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Book Review: Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town,a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret

  • Subject: [cg] Book Review: Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town,a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret
  • From: Alliums <garlicgrower@snip.net>
  • Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2002 18:31:26 -0500

Hi, Folks!

Yes, I'm on the most amazing roll right now on book reviews.  I had a
special request to read and review this one, so I wanted to get it done
before the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture conference.
Do at least check out the websites if you don't have time to read the book
right now -- if you use fertilizer, make sure it's one that is *only*
fertilizer and doesn't contain heavy metals or toxic waste along for the
right.  Corporations can dilute their wastes on someone ELSE's land, thank you!

After reading this book, I'm *really* going to push composting at the
community garden this year! :-0

As always, I retain copywrite, but send me a copy if you reprint it
somewhere.  Sometimes, being cash-poor is NOT such a bad thing! ;-)


Fateful Harvest:  The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a
Toxic Secret by Duff Wilson, HarperCollins, 2001, ISBN: 0-06-019369-7, $26.00.

Self-sufficiency has always been the ideal in sustainable agriculture.
Whether one's methods are BioDynamic, BioIntensive or just tips picked up
from Rodale Press's monthly e-mail newsletters, all of them encourage
growers to reduce purchased inputs and to "grow your own soil fertility"
through the use of cover crops, mulch, compost and crop rotation.

Lots of us put off achieving this ideal, any ideal, to a time in the future
when we'll have more time, more help, more space, more anything.  Other
items in our life are more pressing.  However, after reading "Fateful
Harvest," you may decide there's nothing more pressing than taking that home
composting course (many of whom offer free bins at course completion) with
your local cooperative extension agent or dusting off what Steiner had to
say about nutrient cycling on the family farm.

Why? Because it's legal to "recycle" hazardous wastes as fertilizer for use
by both farmers and home gardeners. When given the choice between paying
high tipping fees to dispose of their industrial waste in a hazardous waste
landfill or selling the waste as fertilizer, many corporations make the
choice that adds dollars to their bottom line. 

Duff Wilson, an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times, was highly
skeptical when Patty Martin, mayor of Quincy, Washington, and a group of
farmers who believed their land had been contaminated by hazardous waste
"fertilizer" contacted him in desperation.  Their charges that the local
Cenex Supply and Marketing office had drained the contents of their rinsate
pond  (a concrete-lined pond used to store leftover chemicals) to
"fertilize" local fields had made them pariahs in the community.  As Cenex
was a major employer in Quincy and supplied seed and agricultural chemicals
to most of the farmers in the region, few Quincy residents wanted to hear
anything negative about the company.
Wilson went to Quincy, looked over Martin's data, then started surfing the
Web for collaboration.  (Wilson is the author of The Reporter's Desktop,
http://www.reporter.org/desktop, his listing of "the best of the web" search
tools for reporters.) Unfortunately, he found so much collaboration from
government and industry websites that the Seattle Times agreed that
"recycling" hazardous wastes into fertilizer was not simply an isolated
incident in a small Washington State town, but an industry-wide practice
with global implications.  The editors put Wilson on the story, to interview
those involved and follow up wherever those interviews might lead.  The
result was the series, "Fear in the Fields:  How Hazardous Wastes Become
Fertilizer" http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/special/fear_fields.html
(original and follow-up articles)  published on July 3, 1997 and a finalist
for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Unfortunately, the series caused a lot of flurry, but not much action.  The
Washington State Department of Agriculture now lists their data on the heavy
metals found in fertilizers registered in that state at
http://www.wa.gov/agr/pmd/fertilizers/metals.htm - the only state to follow
through on such promises to inform the public.  Wilson, sitting on piles of
notes from his investigation and still receiving angry calls from industry
representatives, decided to expand his series into a book.

The result, "Fateful Harvest:  The True Story of a Small Town, a Global
Industry, and a Toxic Secret" is a highly readable narrative of Patty
Martin's initial suspicions which hand off into Wilson's meticulous tracking
of how hazardous waste magically, in the eyes of industry and government
alike, becomes plain old fertilizer that anyone can buy and store on a shelf
in their garage to be sprinkled on food plants whenever they like.  Wilson
is an excellent storyteller who keeps the story moving through character
(and does he meet characters!) and incident, yet meticulously documents his
collaborating data through extensive endnotes that back up every assertion
without bogging down the narrative flow.  If you care about soil, this book
will make you howling mad, but you won't be able to put it down until the
last page.

Quincy's residents were so howling mad at Patty Martin when the original
series was published that she was trounced in her bid for re-election as
mayor, but she bounced back with a website at
http://www.safefoodandfertilizer.com/  where she and the Washington Toxics
Coalition at http://www.watoxics.org  continue to press for fertilizer that
is "cleaner than dirt."  After reading this book, check out the websites,
even if it's only to make sure the fertilizers you've purchased are safe.

Corporate culture and government regulations often change with the pace of
glaciers.  While we work for that change, let's also remember the advice of
Steiner, Jeavons and the Rodales on building soil. In that spirit, I remind
you that the Compost Resource Page is at http://www.oldgrowth.org/compost/

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

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