PA Naturalist Gardening Buddies : The Eastern American Toad

Have a lot of insect problems in your garden? Perhaps you should dream for a resident Eastern American Toad.

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Scientific Name: Anaxyrus americanus

Habitat: Eastern United States and Canada, adaptable to almost any condition: meadows, forests, agricultural lands, suburban yards, rocky hills, etc. Eggs and tadpoles require fresh water pools or ponds.

Size: 2-3.5 inches in length

Status: Very common and abundant!

Physical Characteristics:

  • Brownish-gray skin that could even range to dark-red or dark-green
  • White or yellow belly
  • Warty
  • Black spots on back that differ from other toads
  • Broad head with squat and stout body
  • Males have dark brown to black throat, females have lighter throat coloration

When can I see these?

Eastern American Toads have an almost telephone like ring to their chirp. Inactive in hot, dry temperatures, you are most likely to see an one of these fellows in your backyard after a rain during between the months of April and November. They are most active at night when they emerge to feed on insects. During the winter months, they burrow deep into the soil for hibernation. Dig carefully in the spring! As a younger child, my neighborhood friends and I used to uncover these friends hiding in the basement window crevices and in moist soil after rain. They are diurnal and are active during the night and day.

Breeding Season

The first time I actually identified the Eastern American Toad was in a shallow lake during their breeding season, which only lasts a few days in the spring! The female and male pair sit pretty motionless in the shallow waters, male on top of the female. Their lack of movement sometimes makes them harder to spot, but that is on purpose! Other jealous non-paired males may try to disrupt their intimacy. No too macho here, although males need some size to ward off other potential dads from latching on to their mom, Eastern American Toads must be small enough to ensure that their sperm is effectively released to fertilize the female’s eggs. The female will release their eggs in a string, which is then fertilized by the sperm that is then woven into the substrate of the pond.

These eggs will quickly become cute little tadpoles! Depending on the temperature of the water, the eggs will hatch in 3 to 12 days. Just like fish, these tadpoles will form schools also known as aggregations. The yummy algae in many backyard ponds make the tadpole’s belly happy. 12 to 20 days after hatching, these babies grow their back legs. 2 weeks later their front legs emerge! Their front legs also come with their right of passage to land, and the closing of the gills. 35 to 70 days later, the tadpoles abandon their water nurseries and become terrestrial toadlets. All of these days are relative, as the wide time range of individual growth allows form avoidance of mass extinction through predation and rejuvenation of pool resources.

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Egg mass

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Tadpole with hind legs (12-20 days after hatch)

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Tadpole with front legs (around 2 weeks after front legs emerge)

Good for my garden you say?

Beetles, caterpillars, slugs, and snails are a few common headaches in the garden. They are also a few of the Eastern American Toad’s favorite meals! It is estimated that 88% of their prey are invertebrates classified as agricultural pests, say what! Just one toad can consume just under 10,000 insects during their active season. Sounds like you should be installing a shallow pond for our friends right next to your tomatoes.

Eastern American Toads near human habitation and agricultural fields eat cucumber beetles, potato beetles, and other butterflies and caterpillars that prey on crops.

Other favorite foods include flies, crickets, locusts, bees, earthworms, spiders, and wasps. The first thing you might associate with the toad, its long sticky tongue, is rapidly extendable and is used as the utensil for gathering its food. Quite fascinating to watch, the toad will sit motionless and wait until the prey is 2 inches away before its tongue shoots out and captures the poor buggy. The toad will approach its prey slowly with a “leap-sit-leap-sit” pattern as to not scare them away. Think of the toads as always wearing a pair of 3D glasses, as their binocular visual fields and motion detection account for their efficiency in eating.

Chameleon cousin?

Few predators actually eat the Eastern American Toad, thanks to its highly sophisticated adaptions. Thought chameleons were the only animals that changed color? The toad can also alter coloration to match its substrate! They too share a trait with the opossum, playing dead in the presence of a potential predator. Their most advanced defense mechanism is the poisonous secretions they produce in two glands located on their heads. It is interesting that toads raised in captivity do not always produce these toxins. Some predators that still take a stab at the toad are garter snakes, hognose snakes, hawks, herons and raccoons. Babies need to be a little more careful, as fish may also like eggs for breakfast.

The real non-breathing predator

Despite all of their crazy defense mechanisms, an aquatic fungal pathogen is a possible threat to the abundant Eastern American Toad population, and other native amphibians of the area. Chytridiomycosis is an infections disease caused by this fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Bd infects the keratin-containing layers of the skin. You can tell a tadpole has been affected by Bd when there is depigmentation around their mouthparts, the only area of the body with keratinized skin. As they grow older, the infection can spread over the rest of their body. Skin will become thicker and will eventually cast off. Actual death from Bd occurs because the loss of skin compromises osmotic regulation of the blood, leading to cardiac arrest.

Protect our friends from heart attacks

Bd has been found on all continents that are homes to amphibians. Nearly all of the United States has been tested positive for Bd. Humans are the biggest culprit for Bd spread! Through the international amphibian trade, we have carried the disease all over the world. It is also hypothesized to be occurring through bait trade. Additionally, climate change and warming temperatures can indirectly affect the spread of Bd as many amphibian species are expanding their elevation range.

  • NEVER purchase frogs as pets, they are happier in the outdoors.
  • NEVER release frogs or tadpoles into a location other than where they came from (this also includes taking an Eastern American Toad from one pond in PA to another).
  • NEVER dump tank water from amphibian enclosures into bodies of water.
  • AVOID contact with amphibians without proper sanitation (hand sanitizer does not count, and may actually be harmful). Their permeable skin is quick to absorb  bad things  off of you!
  • WASH your boots after hiking or traveling, this is a common way to spread invasive pathogens of all sorts!

Resources:

http://www.psu.edu/dept/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/americantoad.htm

http://www.lpzoo.org/animal/american-toad

http://amphibiaweb.org/chytrid/chytridiomycosis.html#spreading

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The Upbringing of a Nature Child

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I don’t remember the first time I fell in love with nature because I have always seen myself as part of it. I grew up in a family where everything was outside, whether that was family gatherings, work, or play. Nature has been the thing that has kept me stable my whole life even through times of turmoil. I grew up as a Girl Scout and went to camp every summer. My second grade talent show act was teaching the rest of my school about the bugs in their backyards. As a kid I told my mom I wanted to be a professional camp counselor when I grew up. In short, the outdoors has always been my passion.
I owe a lot of this love to my parents who are also both very connected to the natural world. My dad comes from a long line of famers. Our family farm was a place that I spent every weekend growing up. I would help out with fieldwork and play in the woods edging the property. My mom’s side of the family is from the mountains of North Carolina and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Holidays were always spent exploring these natural wonders. My mother is a professor of environmental science and biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley. I have a deep emotional connection to the environment.
To contrast this, my father has worked for Monsanto for the past thirty years and did his PhD dissertation working with the first strain of Round-Up Ready Corn. Interestingly enough he was the first person to ever spray Round-Up on a field trial. Monsanto and environmental stewardship are not typically topics that are tied together. I spent the summer after college graduation working on a research farm testing unregulated pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides. With my family’s background I have seen how difficult it is to stay on your feet in a career reliant on natural resources. I believe that having this perspective is something that sets me apart from a lot of other people perusing a career in environmental studies.
When I began college I naturally ended up in the College of Agriculture and began exploring the major of Community, Environment, and Development. I took classes based on land management, community development, and natural resource economics. I decided I wanted more of an applied field and switched to Agricultural Science with a specialization in Horticulture. Throughout my undergraduate career I worked at the greenhouses on campus and volunteered at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. I spent my summers working on various farms. I participated in multiple short-term study abroad trips with an environmental focus.
In the College of Agriculture and in the media I began to notice the extreme polarity in opinions surrounding agriculture, natural resources, and the environment. It bothered me how separated the subjects had become as I knew they were so interconnected. My junior year I enrolled in a study abroad experience in the Native American reservations of Minnesota. I noticed in their culture how these things could be viewed together in a holistic manner. I began to develop a strong interest in place-based knowledge. After returning back to Penn State for my senior year I found out about an immersive experience offered at Shaver’s Creek and spent my entire last semester taking classes at the center. This further developed my interest in place based knowledge and experiential education.
By enrolling in Penn State’s M.S. program in Agriculture and Extension Education I hope to further explore these interests and research an area that could help me to start building a bridge across the gap of knowledge surrounding the environment and how humans utilize it. My short-term career goals include working with Shaver’s Creek to evaluate some of their current programs to help provide feedback on areas they could improve. On a personal level my short-term career goals include enhancing my knowledge base surrounding the understanding of how humans interact with the environment and where local and indigenous knowledge fit into this. I am also becoming increasingly curious about the role that culture plays into the spectrum of this field. I would like to increase my knowledge on program development, experiential education, and evaluation in the process.
My long-term career goals are a little fuzzier as I have many broad interests and an open mind as to what comes after graduate school. I have been a student my whole life and am really looking forward to some on the ground field experience after my I earn my masters degree. On the same note some of my biggest role models, including my own mother, have been professors and work in academia. I could see myself being a professor and leading immersive classes based on experiential education and human interaction with the environment for college aged students.
Alongside of my master’s classes I am in training to become a yoga instructor and hope that this is something I can incorporate into my life along side my career. My even longer-term dream is to grow the majority of my food before the time that I die and start some side-business or work on my family farm. Overall, I just hope to connect people with the world around them and with each other. I know that it is not possible for us to move forth as a population in a world facing complex issues such as climate change without environmentalists, farmers, scientists, teachers, and average citizens working together and drawing from their own special perspectives and knowledge.

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Book Review: Break Through – The Death of Environmentalism and the Politics of Possibility

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The doom and gloom of present day environmentalists has created a culture of fear and anxiety not conducive to progress on issues as large and complex as global warming. Environmental policy experts Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger contest this status quo with the concept of the “politics of possibility”. Break Through: From the Depth of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility is an expansion of their 2004 article “ The Death of Environmentalism” where the concept was first introduced. In the book they argue that the current strategies of the environmental movement are based off of restraint and sacrifice when instead a more prosperous life needs to be the center of new policy. Their book focuses on highlighting these flaws and outlining ways to create effective environmental policy that takes into account the evolving world.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger bring up three basic distinctions that need to be made by the environmental movement: creation vs. preservation, material vs. post-material survival, and outer vs. inner-directed needs for purpose. They make these distinctions by showcasing case studies such as the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, the misunderstood environmental justice movement within the United States, and the social structure of the rising evangelical church.
Material and post-material needs are the basis off of which the authors launch their philosophy. Poverty, the authors explain, looks a lot different in the current age of the United States and the rest of the western world than it did back in the era of the Great Depression and material scarcity. The essential material needs of food, shelter, and safety, have already been met due to our progress and evolution as a human society. Now, more complex post-materialist needs such as fulfillment and belonging are at the forefront. Caring for the environment satisfies these needs by allowing people to feel they are working towards something greater than themselves, but as environmentalists push the idea of limitation and land preservation, they are blocking creative thought and innovation and that got the western world to the place in society it is today. Basically this line of thinking is counterintuitive.
Nordhaus and Shellenberger use their first half of the book to go further in depth about the history of environmentalism and its miscalculations in the new century. By separating economics and the environment, towns from forests, and humans from nature they are bringing us further away from cohesive solutions. Skewed poll statistics and hyper-focused legislation on the generalized problem of pollution and carbon caps will not work in a time when American’s have other issues at the top of their agendas. Crude visuals and imagery of destroyed natural systems do not motivate, but actually associate stress and doom with the idea of environmentalism and result in avoidance of the issues.

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An example of a factsheet I was handed from an environmental activist group on campus. This plays to Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s point on fear-based scare tactics popular in today’s environmental movement.

Looking at the example of Brazil and environmentalists attempts to end deforestation gives a better understanding of the authors’ stance. Brazilians in the cities like Rio de Janerio are starving, without shelter, and live in violence. They seek economic growth to get out of this situation and are only more stifled by the idea that they should not be able to utilize their natural resources to meet their material needs. By separating humans from nature and seeking perfect harmony within the natural world that is doubted to have ever existed, current environmentalists are not selling their point. Without finding a way for Brazilians to meet their material needs, the environmental movement to stop the destruction of the Amazon will never prevail.
In the second half of the book Nordhause and Shellenberger flesh out a plan that involves more progressive ideas that will result in more effective policy change. Environmentalists must expand their worldview and take a good hard look at other issues that are standing in the way of reaching their goals. The authors’ plan for the Apollo project for clean energy calls for high investment in clean energy, adding jobs to the global economy, promoting innovation and creative thought, and raising private capital. Environmentalists need to work together with the groups they typically consider their enemies, get rid of their utopian view of a pristine nature separate from humans, and start celebrating the present time in history for human’s progress and recognize what has gotten society here today. The project calls for market based solutions that work with the economy to meet material and post-material needs in a globalized market.
This book is an excellent resource for academic courses and should be a required reading of anyone going into the field of environmental policy, investment, and environmental studies. The extensive bibliography provides reference to experts in sociology, economics, history, and science. In contrast to popular environmental books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s Break Through gleams with hope. It provides a broad overview of the progression of environmentalist thought up to this point in history and gives direction on where to go in the future. Through politics of possibility, progress on climate change can be made that celebrates human kinds victories and leads to a more fulfilled life for all beings on Earth that does not discriminate by place or kind.

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We are ALL good people

“We have bigger problems to deal with here… How can you be so selfish and only work for the privledged people… Where is your connection to place… How are you so close-minded… This is bad, this is good”. Correction IT’S ALL GOOD!

WE ARE ALL GOOD PEOPLE! Any work done with a good heart is good work. Whether you are a Peace Corps volunteer, a singer, a cashier at McDonald’s who takes the intiative to smile at everyone every day, you are doing something that matters. No heart-felt work is better than other heart-felt work. There are a lot of problems in this world and we all need to connect with our own talents and gifts to work together and solve them. Let them take you where they take you.

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My cicada friend from Costa Rica.

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Lichen real life?

I have kept a journal my entire life. It was never something I wrote in every day, just when I felt like it. A journal is typically something I have thought of as personal. I never wrote in my journal thinking that someone else would read what I was writing. I always kind of thought about giving my journal to my future kids one day, but that is about it. I started this blog a couple years ago on a whim. I had no real intention when I logged onto wordpress for the first time, other than to just try it out. My first post was about disconnecting with technology to connect with the real world. I was having a crisis where I believed I was spending too much time with technology and not enough time connecting with the real world. Ironically, I was using technology to connect and share this exact message. What makes it even worse is that I never got rid of my smartphone.

One nice thing about paper journals is that nothing in them NEEDS to be solidified. When you share what you write to others around you, you run the risk of looking like a fraud. My blog makes me look like a vegan hipster who frolics around in the woods every day. In reality, I just spent the last half hour scrolling through instagram on my phone, had chicken for dinner, and sat inside instead of on my back porch on this mild summer night. Does this discredit me? Probably. Sharing your writing with others also comes along with the responsibility of practicing what you preach. You never know who will find your posts and bank off of what you are saying.

There are many nights where I feel like writing, and then get stuck contemplating on if I should write about it on here or in my journal. Most of the time I end up in my journal. Maybe I will start writing on here more, maybe not, who knows. Whatever happens I think honesty is something that is really missing on social networks. The internet makes it easy to put up an ideal facade where you can look like you are leading the perfect life, but that is bullshit. Here is a picture of lichens just because I feel like it. I tried to change the title of this post to a pun after I put in the picture. Let me know if it works or not. Peace.

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Here is a picture of some lichens I found hiking back in December. Every single lichen is composed of at least two different types of microorganisms (algea AND fungus). They aren’t separate or together necessarily, they combine and work together form a dual organism, the lichen. How freakin’ cool is that. Let’s work together like the algae and fungus of lichens to form beautiful things.

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Cheap and Easy Vegan Fall Pumpkin Soup

Last night I attended a showing of an extremely touching documentary called A Place at the Table that highlighted hunger and poverty in America. The film focused a lot of attention on children and how the innutritious meals available in food desserts affected not only their stomach growls, but also their development, performance in school, and mood. How are you supposed to pay attention through an entire day of lessons after skipping breakfast and having Cup of Noodles for both lunch and dinner?

Many of the people highlighted in the film relied on food stamps and food pantries to obtain the food the fed to their families. Little corner groceries may have fruits and vegetables, but they are often old and unappetizing.

I wanted to try and make a recipe that could be constructed with food that could most likely be found in these areas that is also relatively cheap, and most important nutritional. So I just threw some stuff together and here is what I came out with.

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Cheap and Easy Fall Pumpkin Soup

Makes around 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 can succotash
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 gloves of garlic
  • 2 white potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cans of water
  • sprinkle of ginger
  • sprinkle of parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 stalks of kale
  • around 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Directions

  1. Skin and dice 2 medium sized white potatoes (any kind would work)
  2. Boil potatoes in water until soft
  3. Cut off stems and add in the 2 stalks of kale to the boiling water to soften (optional)
  4. Dice one onion and 2 gloves of garlic
  5. Pour a few drops of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté onions and garlic until browned
  6. Drain potatoes
  7. Empty can of pumpkin puree into large sauce pan
  8. Fill up the empty can of pumpkin puree with water and pour in with the pumpkin 1 and a half times (1 1/2 cans full) and stir
  9. Put cooked potatoes into the pumpkin and water mix
  10. Open can of succotash, drain, and add to the mixture
  11. Sprinkle in ginger, parsley, and salt to taste
  12. Add around a half a tablespoon of olive oil
  13. Place two bay leaves on top and let simmer

In total this recipe will make around 2,032 grams of soup.  I used CRON-O-meter, an online tool to find the nutritional value of food, to figure out the micros and macros of the recipe. If you were to split the soup into 4 servings of around 508 grams, the nutritional content would be as follows.

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Here is a more simplified nutritional label also from CRON-O-meter

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I went to Weis’s website and shopped for the ingredients. They would cost around $17.26 in total. Note that the more expensive foods such as olive oil and spices would only have to be purchased once. They could also me emitted or substituted for a cheaper counterpart.

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Evaluating this recipe has made me even more aware of the problem food insecurity is. Although the ingredients in the soup are quite filling, and you could very well up the serving size or have it with a few pieces of toast, $17.26 is still a pretty high grocery bill for someone relying on food stamps or a low wage to feed an entire family.

Onions, garlic, and potatoes are generally cheap vegetables that have a long shelf life. These would have a higher chance of appearing on the shelf in a food dessert and are affordable and nutritious.

The kale that I used was grown in my garden. If we became really proactive, gardening classes and community gardens could show those living with hunger how to easily and cheaply grow food to help sustain themselves.

I was being optimistic in thinking that food pantries would have many of the items on the ingredients list. I also tried to use items that could be easily substituted. For example, succotash could be replaced with virtually any canned or frozen vegetable. Olive oil could be emitted or substituted for butter, margarine, or vegetable oil. All of spices are just for taste and could be taken out sacrificing some flavor.

To educate yourself more on the affects of food insecurity in America, watch the documentary A Place at the Table:

http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/

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Pretty Pests of PA: Attractive Invasives

On one of my many summer runs I came across a patch of these wonderful purple flowers. The only time I ever allow myself to stop during runs is when I see a pretty flower that I want a picture of.

Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis

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Dame’s Rocket

After going home and trying to look up pictures of what I thought it was, a phlox, I noticed that it was a four petaled flower instead of five. I then realized that this pretty little flower actually was not as great as I thought it was. This purple flower that is common on Pennsylvania hillsides is the Hesperis matronalis, or the Dame’s Rocket. Introduced as a garden flower in the colonial period, Dame’s Rocket is commonly found in the wildflower seed mixes found in home and garden stores. The flower disperses its seeds which it produces between May and July and takes over the habitat of native wildflowers and plants on roadsides and woodland edges competing for water, light, and nutrients.

This made me think of what other attractive plants in my area had a dark side. Here are some common beauties that may be causing more harm than good:

Orange Daylily, Hemerocallis fulva 

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Orange Daylily

This little guy I actually found was purposely planted in my front lawn. Much like with many other invasive plants, the orange daylily was introduced as an ornamental and is extremely popular in American landscapes. They are a bulbous perennial with long grass-like leaves. They expand through their tuberous roots and can form a dense cluster very quickly. They are especially problematic in sensitive habitats that would normally have high diversity such as in river floodplains. Often times when gardeners discard of a whole plant they will unknowingly be spreading the flower to these areas recking havoc on the local ecosystem. Pretty yes, but look into some other less harmful look-a-likes instead such as the yellow lily or wood lily!

Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria

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Purple Loosestrife

Purple loosestrife is so destructive that it has actually been banned in most states throughout the U.S. Again, this plant was introduced as an ornamental in the early 1800s and has since spread throughout most of the country. This purple flowered plant has a woody like stem and can grow pretty tall- getting up to 4 to 10 feet! Its flower spikes are in bloom through the entire summer. And because of its plentiful flowers, it also has plentiful seeds which it is happy to spread around. You will see these guys in wet areas as it prefers wetlands, marshes, river, and stream banks. They compete highly with wetland organisms and are even putting some native orchids in danger. They form a large and dense cluster that have the capability of displacing an entire wetland! Not so pretty anymore.

Wild Chervil, Anthriscus sylvestris L. Hoffmann

Wild Chervil

Wild Chervil

Here is another one that I mistook as a common native, Queen Anne’s Lace. Boy was I wrong, Wild Chervil is not only highly invasive, it is also a host to yellow fleck disease which attacks some of our favorite vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and celery. This plant has fern-like leaves and can grow pretty tall with a general average of 4 feet but the ability to get to 6. Its flowers have five petals and grow in an umbrella form. They are in bloom from May through early July. You can see these guys on roadsides, woodlands, and in open pastures and fields. It’s deep tuberous tap root makes it extremely hard to pull out and allows it to spread rapidly. Wild Chervil’s seeds can be transported by birds, mammals, and humans. The introduction of this plant is said to be from wildflower seed packets distributed in the early 1900s. You really need to be careful with those things.

Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudacorus L.

Yellow Flag Iris

Yellow Flag Iris

Many iris plants are native, but not this little yellow guy. Originating from Europe, the Yellow Flag Iris was imported to the United States as an ornamental wetland plant and was actually thought to do some good by preventing erosion and removing metals from sewage plants. Although it does have some good traits, this iris also can form dense colonies in wetlands displacing native species and altering the habitat. It is also poisonous if you were ever thinking about tasting it and have a thing for flowers. It has now been spotted all the way from California to the East Coast, only leaving some states in the midwest to spare (and Hawaii/Alaska). This plant is a herbaceous perennial that can grow from 3 to 4 feet high. Although the flowers are usually yellow, they can also appear as a cream color.

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Crazy Sexy Diet Book Review

Recently I was at Barnes and Nobel and decided to pick up Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It. Kris Carr, the author of this book, was diagnosed with an extremely rare, incurable cancer called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, and turned to a plant-based lifestyle as a last chance. I found this concept interesting, as I am a plant science major, and eat a mainly plant-based diet myself. I was curious to see how Carr managed to tame her cancer using the power of plants.

The Crazy Sexy Diet in a nutshell is a vegan, low-fat, high-carb diet that focuses on a high intake of low-glycemic fruits, raw vegetables, and green drinks. Carr suggests either aiming for a 60/40 or 80/20 alkaline to acidic ratio, depending on the dieter’s current health. Kris Carr uses witty language and colorful illustrations, along with her facts, in order to make the book a quick and enjoyable read. She also collaborates with established medical doctors, animal rights activists, and nutritionists in order to back her claims.

To get a full understanding of the Crazy Sexy Diet, you really need to read the whole book. Each chapter is split up by concepts. The first chapter, “This is Your Wake-Up Call- Pick Up Gorgeous!”, focuses on her reasoning for switching to a plant-based diet and tries to persuade the reader on why it is the best thing for them too. Each subsiding chapter then splits up the basis of the diet into the concepts of how plant foods work with your body, and how the Standard American Diet (also referred to as SAD) “wrecks havoc” to your insides. Besides nutritional reasoning, Kris Carr also includes chapters on how a vegan diet is better for the animals and the planet. Kris Carr ends the book with her 21-day cleanse, that not only includes an eating plan with recipes, but also daily mantras and prayers.

Despite how the colorful pages and fun language made the book enjoyable, I found that these same selling techniques also had me questioning Kris Carr’s credibility. It is hard to take someone seriously who uses curse words on every other page. That being said, I think Crazy Sexy Diet had a lot of interesting concepts. Some seem to be commonly accepted, while others still lack a lot of research.

The main nutritional change Crazy Sexy Diet makes from the SAD diet has to do with focusing on raw fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed and high acidity food like animal products. Kris Carr claims that the pH balance of your blood makes all the difference in your health, and that this can be regulated by your diet. With an optimum blood pH of around 7.365, Carr says that anything above this can create distress signals causing many symptoms such as runny noses, arthritis, and poor circulation (Carr, 23). She also points out that it creates a breeding ground for bacteria and aids in the creation of free radicals (Carr, 32). A college-level nutrition textbook, Understanding Nutrition, notes “antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, thus ending the chain reaction” (Whitney and Rolfes, 365). The increased consumption of raw fruits and vegetables Kris Carr suggests would also increase a dieter’s antioxidant intake, and hopefully help in fighting against DNA damage from free radicals.

Carr states that the SAD diet, full of too much glucose, creates excess insulin from the pancreas and develops insulin resistance. She also criminalizes simple sugars in regards to her cancer as she states that “cancer cells need much more energy and are anaerobic, meaning that they have around 19 times the glucose receptors compared to healthy cells, and thrive off refined sugars and high-glycemic fruits” (Carr, 45). Understanding Nutrition, also agrees, “lowering the glycemic index of the diet may improve blood lipids, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of heart disease”, but warns of the lack of significant evidence and limited practicality of the information (Whitney and Rolfes, 113). One point that I found interesting was her observation that PET scans work by patients being injected with radioactive glucose in order for cancer cells to light up (Carr, 45). In order to tame her cancer, Carr eliminated almost all of these foods from her diet and suggests other cancer patients do the same. She says that healthy individuals should significantly cut back.

Although Kris Carr claims that she is not trying to force any of her followers to become full-blown vegan/vegetarians, she is strongly against farm raised animal products. She believes that physiologically, humans are better equipped to thrive off of plants stating, “Humans have molars and masticating jaws, perfect for grinding and chewing high-fiber goodies. Our stomachs contain hydrochloric acid in smaller amounts better designed to digest plant proteins” (Carr, 67). She debunks myths that vegetarian diets do not get enough protein by pointing out that the average American focuses too much on protein and consumes almost 5 times the USDA’s daily recommended allowance of 0.36 gram per pound of the body (Carr, 68). She lists many plant foods that are high in protein and other essential nutrients that many people associate with animal products, such as iron and calcium. According to Understanding Nutrition, it is true that many studies have linked high red and processed meat consumption to certain types of cancer, but there is a major lack in evidence that animal products cannot be consumed in moderation with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to create a healthy diet (Whitney and Rolfes, 608).

Attempting to go vegan for a year in the past has given me some personal insight on sticking to a mostly raw, plant-based diet. Throughout the year that I eliminated meat products and stayed away from processed snacks, I experienced benefits like weight loss, clear skin, and cheaper grocery bills. These benefits were most likely due to my increased consumption of fruits and vegetables that I decided to snack on instead of my normal pretzels, and not just because I eliminated meat and dairy. The reason that I started incorporating animal products back into my diet every so often was because, through blood tests, I found that my iron and vitamin b12 levels were low. By adding back the occasional animal product and keeping the rest of my dietary choices the same, I have managed to maintain the same improved health and have increased my iron and b12 levels to a normal level. I believe that an all plant-based like Crazy Sexy Diet suggests is feasible, but requires much more planning than I was able to do as a college student with limited time. This is one caution that I have with the diet and it is something readers must be careful to understand.

Although her plan may seem a little extreme, I found it to be pretty nutritionally sound. Crazy Sexy Diet is not focused on quick weight loss and does not make the absurd claims of fad diets. It does not cut out any macronutrients, and Carr makes sure to explain the importance of healthy fats, carbs, and protein in her book. The only thing that I could think of that might be missing is some nutrients primarily found in meat products such as vitamin B12. Many of her claims may lack sufficient scientific proof, but I can definitely see how health improvements could be found on this diet. Having a diet focused on fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein, is optimal and eliminates almost all negative aspects of the Standard American Diet.

References

Carr, Kris. Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It. Guilford: Globe Pequot Press, 2011. Print.

Whitney, Ellie, & Rolfes, Sharon R., Understanding Nutrition: Fourteenth Edition. Stamford: Cengage Learning, 2016. Print.

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Recognizing Privileges: Growing up as a White Middle-Class American vs. Growing up on a Native American Reservation

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This May I traveled to Minnesota and spent a great deal of time grappling with the fact that I had not grown up in the same culture as the people I was staying with. Listening to the Ojibwe people and learning about their ways of knowing, I agreed and identified with many of their traditional lessons. At the same time I had never experienced the sufferings they went through and grew up in a completely different environment. I wanted to find a way that I could bring some of this knowledge back and inform others of their culture without being offensive.

A specific moment that I can recall from the trip is a scoff from one of the Ojibwe men we met when a girl mentioned her major as being sociology. Our professor later explained that the people in the community have a negative viewpoint of ethnographers because many have came there and written about their culture posing as “experts” without getting to know the people or their ways. This made me think about my position. I highly respected the Ojibwe people I was meeting and had realized all of the valuable knowledge they had to share. I did not want to come off as someone who valued my knowledge as being higher. Recognizing my privileges was vital in order to keep me in check so that I could better understand their story and how it could relate to my life miles and miles away.

To start out, I am a white middle-class American citizen with a European background. I come from a family of farmers who were able to buy the land of their choice with little trouble. Much of this land was probably once home to other indigenous cultures. Since the time of purchase, my family has had relatively no threats to their land other than when the local government took a couple acres through eminent domain for a high school property. Still, we were compensated. The Ojibwe on the other hand were forced from their land and now reside on a small portion of “reserved land” which is constantly under threat and they have received little to nothing for what was stolen from them.

Another privilege I have is healthcare and a steady income. Through my parents jobs I have always been covered by insurance and have gone to regular doctors visits in order to maintain my health. Being a middle-class American I also have had access to fresh produce and health clubs. The neighborhood I grew up in was drug and crime free so I always have had the pleasure to live my life with little worry. The Red Lake Nations of the Ojibwe have few job opportunities that include healthcare benefits. They also have little access to health education, are surviving in a food dessert, and have grown up around rampant crime.

Education is yet another privilege I have grown up with. Throughout my life I have been able to commit the majority of my time to my studies while my parents have worked to support our family. Through my education I have acquired knowledge that will help me to attain a job later in life, which will hopefully give me the same benefits that I have grown up with. It has helped to shape me culturally and has given my multiple once in a lifetime experiences like traveling for this trip. Many young Ojibwe people do not have the same advantages. With a graduation rate of 40 percent at the reservation high school, many youth are dropping out due to problems and responsibilities at home that I have never had to deal with.

Perhaps the biggest privilege I have in hand is my cultural history and personal freedoms. The Christian faith, which my family has practiced for generations, has always been accepted in the United States. My first language is English. It is spoken at my home and school. All of my past relatives and I have been able to live with our born freedom and rights. This is all very different than the past of the Ojibwe who have had their culture and language suppressed. Although many of their rights have been restored in the past couple decades, the grandparents still surviving today were not able to practice their religious ceremonies while growing up. They were also taken from their homes, separated from their culture, and placed into boarding schools where they were taught to forget everything. In these boarding schools they were also beaten for speaking their native language and were forced to only speak in English. As a result, many young people have lost or not had access to their cultural identity. All of my ancestors’ history has been documented. I have access to this knowledge and learn about it in school. My ancestors are written about as heroes while Native Americans are hardly mentioned and are often times drawn out as savages.

It was definitely a humbling experience visiting the Ojibwe people and listening to their stories. Although our lives are so different, recognizing my privileges and acknowledging them has helped me better put everything into perspective. Without doing this, I would have missed much about what I have learned.

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A Word on Click-Bait Newsfeed Articles & Paul Stamets “World Changing” Patent

When you log onto Facebook today you are bombarded with dozens of articles. Normally these begin with catchy and imploring titles egging you to click the link and read more. Being an agriculture student, I noticed an article claiming, “One Man Holds a PATENT that Could Crush MONSANTO and CHANGE THE WORLD”. Naturally suspicion arouse and I clicked to learn just what this might mean. What I found was an extremely biased and uneducated article making claims with no facts or sources to back it up.

http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/14165-new-us-patents-could-signal-the-end-of-pesticides-and-gmos.html

Paul Stamets, the man who holds this world changing patent, is a well known and respected mycologist. Although this article praises him like a king, I firmly believe that he would be ashamed to even be mentioned in it. First off, there are absolutely no direct quotes from Stamets himself even though this article is supposed to be all about his work. Secondly, the article is just furthering the mainstream and false perspective of agriculture held by the majority of the public. Although I am happy to see a good food revolution growing around me, people see the word “natural” (which I might add, is not a term regulated by the USDA) and automatically assume good things.

Let me start off with a disclaimer that I am not attacking this science. Biological controls like this can be a great tool in fighting off pest infestations in an integrative system and more research and information on this would be awesome! But by just looking off of this article, I see many issues that are not being addressed:
1. One common misconception is that all insects are bad. The article mentions that this fungus can attack 200,000 species of insects. Personally I am not aware of 200,000 “pesty” insects but I do know of many beneficial insects. We depend on some insects to keep other “bad” insect populations under control. These good insects also naturally till the soil and keep the entire system regulated. This non-specific introduced fungus could do some real damage to our friends, not just our enemies.
2. The article claims that this biopesticide will eliminate the need for GMO crops and Round-Up Ready Corn (a Monsanto product). They do not seem to realize that Round-Up Ready Corn is designed for weed elimination, not insect elimination. These two things are unrelated and the point is irrelevant in this context. Actually, if this biopesticide would indeed eliminate beneficial insects, weeds would be even more problematic because many of these insects eat these seeds and keep their populations in check.
3. Just because this is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. There have been many natural solutions that have had terrible unintended consequences. For example, chrysanthemum flowers have been used to make pyrethroids, which are natural extracts of the plant. Pyrethroids were put in place to eliminate the use of other chemically based pesticides. Because these were the natural counterparts, people automatically considered them safe. BUT they were also found in multiple studies to cause extreme harm to aquatic ecosystems basically knocking out small organisms that form the base of the food chain. I might also add that things like Ebola and viruses are “natural”. I think that we can all agree these are bad.
4. Nothing in agriculture is natural. Half of the crops we cultivate today would not even survive without human intervention. You would never go on a hike through untouched nature and find an acre of corn. We need to focus on producing the food we need in a sustainable way that causes the smallest amount of environmental harm possible. There are no singular quick fixes, and just because this is naturally occurring it is not an exception.

Everything about this article disgusts me. I understand that others may not be as passionate about agriculture and the food system as I am and understand that they do not have time to do further research on every article they find. Someone without a biological or agricultural background could see this and easily think it is the end all be all, considering all other readily available information on agriculture also harps on the same false and biased information.

What bothers me the most is that these kind of articles are threatening every area of study whether it be biology, psychology, political science, etc. Social media claims to be all about creating a community and sharing information but this is not at all helpful when it is actually tearing us apart and giving us false facts for clicks that benefit advertisers. You can not obtain a degree on Google for a reason. Do not believe everything you see on the internet and stay away from articles claiming bold statements like this. If you do see an article making false statements that you have background in speak out! Help spread positive change and truthful information. We all deserve it.

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