Category: Health


community parkHere’s my sixth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she talks about the decline of communities where people (including children) feel that they belong and experience a sense of common purpose:

‘Several times I’ve run into an interesting statistic in the books I read: the people we count as friends- those with whom we comfortably share meals and other forms of visiting- number no more than 150 (and usually fewer)…we seem to be biologically limited to a smallish circle of those whom we can know in a more familiar sense and who we feel know us. The number is about the upper limit of any group that can be sustained by a hunting/gathering economy and not much less than can be sustained by a subistence farming community.

So it may be that, in addition to the fact that residents of a tract development or a block of apartment houses are not assembled in common purpose, the sheer scale of the community may stand in the way of our sense of belonging to it. We seem to realize the importance of social scale for children when we call for smaller classes and smaller schools within the neighbourhood. The trend to gated communities, neighborhood gardens, pocket parks, and local streets closed to traffic indicate our urge to safely congregate where we can consult the social mirror. But for many of us, and possibly for most, the urge is thwarted or was extinguished before it had much chance to grow.

Aware of that difficulty, many have proposed that we teach community and family values in school. The proposal is as hopeless as teaching children what an apple tree is without their experiencing the tree or instructing them on how to fish without going fishing. A sense of community is absorbed through experience of the actual community, just as family values are incorporated within the actual family. So we are left with our good nature flapping raggedly without the pole that once lifted it aloft, and we are lonely…’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

vineMy fifth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein challenges some notions of what education should be about for young children. She compares the needs of these ‘tinies’ with those of wandering vines…

‘Most vines…germinate, grow tendrils, and wave about (clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the species) until they engage support. Then…they climb upward toward the light, where, in sunlit maturity, they are able to bloom and fruit….Random exploration is essential to fulfillment of the vine’s biological program. So are the wanderings of children….

…you have experienced the wanderings of a child, and how it feels when what you have come upon suddenly makes sense. First, you wander the kames and kettles, kick sand and sink in mud, climb up and down the abruptly steep terrain, find fringed gentians, suffer poison ivy: then you reach for the fabulous coherence of glacial geography. Nothing is wrong with formal education except that we have got it backward. Children need experiences to make sense of before what we teach them can make sense. In this view, education is not something imposed from outside, but arises in children’s need for adults to arrange coherently the chaos of their perceptions.’

snow sledgingI’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

withered tree dementia

‘Not a twig or a leaf on the old tree,

Wind and frost harm it no more,

A man could pass through the hole in its belly,

Ants crawl searching under its peeling bark.

Its only lodger, the toadstool which dies in a morning,

The birds no longer visit in the twilight.

But its wood can still spark tinder.

It does not care yet to be only the void at its heart.’

Han Yu (translated by A.C. Graham)

cooking_with_childrenHere’s my fourth extract from the book ‘Noah’s Children’ by Sara Stein. Here she reflects on how we seem to have increasingly excluded children from working alongside adults, and by cossetting or trying to protect them from harm, can delay (prevent?) their passage into adulthood:

‘In our and other cultures, formal education begins at age six. During the following six years, roughly corresponding to elementary school, sons and daughters were traditionally expected to learn not only what in the environment was there to be used, but also how to use it. At the age of twelve, they were expected to be ready to pass from childhood to membership in the adult culture. Although we still mark that passage ritually in ceremonies of bar mitzvah and confirmation, I say these are empty passages now, and I am being very serious:

Children who can’t obtain, produce, nourish, maintain, earn, or in any other way be of use to their family remain juvenile compared to their peers in other cultures and in former times. They don’t deserve to be kept useless, and they don’t like it, and they show by their behaviour toward their elders that they blame us for swaddling them in childish ignorance.

Dessert can wait. It comes at the end of the day, and there is work to do.’

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the wider issues raised…

Old School Gardener

soil fungusToday is ‘Anti Biotics Awareness Day’ in the UK (I think this extends to the whole week in north America). Last night I attended a fascinating series of talks about work being done in the Norwich Research Park (this includes the University of East Anglia, John Innes Centre, Institute of Food Research and Norfolk and Norwich Hospital) to search for ways to expand the options for combatting infectious diseases. 

The Problem

‘Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections in humans. Even though these antibiotics are very powerful, some pathogenic bacteria have evolved resistance to all antibiotics currently available. There is an urgent need to find new ways to combat these drug resistant bacteria.’

268044-medicinesSolutions?

Most of the antibiotics we currently use are made by a group of benign soil bacteria called actinomycetes. Scientists are now searching environments not previously investigated to find new actinomycetes which might produce new antibiotics; for example deep oceans, desert, rainforests and insects. They are also manipulating actinomycetes bacteria to produce new antibiotics.

This is the first strand of work I heard about last night. It also featured a fascinating look at leaf cutter ants. You’ve probably seen these minute creatures on nature documentaries. They cut pieces of leaf from nearby plants and take these back to their nest. But they don’t eat the leaves, well not directly anyway. Instead they feed them to a fungus which produces the food they use. A sort of ‘agriculture’ that has been going on for 50 million years! It’s this fungus that scientists are studying, and specifically the antibiotics it produces, to see if they could be useful against human diseases.

The second strand of work concerns improving the diagnosis and use of antibiotics. Up to now we’ve been rather profligate with our use of antibiotics, including in animal husbandry (where they encourage weight gain) and agriculture.

This widespread use of antibiotics has led to the crisis we now face- many bacteria developing resistance to ‘broad spectrum’ (a cocktail) of antibiotics and a lack of will to develop new antibiotics as the investment and risk are judged to be too high in relation to the potential returns by pharmaceutical companies. The technology available for analysing bacterial infections is advancing – the speed is increasing and the costs reducing-  so that it is increasingly likely that a more precise diagnosis of infections can be made and a more targeted approach to using antibiotics can follow. This will both increase the effectiveness of their use and reduce the side effects- of killing off a lot of other (beneficial) bacteria and inducing the development of resistant pathogens.

penicillium_coloniesFinally,  I heard about work being done to harness the inherent bacteriological power of the human body.

Not only are humans walking factories of millions of bacteria, but it turns out that different parts of the body carry different bacteriological ‘eco systems’ of their own. The work to date has revealed the benefit of human breast milk in child development (as well as containing nutrients it transfers a range of bacteria from the mother which help to develop the child’s own bacterial systems). This has included giving ‘pro biotic’ supplements to babies born prematurely to help them make up the deficit they have on full term babies and so helping to reduce infections and premature mortality.

Work is also being done on the human gut and experiments with some very sick patients have shown how powerful an infusion of new bacteria can be in combatting diseases; this infusion takes the form of a ‘faecal transplant’- literally transfusing a healthy person’s gut bacteria to a sick person via their faeces (of course converted into a suitable form!).

On this special day, it’s encouraging to see the work in hand by a wide range of brilliant people (who happen to be on my doorstep) to try to extend our ability to fight infectious diseases. Part of the answer lies in discovering and teasing out new anti biotics from a wider range of soils and other sites, but it seems that better targetting of antibiotics and harnessing the body’s own ‘bacteria factory’ have an important part to play.

To finish, here’s a little quiz about leaf cutter ants…

Further information:

Antibiotic Hunters

BBC News Report

John Innes Ant Cam- live

Old School Gardener

 

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