Daily Archives: October 12, 2018
By Shannon Owens, Reference Department
We can all recite the poem: “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”…I know, I know, I can see your eyes rolling from here. Christopher Columbus, born in Genoa (like the salami) Italy, is frequently credited with “discovering” the New World (aka: The Americas). This is a rather dubious claim, given that Viking explorer, Leif Erikson, landed in Newfoundland and Labrador a good 500 years before Columbus went about destroying indigenous Caribbean culture (I digress). It’s impossible to say why Columbus remains ingrained in our history books and general psyche, whilst Erikson is relegated to a footnote, but I would hazard a guess here: American culture is profoundly impacted by Western European culture, whereas Nordic culture remains a mystery. It certainly wouldn’t be the only factor, but I imagine this is not insignificant.
Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at the man who gives us parades, bank holidays, time off from work, and downright incredible retail sales (I’m eyeing a pair of gorgeous boots being sold at a fifty percent markdown as we speak, so kudos, Cristobol)! Mr. Columbus was a marine entrepreneur (read: seaman) who was obsessed with finding a western route to China, India, and the spice and gold islands of Asia. Here’s where we run into another common misconception: Lore suggests that the entire world thought the world was flat at this time and Columbus was the renegade willing to challenge this idea. Nearly all educated Europeans knew the Earth was round. This wasn’t even a recent revelation. Around the sixth century BC, Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, theorized that the Earth was round, and about two centuries later Aristotle concurred with his findings. So, no, Columbus’ crew was not terrified that they’d fall off the edge of the world (despite what Washington Irving would have you believe).
Columbus was barely successful finding anybody who would fund this venture. It took nearly a decade to find a backer (monarchies in England, Portugal, and France had all refused) and Spain was not an easy mark, either. In fact, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had once declined before changing their minds in the eleventh hour. Still, Columbus was granted his fleet and crew, comprised of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria (two of which actually had different names…Spain was an extremely Catholic country and named all their ships after saints…Pinta was a nickname translated as “the painted one” and the Nina was actually the Santa Clara). This joint venture could prove mutually beneficial: Isabella and Ferdinand could gain power while exporting Catholicism to locals and Columbus’ contract guaranteed him ten percent of any riches he found and a noble title.
On October 12th, the expedition reached land (probably Watling Island in the Bahamas). Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba (which he thought was China) and finally in December, the expedition landed on Hispaniola (Columbus surmised that this must be Japan). Here, he established a settlement of 39 men, and went about his business, terrorizing the locals (the Taino people, though Columbus referred to them as Indians). In March of 1493, he left the settlement and returned to Spain. Nearly six months later, he returned to Hispaniola to find the settlement destroyed. To this day, nobody knows exactly what happened. Columbus traveled island to island, and since he couldn’t seem to find the riches he had boasted of to his patrons, he sent Isabella 500 slaves instead. This was downright horrifying to the Queen, who believed these people were now Spanish citizens, and she swiftly rebuked Columbus for his monstrous actions.
In 1498, Columbus embarked on his third journey to the New World. First, he visited Trinidad and then South America before returning to the settlement in Hispaniola (which he had left his two brothers in charge of this time). Once again, it was decimated, but this time it was by the colonists themselves who had revolted against their leaders. It would seem that brutality and mismanagement run in the family. Spain sent new governorship and Columbus returned to Europe in in chains, arrested for the goings on. By 1502, Columbus had been cleared of most charges (although stripped of noble titles he had received previously) and the Spanish monarchy funded one last trip to the New World. It was an unmitigated disaster. Columbus made it all the way to Panama and then promptly abandoned four ships when they came under attack by natives. Columbus returned, bereft, to Spain, where he died in 1506.
It would seem that the man’s lasting legacy was one of abuse, brutality and ultimately, felony. He enslaved locals and introduced diseases that decimated the remaining indigenous populations. Other European countries hopped on the colonial bandwagon, which created environment change along with the borderline theft of local natural resources. He is blamed, not unfairly, for biological warfare. Interestingly, the phrase “Columbian Exchange” is used by historians to describe the exchange of plants, animals, and goods between the East and West. On the other hand, advocates could make the point that his legacy underlines the importance and history of the Age of Exploration. It’s globalization in its earliest form. Obviously, his actions cannot all be discounted as negative. Perhaps his lasting legacy is a cautionary tale on the grandest scale.
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Most of us don’t realize how much food we waste each year. It’s awfully easy to toss leftovers and less-than-perfect produce into the trash. Wasted food numbers are staggering. It’s estimated that in the U.S., 72 billion pounds of still-usable food (worth $218 billion) goes to waste each year and that approximately 25 to 40 percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Much of this food that is still safe and edible could be used to feed hungry families or be composted. But according to the EPA, approximately 94 percent of it ends up in landfills, where it takes up a lot of space and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Let’s take a look at a few simple things we can all do to help reduce food waste, and then focus on one of the best methods of utilizing uneaten food – composting.
Several local organizations are on a mission to “rescue” unused food to feed hungry families and divert it from landfills by methods such as composting. Second Harvest Food Bank and the Nashville Food Waste Initiative work with businesses, food service companies, farmers, and individuals to gather food before it goes to waste, distribute it to groups serving the hungry, and keep it out of landfills. Sustainable America suggests ways to become involved in food rescue. Their websites (listed at the end of this article) offer a wealth of information about how we can help in these efforts.
On a smaller scale, there are lots of ways we can reduce food waste in our own homes, and most of them rely on plain old common sense:
- Plan weekly shopping lists carefully to avoid buying too much food. Think of all the money we can save if we buy only as much food as we can use.
- Consider how many meals we’ll eat at home in a week versus the times we’ll eat out.
- Think about how many meals can be made with each food item and shop accordingly. Don’t buy in bulk unless all the food can be used before it spoils.
- Learn how to store different fruits and vegetables properly to keep them fresh longer and preserve or freeze what can’t be used immediately.
- Shop in the fridge first! Use what’s already there before buying more.
- Learn the difference between “sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates.
- Get creative using safe edible food parts not usually eaten, such as vegetable scraps, in casseroles, stir-fries, and soups.
Some inedible food will remain even with careful planning, but much of it can still be diverted from landfills. One great way is to compost. Most of us can create a compost pile in our own backyards or at least collect waste material to be taken to a composting facility, such as Compost Nashville.
Benefits of Composting
Compost is simply decomposed organic material and composting is the natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment called humus. The EPA lists several key benefits to composting:
- Enriches soil, helps retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases and pests.
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
There are many different ways to make a compost pile. WCPL and its branches have several books on composting and there are many detailed composting instructions available online. Watch the WCPL website (wcpltn.org) for information about a program on composting coming in August 2019.
Here are a few composting basics.
- Select a location with good drainage that is easily accessible from your kitchen.
- Choose a partially sunny or shady spot. Too much sun will dry out the pile and total shade may keep it too wet.
- Your compost unit can be as simple as an actual “pile” of materials in your yard, or you can build or purchase more complex composting devices such as various bins and tumblers. You can also compost indoors with worms, using special stacked worm bins. Eww!
Compost is made up of three main ingredients:
- Brown materials, which provide carbon: dead leaves, branches, twigs, bits of cardboard, shredded newspaper, torn-up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, and small bits of cardboard
- Green materials, which provide nitrogen: grass clippings and other yard debris, fresh uncooked vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds
- Water, which provides the moisture required to help break down the materials
Some materials should NOT be added to a compost pile. Avoid:
- Coal or charcoal ash
- Dairy products
- Diseased plants
- Fats, grease, or oils
- Fish or other animal bones
- Pet fecal waste or used cat litter
- Invasive weeds or plants that could root or germinate in the compost
- Any yard debris that has been treated with chemical pesticides
Establishing a Compost Pile
- Begin your pile with equal amounts of browns and greens added in 4-inch layers. You could also just toss them in haphazardly, but the decomposition process will take much longer.
- Water the pile. Keep it moist but do not let it get soggy.
- After the initial setup, add greens and browns as they become available. Cover fruit and vegetable waste with several inches of compost materials.
- Yard debris will decompose more quickly if it is broken into small pieces.
- Stir the pile occasionally with a shovel or pitchfork.
The compost process can take anywhere from three months to two years. Compost is ready when it looks like very dark soil and has a sweet, earthy smell. To test it, put a small amount in a plastic bag. Sniff before sealing. Reopen the bag after a few days. The sample should smell the same as it did before. If it smells worse, your compost needs more time in the pile.
Compost is an amazing amendment to your garden soil and can be applied in several ways. Think of it as food for dirt. Spread it over your lawn to nourish the grass, or mix it into garden soil.
- Give your vegetable garden plenty of compost in the fall. Spread several inches of compost on top of the existing bed, then till it into the soil in the springtime.
- Put a handful of compost in each hole when you’re planting.
- Once plants begin to grow quickly, you can add a half-inch layer of compost around the base of the plants. Provide “heavy feeder” plants such as tomatoes, corn, and squash with 1/2 inch of compost monthly.
- In the spring, loosen the top few inches of annual and perennial beds and mix in a 1-inch layer of compost.
- In the fall, apply a 1-inch layer of compost as a mulch to protect plant roots from freezing and conserve moisture.
- Potted plants and window boxes:
- Nutrients in potting soil may be depleted as plants grow. To replenish them, add an inch of compost to potted plants and window boxes twice a year.
- You can make your own potting soil using two parts screened compost to one part sand or perlite.
- Brew a compost “tea” by steeping compost in water and use it as a foliar spray or a soil drench.
Clearly, composting can be a win-win endeavor. It allows you to cut down on the amount of unused food that otherwise would end up in a landfill. It creates a great, nutritious supplement for your garden. Why not plan to begin a compost pile as your next garden project?
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING: Read the rest of this entry