Category Archives: Inept Activism
Annnnnd the NWF said “Um. Right. Toxic birdseed, you say? Well, never mind then.”
Now, realistically, I’ll bet you dollars to daffodil bulbs that what REALLY happened is that the internet got really mad at the NWF and the NWF said “Oh dear, didn’t think you’d notice…” did the math of PR outrage, and took this as an excuse to bow out before the hate mail reached epic proportions. There’s no way they didn’t know this was coming, particularly since a major focus of the NWF’s efforts with Scotts was the birdseed thing, and I’m very sure that Scotts got them on board specifically as damage control, because “Scotts Sells Toxic Birdseed” as a headline is only slightly better than “Scotts Products Made Of Puppies” or “Scotts CEO Says (Your Beloved Regional Cuisine Here) Tastes Like Sheep-turds.”
However, any excuse is a good excuse in cases like this, and however annoyed we may be that the NWF got to that stage, it behooves us to praise them for having pulled back. (You have to praise people for doing the right thing just as much as you yell at them for the wrong thing—otherwise you’re just yelling and people eventually buy earplugs.)
Am I happy they were willing to partner in the first place? No. Have I lost a lot of faith in the NWF? You betcha. Would I love the NWF to come out and start cataloging all the bad thing Scotts has done and vow to stop them? I would love that more than pie.
But that’s clearly not gonna happen, and at the end of the day, a bunch of people yelling on the internet made the NWF pull out of the partnership. And in my book that’s a win.
So y’all heard me complaining a few days ago about the National Wildlife Federation partnering with Scotts Miracle-Gro, purveyers of fertilizers and bug-sprays and other things that make ponds and wetlands Very Sad, kill helpful bugs, etc, etc, ad deathium.
The blog-o-sphere was not happy about this, although the NWF is going out of its way to dismiss the complaints as all coming from crazy fringe organic gardeners. (I think it’s probably more widespread, but as I myself am a crazy fringe more-or-less organic gardener, I am hardly able to make a case.)
Today, we get the word that Scotts just got fined for—I kid you not—selling toxic birdseed.
And also they apparently falsified EPA numbers on their pesticides, so it looked like things had been approved that maybe kinda sorta were never actually approved by the EPA. Which is arguably much worse—hell, they recalled the birdseed—but if one were looking for a visceral argument about Why The NWF Should Not Climb Into This Bed, I don’t know that it gets any more visceral than “By the way, we sold killer birdseed!”
Well, it’s obvious to me at least that Scotts saw this coming and said “Crud! Who can greenwash us before this hits the news?” and jumped on the NWF. My real question is whether the NWF knew it was coming, or whether they got blindsided, which more or less works out to “Were you dumb and naive?” (arguably forgivable) vs. “Were you completely out of your ever-lovin’ MIND?”
Meanwhile, the amount of PR babble coming out of NWF is so thick that I feel the need to up my Corpspeak skill. Aztechnology’s got nuthin’ on these guys…
I’m on hold to the National Wildlife Federation. I’m cancelling my membership and getting off their mailing lists (or trying) because they have announced that they are partnering with Scotts Miracle-Gro…the primary pushers of unnecessary lawn fertilizer, which turns into runoff, which kills ponds and streams and the wildlife in them (and those are only the most obvious effects.) This is greenwashing of the most blatant kind, and the gardening-o-sphere is furious, but of course, there’s only so many gardeners in the world, and our collective outrage probably can’t compete with the kind of money Scotts has to throw at them.
…and I’m off hold, and the nice woman said she’s cancelled everything and made a note in the file as to why I’m upset. Then she apologized twice. Poor woman. She’s gonna get a lot of this today, I expect.
If you’d like to express your outrage, you can probably find the NWF on Facebook, and you can definitely find them on Twitter at @NWF. They were answering tweets until sometime last night, mostly trying to get people to take the conversation off Twitter, but have now stopped. Nevertheless, I suspect they’re reading. You can also call them at:
1-800-822-9919 ; M-F 8 a.m to 8 p.m. EST
and leave comments for them directly at http://www.nwf.org/About/Contact-Us.aspx
(As always, if you do choose to do these things, I suggest being firm and angry but not abusive. People stop reading if you start off with “You dumb shits…” Let ’em know you’re pissed, though.)
I’d take down my NWF certified habitat sign, but it fell over in the last hard rain anyway. Now I need a new sign that conveys “The reason we have all those butterflies is because I don’t mow this bit” without the NWF logo all over it. Hmm. Maybe I should get a Squash’s Garden sign printed…
So a little while ago, I was in Lowes, and saw a display of bulbs from a company called “Botanical Wonders.”
These were great plants. Jack-in-the-pulpit, Virginia bluebells, trillium, bird’sfoot violet, and the price was…2.95? That’s really…really…
An ethically sourced trillium—and you can get them—will run you twenty-thirty-forty bucks for the common varieties, and if you want something really obscure, get out your wallet. They’re a rare plant to begin with and the seeds only sprout in the wild when they’re carried underground by ants. Growing them from seed is hard, and the plants don’t mature to flowering for years. People do it, but they sure don’t do it for $2.95.
I whipped out my phone, did a little googling, ran into all kinds of hate on the company for this exact reason, as well as allegations that one of their founders had been busted for plant poaching right here in North Carolina and actually served time. If the internet is to be believed (and with those prices, I’m very much inclined to think they are) they’re one of those places that strips wildflowers from wooded areas (including national parks!) plunks them in a greenhouse for a season so that they can be labeled “nursery grown” and then sells them at a stupidly low price, either to Lowes or to a third party who then sells to Lowes.
(What you’re looking for in your ethical plant, by the by, is “nursery propagated” not “nursery grown.” When it comes to trillium, there are people who manage a kind of “wild-propagated” method that could be ethically done, but it requires having large existing clumps on your property, has a very low yield, and it doesn’t bring the price down at all. Also, anyone doing this would want these Botanical Wonders people shot, because they’d strip mine the whole clump and that’d be the end of the matter.)
I did what any good consumer does—I wrote Lowes a “this is why we can’t have nice things” letter.
And it was a pretty damn good letter for off-the-cuff outrage, let me say. I was polite. I rhapsodized about my pride in Lowes as a North Carolina company and my shame at this behavior, I explained the differences between nursery-grown and nursery-propagated, I used that critical phrase “I will tell my friends and family and blog readers…” etc.
Now, I assumed I’d get a robo-e-mail or a “We at Lowes are very concerned about customer feedback, thank you,” letter or whatever and nothing whatsoever would change. And indeed, I did get a polite “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will look into it” letter and I shrugged and thought no more about it, other than scheduling a blog post on the matter over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden, where I blog on alternate Mondays.
This morning I got this in my e-mail.
Dear Vernon Ursula,
Thank you for giving Lowe’s an opportunity to respond to your concerns. We are extremely proud of our customer service, however; we are eager to hear customer feedback so we can identify opportunities to improve our service and customer satisfaction.
I have been corresponding with Michael, Director of Environmental Affairs for Lowe’s and he is going to visit Botanical Wonders Greenhouses. I just wanted you to know we are investigating these allegations with this vendor. I also have involved Ken, Merchandising Director of Nursery for Lowe’s, so he can look into this issue as well. Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.
If Lowe’s or I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call me directly (number redacted, closing pleasantries, etc.)
Now, I know what’s likely to happen here. The odds are good that this gentleman will slog out to the nursery, be led around and have smoke blown in his eyes and verbal legerdemain engaged in, and nothing will change. I accept that. It’d be lovely if they walked in and somebody was unloading a truck full of trillium, cocaine, and illegal Russian mail-order brides onto the loading dock, but it seems unlikely to happen.
But it means that this Botanical Wonders place is on their radar. And it means that if more people complain, and it keeps coming up, this place may well get a red flag as somebody that’s more trouble than they’re worth to deal with. And frankly, I think it’s fantastic that Lowes is being responsive and is actually trying to look into this instead of just blowing me off as another crazy, and I actually do want to point them out for good behavior—god knows they’re not perfect, they sell a lot of plants that make me less than happy, but on this single issue, I can honestly say that I think they’re actually trying to respond to customer concerns and get to the bottom of the matter, to protect their own reputation.
Baby steps. But steps in the right direction.
If you’d like to write to Lowes about this issue, I suggest you A) first make sure that your local store has this display, and B) go to their online feedback form and leave feedback for your own store. Be polite, be firm, don’t scream obscenities–nobody keeps reading those letters—but tell them that you’re very concerned about ethically sourced plants.
When I started gardening, seriously, all I really wanted was to have hummingbirds in the garden, because my parents had hummingbirds in their garden—Da Hummingguys, as my stepfather call them—and y’know, hummingbirds are just so inherently neat.
But I’m way too scatterbrained to reliably clean and refill a hummingbird feeder every week, so it was much easier for me to plant plants that the hummingbirds would like. So then, because I was on a budget, I had to research what kinds of plants hummingbirds like, instead of just buying everything with a silhouette of a hummer on the label
Then the hummingbirds needed more than nectar. They needed little tiny bugs. Lots of little tiny bugs. Apparently they are not exclusive nectarvores. So I had to do things to bring in little tiny bugs, which involved reading books about wildlife gardening, which led me to discover all the shocking facts about the amount of ecological lifting a native plant does vs. the vast majority of ornamental immigrants. (Bringing Nature Home is a great book for charting this all out in layman’s terms.) So then I wasn’t just working for the hummingbirds, I had to do something for all those poor specialized little bugs that would be starving in my yard. The butterflies were easy to love, but my affections are broad, if largely unrequited, and I found myself fretting over the fate of the milkweed assassin bug.
Plus I had to clear space for my plants, which meant that those take-over-the-world viney things had to go, which led me to discover Japanese honeysuckle and English Ivy and Chinese Wisteria (They call me…Wisteria-bane…) and also I lived in the south, where you learn about kudzu very rapidly. And this taught me about invasive species in a big and practical way, beyond the abstract knowledge derived from an 8 AM biology elective in college, which turned out to be one of the more important classes I ever took and I kinda wish I’d been more awake for it.
And then it turned out all those little bugs fed frogs, and I knew amphibians were hurting around the world so they needed all the help they could get, and I started trying to dig them a pond, and then it turns out that bees are in trouble too, so I had to plant more things for bugs, because let’s face it–bugs run the world under our feet and largely out of our sight, and planting spring things for bees, because without bees and pollinators in general, we are in A Whole Lot of Trouble. This is pretty much enlightened self-interest, particularly since I had discovered tulip poplar honey and what it can do to tea.
Then I started reading about why the bugs and the birds were in trouble–factory farming and pesticide use for one, habitat loss for another. Eating pesticide sprayed bugs kills some unbelievable number of birds a year–millions and millions, even by conservative estimates–and we need the pesticides because we killed the predatory bugs with last year’s pesticides, and every time it takes more to kill the pests because the bugs are growing resistant but of course big Agribusiness isn’t interested in changing this state of affairs, because they’re the ones who sell pesticides.
And that led to reading about organic farming and the way our food really works, and once you start reading about farming and food you are utterly lost, because the whole system as it is set up is so insane and so warped and so…unkind…that it’s nearly impossible to get your head around.
To go off on a tangent for a minute, I had two grandmothers, like most people. You’ve heard me talk about them. I usually think of them like fairies at a christening–this is the Good One and this is…the Other One.
To cite a representative example, she once called up a relative who had just miscarried to inform her that it served her right. That sort of thing. She was not precisely a good person and she got worse as she aged. She could be very engaging when she wanted to, but it generally lasted as long as it took to get the outcome she required, and then she went back to something that was…oh, just this side of pathological, honestly.
So anyway, having been the chief victim of this madness for a stretch, one day my stepmother turns to my father and I and cried “Why didn’t you warn me?”
Dad and I looked at her in mild amazement and one or the other of us said “You can’t. If you try, it makes you sounds crazy.”
Most of my reading about food in this country has reminded me of that–you can’t explain to people how weird and broken parts of it are. You sound crazy if you try. Nobody could really be so greedy as to decree that saving seeds from a crop for next year is a serious threat to the bottom line, and allot millions to pursue farmers who do it…except they are, and they do, but if you try and explain this, it’s like yelling that somebody’s pointing a death ray at your head. Nobody is going to believe you, because that’s just crazy talk.
Seriously, try talking about Monsanto and monocultures and the Irish potato famine at your next party. If you manage to get very far, you have awesome friends. (Also tangentially, just ‘cos I think it’s neat, the potato that Ireland was hit by was a variety called “the Ol’ Lumper.” I don’t think it still exists.)
All I wanted were hummingbirds. I’m not an activist. I’m nothing even resembling an activist. You couldn’t get me to sing a protest song if you had sheet music and a cattle prod. I have never waved a sign. I do not march. I occasionally give a few bucks to the Nature Conservancy and Planned Parenthood, but that’s as far as it goes. I can only get angry about politics in short spurts–mostly I just get tired.
But all this stuff makes me want to do something, except that I don’t even know where to start. Little tiny stuff turned out to be connected to huge big terrifying stuff. I feel like I went out fishing for minnows, whistling and thinking about nothing in particular, and then I looked down through the clear water, and saw that I was fishing over top of a kraken, and his back went on for miles in every direction. I don’t even know which way to row.
For what it’s worth, some people estimate that if everybody in America ate one local meal a week, we’d save a million barrels of oil. Per week. It’d take a little over a month—five local meals, say—to save more oil than went into the Gulf of Mexico. So I guess that’s a place to start, even if my cooking skills are such that said meal is likely to be scrambled eggs. Local eggs, local milk, both available at the co-op. It still counts!
…I think I might need to learn to cook.
You hummingbirds better appreciate this…