cultivar and species mixtures (including combining crops and livestock), to improve resource use efficiency and reduce the spread of pests and diseases;
  • Combining livestock species with different grazing behaviours and ensuring effective resource utilisation to maximise nutrition and health benefits.
  • Relying on minimal artificial inputs from outside the farm system.

Common features within agroecological management practices are:

  • A strong biological rather than technological focus, with reliance on knowledge, skills and experience for effective management;
  • Emphasising the diversity of the farming system and its components, because complex relations between components help to deliver system resilience and stability;
  • Aiming for reduced and efficient use of industrial/ technological/synthetic agrochemical inputs through reuse and recycling.

Riviera Produce – better ways and better choice of words

All those techy terms and complexities finished me off on Thursday night. At which point, I sent a slightly desperate email to David Thomas and was so happy to hear back from him in the simple terms below. I have used Bold for the elements that I want to stand out, for further discussion: –

Good Morning Caroline,

To be honest we don’t fit exactly into any of the ‘Agro – Eco’ labels; I’d say the one we are closest to is ‘Regenerative Farming’.

Basically, everything we do has been thought about and improves the soil that we farm. Between the cash crops we use cover crops to improve the soil structure, biodiversity and nutrition -those are the major benefits. Additionally, this approach cuts out nearly all water run-off and compaction of the soil.

The major principles of our system are: –

  1. Non-inversion of the soil i.e. no ploughing.
  2. Minimum cultivation of the soil – we only deep cultivate the strip we are planting in.

Here we see new plants tilled into stubble left from cutting a previous crop.

The ground is broken slightly, using disc harrows but then a deep, very narrow channel is cut to drop in plants.

This is how a new crop becomes established without ploughing, which helps to minimise release of CO2.

No residual herbicides used at all.

All control of pests is done by understanding what insects and microbes (AKA the ‘Beneficials’) can achieve.

Bees and ladybirds are shown here, but there is so much more happening out of sight.

A reader already asked me to question, ‘how do you deal with caterpillars?’ (I would love to know the answer to this one, cos my brassica leaves look like lace curtains now)

The answers came – we have no probs on kale and none on any other crops in winter. Baby cabbage plants are treated over a 6 week period in the nursery, for cabbage root fly, caterpillars and aphids.

During the summer 3 people are employed to walk crops and identify any problems. At that point, in some places an extra spray cannot be avoided.

It’s a last resort.  

4. Cover cropping to improve soil structure, biodiversity and nutrients.

There is a mix of 14 different plants chosen for cover, winter cereals esp rye, clovers and even sunflowers! Buckwheat has a special place, because it unlocks phosphate, as does Phacilia, for storing major amounts of nitrogen.

5. Companion planting to encourage beneficial insects and greatly reduce the use of insecticides.

6. As much as possible we keep green cover on the soil, whether it be cash crop or cover crop, Bare ground has no protection!

One correction on what you wrote last week – you said our worm counts are taken from a 2 meter square, we actually sample a 20cm square. 

We still have a lot more to learn and will continue to improve our methods and reduce the impact we have on the environment around us, it is a very interesting way to farm and it gives us great satisfaction in the knowledge that we are actively doing good while producing nutritious and safe produce on a large scale.

Hope this helps!         Kind Regards,    David Thomas, Farm Manager      P E Simmons & Son Ltd

Final Words on Food

My memories of life as a farm child in the 1960s remind me that the 2 top words my dad had in mind were Production Levels and Profits e.g. he wanted to make the most quantity possible and sell for the max amount (subsidy plus market price). On the journey there was no thought to impacts on any kind of living creature, from the microbes and insects to the farmed or domestic animals (treated so harshly, cruel beatings etc). By contrast, as I recall, on the human side actually the staff employed – whilst driven hard – were looked after quite well.

Fast forward now to half a century later, it appears to me a new philosophy is spreading and as a result the right things are happening. More and more growers are operating with knowledge – initial study followed by …

Reflecting and Respecting

There is respect for the land and landscape, the creatures in and on it and the workers employed to till and harvest, so every impact is considered. David sums it up in those few words – ‘everything we do has been thought about’.  Hurrah we Western humans are learning! It’s the kind of approach that indigenous peoples have always had for their land. And as consumers, we must use very avenue to press for this movement to expand more widely.

This brings me to some links, other sources to explore, if you have time

Indigenous peoples and loads of other stories from Client

Call out from Climate Coalition, to sign message to your M.P. opposing cuts to green funding for 3rd world –

Euronews Green, weekly bulletin contains fantastic story of a Ukrainian woman promoting wave power. This will be my STORY FOR NEXT WEEK –

Coastal wave energy system
Operates off the harbour wall
Raises automatically, in storms

And last but not least, out of date but just repeated on BBC2, a brilliantly put together TV report by my favourite guy, Simon Reeve. This covers lots of relevant issues still with us today, especially in rural and tourism-dominated areas. And it brings us full circle with Simon’s discovery of a book about farming, by Cumbrian Shepherd, James Rewbanks – ‘English Pastoral – an Inheritance’.  What a terrific bookvivid and impassioned and urgent–and, in both its alarm and its awe for the natural world, deeply convincing. Rebanks leaves no doubt that the question of how to farm is a question of human survival on this hard-used planet. He should be read by everyone who grows food, and by everyone who eats it — Philip Gourevitch

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