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Giving Thanks: Greener Choices for Cleaner Water

Cranberry Bog

A coastal Washington cranberry bog. Photo by Keith Weller. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

While giving thanks with friends and family it’s the sharing of traditions that link the generations; the stories, the day’s activities, and of course, the food. For many of us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner may include a cornucopia of secret family recipes for pies and stuffings, but they are the accoutrements for turkey, potatoes, and cranberries.

A mere half century ago the traditional Thanksgiving was less likely to be a celebration centered around industrial agriculture. However, today a large portion of our food choices come from large-scale farming and techniques which may seemingly reduce costs, but at the expense of the water upon which all life depends, including the orcas.

When considering the passing on of traditions, this year consider sharing love with your family, friends, and fellow creatures. Conventionally farmed poultry is often administered antibiotics which, when excreted as waste, break down into arsenic that can leach into groundwater. Look for animals raised without drugs, such as free-range birds, which are generally drug-free and allowed to live outside. If possible, select a bird from a local farmer where you know how the bird was raised, or harvest your own wild fowl (legally) as would have been done that first Thanksgiving.

When considering the traditional accompaniments, consider again the impact on groundwater. While wild cranberries exist, even here in the Pacific Northwest, today they are primarily grown in bogs, often man-made on riverside wetlands. When the crop is introduced, it is usually as a monoculture, at the expense of other species of plants and animals. Conventional bogs rely heavily on chemicals to manage pests and often divert water from rivers–in the Pacific Northwest that means interfering with salmon habitat, the primary food source of our Southern Resident Orcas. Consider organic cranberries, and perhaps, get a guide and learn to identify the wild berries to harvest (legally).

Finally, for consideration, are potatoes. Conventional farming begins with a saturation of the soil to prevent wire worms, and the chemicals proliferate from there. Preventive application of fungicides is commonplace in the damp conditions of the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the life cycle of the potato, more chemicals are applied until the harvest. The natural harvest point occurs when the leaves die back, but in conventional harvests, the plant is doused with herbicides to facilitate leaf death. All of these chemicals move into the groundwater.

Please, when you consider this year’s traditions, consider creating traditions which ensure safe water to support the ecosystems which support not only marine life, but all life. Shop your local farmer’s markets and stands, choose low impact options, and share your love of life with those whom you love, whatever their species.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Guest post by Aunde Cornely

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