Grad student third in White House Farmer vote

UC Davis graduate student Margaret Lloyd has finished third in the poll to nominate a “White House Farmer.” The organizers are going to forward the top three vote getters to the White House, in the hope that the Obamas will want to dig up part of the White House lawn to plant organic vegetables. The idea was floated by UC Berkeley professor and foodie Michael Pollan recently.

Planting a vegetable garden around the executive residence might seem a bit eccentric now — but come to think of it, I think it would have seemed completely normal to the early Presidents, when most gentlemen were also farmers and when anyone who wanted a reliable supply of fresh produce had to grow it themselves.

Vote for the White House Farmer

UC Davis graduate student Margaret Lloyd is in the running for the position of White House Farmer (if the Obamas actually decide to appoint one, that is.) Lloyd previously helped set up the organic make-your-own salad garden outside the Plant and Environmental Sciences building on campus, and has been involved in many other sustainable farming activities. More information and voting here. Polling closes midnight on Saturday (Jan. 31), and the top three vote-getters will be forwarded to the White House for consideration.

Dateline: Salad Daze (May 2, 2008) Think globally, grow your veggies locally

Thin snowpack is bad news, especially for salmon

State water officials announced yesterday that the Sierra snowpack is 61 percent of normal for this time of year, making for the third dry year in a row and raising the possibility of water rationing in California. (DWR press release here; a video is also available).

“We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history.  It’s imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses,” said Lester Snow, director of the state Department of Water Resources, in the press release.

Faculty opine: What next after Guantanamo?

Contributed by Clifton B. Parker. This item was first published in Dateline, the UC Davis faculty/staff newspaper.

President Obama’s decision last week to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention camp shows that America is changing its War on Terror strategy, UC Davis faculty say.

Kathryn Olmsted, a history professor who has written extensively about secret governments and conspiracy theories in America, said that after 9/11 many people throughout the world thought the U.S. considered itself above the law.

“The Bush administration alienated millions of people who initially felt great sympathy for America after the attacks,” she said. “Now President Obama is signaling that the U.S. government will play by the rules.”

How old is too old for surgery?

Not 80, say UC Davis physicians Ralph deVere White and Michael McCloud, in this article about 82-year old Leonard Thompson of Roseville, who recently had major surgery for bladder and prostate cancer. Thompson — who might admittedly be on one end of the bell curve, with a vigorous daily exercise regime — was first recommended for conservative “wait and see” treatment for his bladder cancer, but went to UC Davis Cancer Center for another opinion. Recent research shows good outcomes for octogenarians receiving surgery, says deVere White.

Can GM foods benefit the environment?

Yes, argues University of Texas professor James E. McWilliams, writing on Slate. Millions of acres of land around the world (in the U.S., 90 percent of soy beans and 80 percent of corn) are planted with genetically modified crops. These technologies can be harnessed to reduce the environmental impact of farming, McWilliams argues — from cutting methane emissions from grass-fed beef cattle to cutting nitrogen pollution from fertilizer use.

McWilliams cites UC Davis plant pathologist Pam Ronald, who with her husband Raoul Adamchak — an organic farmer — has argued for a merger between organic farming and biotechnology. Their book, Tomorrow’s Table, was published last year. Ronald’s blog of the same name is here.

Energy-efficient light bulbs need a quality boost

Michael Siminovitch, director of the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis, takes part in a Q&A on the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog. Compact fluorescent light bulbs save energy — but consumers don’t like them, because they don’t seem to perform as well as incandescent bulbs.

“A consumer buys a light source to look good and to provide quality lighting inside a space. They don’t normally go to a store to buy a light source to save energy,” Siminovitch — a big advocate for lighting energy efficiency — says. These bulbs can be built to give better colors, longer life and smooth dimming, but those quality issues have been neglected while manufacturers have tried to push down prices.

Calif. farmers brace for a dry year

Despite a few days of rain around here recently, California is heading into its worst drought in decades, while water supplies through pumping systems are also dropping. That’s making farmers fallow or abandon their crops, and that will mean higher prices for produce this year.

Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at UC Davis, estimates that $1.6 billion in agriculture-related wages and as many as 60,000 jobs across the valley will be lost in the coming months due to dwindling water.

More inauguration commentary

Continuing our roundup of UC Davis people commenting on the Inauguration:

Inauguration commentary, change at the SEC

Starting to round up some inauguration coverage; in a widely-reprinted story in the San Jose Mercury News, political scientist Larry Berman said that he was struck by Obama’s somber tone.

“He delivered a forceful speech, designed to allay the fears of Americans about the future,” Berman said. The speech was not as inspirational as other Obama orations, but “was entirely appropriate to the time.”