Meet my New Companion: Django!

Hi everyone!

I thought I would share with you the newest addition to my circle: Django! He is a green and yellow budgie, the same type of bird that Lauren, my fellow UrbanHermit, wrote about in a post about her birds, Sufi and Tel. I have spent some time looking for a little bird friend to keep me company while I am in grad school in Pennsylvania. After searching online for birds available for adoption, I came across this little guy about an hour away from my home. I went up to a farm to meet him and right away felt he was perfect. Today was only his third day with me, but he has been doing great! He already has flown out of his cage to explore my apartment and will even sit on my hand! He loves commotion and was very excited by a thunderstorm. I have been using some techinques to get him used to me, like feeding him from my hand and reading him a few poems before bed, but I am fortunate that he has adjusted so well and so quickly. Django did not have a name when I adopted him , but I chose it based on one of my favorite songs by the punk rock band Rancid (my favorite band), which is based off the 1966 Italian film, Django, as opposed to the more recent Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, which is significantly different from the original. Below are a few pics:

Django preening himself


Getting aclimated to his new best friend

Eating out of my hand!

Meet little Django!

Django on my hand!

Django on my hand! (Sorry about the quality-phone shot!)


The King Amendment

Following up on the 2013 Farm Bill – its rejection was not all bad news. An amendment on the bill, created by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had the potential to nullify numerous state animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, food safety, environmental protection, and worker safety. This has been coined the “King Amendment”.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill did not contain any language similar to the King Amendment.  The Humane Society of the United States and other groups strongly advocated to remove the King Amendment from the House Farm Bill on the floor, where the Farm Bill was rejected.

Hopefully, the next version of Farm Bill will be more sound in its entirety.

King’s amendment would have overturned voter-approved animal welfare ballot measures such as Proposition 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves and laying hens), Proposition 204 in Arizona (banning veal and pig gestation crates) and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates). Photo by ASPCA

See current legal protections for farm animals here from ASPCA.

Sources: Anna West, The Humane Society of the United States, 16 May 2013; ASPCA, 2013

What is the Farm Bill, Anyways?

Sen. Debbie Stabenaw (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed the Farm Bill

Sen. Debbie Stabenaw (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed the Farm Bill.

Many of you may have recently read or heard news about the U.S. House of Representatives rejecting a five-year renewal of the Farm Bill. If you are like me, the next question you asked was what is the Farm Bill? This sounds like a question for Urban Hermits! According to the National Farmers Union, the Farm Bill is:

“…[A]n extensive, omnibus piece of legislation that is reauthorized roughly every five years. ‘Farm bill’ is really a misnomer, because although the legislation does contain a number of provisions that are critical to family farmers’, ranchers’, and fruit and vegetable growers’ economic success, more than 75 percent of the bill’s funding is allocated for nutrition assistance for the underprivileged, both in the United States and abroad. Much of the remaining provisions relate to rural business development, incentives  for renewable energy production, and protection of our country’s most precious natural resources” (National Farmers Union 2013).

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla), Agriculture Committee Chairman. The House of Reps. rejected the Farm Bill last week

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla), Agriculture Committee Chairman. The House of Reps. rejected the Farm Bill last week

It is that 75 percent that caused the Farm Bill to be rejected by the House last week. The Farm Bill is traditionally bipartisan, supported by the republicans who typically represent the districts containing most of the nation’s farmland and the democrats who have always been on board with federal assistance for both farmers and this country’s malnourished. However, food assistance, in particular, has been a huge point of debate between the two parties of recently, causing the farm bill to only receive a one year extension in 2012 and now, being rejected, a questionable future. Debates over the government’s $17 trillion budget deficit led to several amendments to the bill. Proposed reduction of food assistance caused democrats to vote “noe”, while continued subsidies and social spending led many republicans to vote against it, demanding more cuts to an already bloated budget. All in all, what is normally a bipartisan success transformed into a proposal that neither side could support, leading to a bold 234-195 “noe” vote (Jalonick 2013). What is next? Will the sides come together for another Farm Bill? In my mind, they’ll have to.

In the meantime, see how your representative voted HERE

Sources: “2013 Farm Bill”. National Farmers Union. Accessed 26 June 2013

Jalonick, Mary Clare. “House rejects farm bill, 62 republicans vote no”. The Associated Press. 20 June 2013

Images: “Debbie Stabenew” The Detroit News.; “Frank Lucas” Republican National Convention Blog.

Latest on the GMO Debate

Here’s some interesting contrast for you. Robert Fraley, the chief technology officer and executive vice president of Monsanto was awarded the World Food Prize, along with two other individuals. Fraley has been very instrumental in the introduction of genetically modified crops. He was awarded this prize on the basis of increasing the yield of food and its resistance to pests. However, as you all know, the introduction of GMOs into our food system has been controversial and has led to as many questions as answers. This award is just another notch on Monsanto’s walking stick, but a point of contention for environmentalists, or for that matter, anybody who eats. Read more in Andrew Pollack’s New York Times article.

On the other end of the spectrum, Connecticut has just become the first state to pass a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled as such. However, there is a kicker, and a strange one. The law required a “compromise” for it to pass, that requires four other states, one that borders Connecticut, to pass similar laws before it becomes effective. Massachusetts seems to be a strong candidate. It looks like the lobbyists did their job! Maybe it will backfire. Read more at’s article.


Researchers with Genetically Modified Corn

Sources: Pollack, Andrew. “Executive at Monsanto wins global food honor”. The New York Times. 19 June 2013.

“Connecticut passes first GMO food labeling law in US”. 5 June 2013.

Image: Next Generation Food Online

All About Bats!

As you know, we here at Urban Hermits are fascinated by our fellow creatures. One creature is an important pollinator and the only mammal that can fly (the flying squirrel does not truly fly): the Bat! Unfortunately, loss of habitat as well as a lethal fungal infection known as White-Nose Syndrome have seriously threatened the U.S. population. While some people find bats creepy, they provide benefits to humans by keeping the insect population in check, which I am thankful for during this time of year. Below are some interesting links about bats.

Penn State University’s Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center has recently seen a collapse in their bat population due to White-Nose Syndrome. Here are some interesting details about this problem.

Centre Wildlife Rescue in Centre County, PA provides information on rehabbing bats HERE

Finally, BBC Nature has a great article about “giving nature a home”. This includes tips about building your own bat box!

Sources: Barr, Bianca. “Shaver’s Creek witnessing collapse of Pennsylvania bat population”. Penn State News. 11 June 2013.

 “In pictures: giving nature a home”. BBC Nature. 11 June 2013.

Strohmier, Matt. “Rehabing bat with Centre Wildlife Care”. 14 June 2013.

Image: Cici, Caitlin. Penn State News.

Gone Organic: Former GMO Engineer Tells His Story

Organic Connections has just released an interview with Thierry Vrain, Ph.D., for­mer biotech engi­neer who now speaks out against the risks of genet­i­cally engi­neered foods. Vrain worked 30 years as a research sci­en­tist for the Canadian gov­ern­ment where he con­ducted studies on agriculture mod­i­fication. He was direc­tor of the biotech­nol­ogy depart­ment at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, BC. Today, Thierry Vrain has retired to a farm, is a gar­dener, a teacher, and a advocate for organic gardening—from soil health to GMO awareness.

Vrain: “When I hear we need genetic engi­neer­ing to feed the world, I cringe. It turns out that there is no increase in yield, no decrease use of pes­ti­cides, and the process is of highly ques­tioned safety. Even if genetic engi­neer­ing was per­fectly safe, I still ques­tion it because of genetic pol­lu­tion. Organic crops and foods are becom­ing contaminated. I’m also con­cerned about con­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the envi­ron­ment with antibi­otic resis­tant genes. Every GM crop has these genes. The pre­lim­i­nary evi­dence we have is that bac­te­ria in the soil and in the human gut are capa­ble of pick­ing those genes up. Considering the alarm I hear from med­ical peo­ple about los­ing antibi­otics, I think this should be a seri­ous concern.”

Read the interview here.

Below is a TEDxTalk given by Dr. Vrain on May 23, 2013- The Gene Revolution, The Future of Agriculture

Source: Ken Roseboro, Organic Connections, June 2013; Dr. Thierry Vrain, TEDx, 29 May 2013

Are You Buying Ethical Gifts? Infographic

Below is a pretty powerful infographic about humans taking advantage of animals for materialism. This graphic speaks not only of animal parts, but also covers wood forested for products that are home to various species.

Source: Late Late Gifts, Visually, 19 June 2013;

Denied Lawsuit Against Monsanto after GM Genes found in Organic Seeds, Monsanto “Promises” Not to Sue Back

Organic farmers attempted a lawsuit against biotech corporation Monsanto this last Monday. Seeds tested by the farmers were shown to have genetically modified (GM) traces of Monsanto patented DNA in their structure. Issues such as this are common, as GM plants have the ability to cross-pollinate with organic varieties. The company seems to have no control of their own creations, as was recently seen in Oregon when unapproved GM wheat was found growing in a farmer’s field. Monsanto denied all responsibility, resorting to sabotage claims. However, the GM wheat variety was prohibited from being released by Monsanto. The company gathered its own test results of the wheat, but scientists don’t believe its credibility.

Monsanto has a history of suing farmers when saved seeds or crops test positive for their GM patents, like “Roundup Ready” crops altered to tolerate treatments of the company’s Roundup weed-killer. Cross-contaminated fields found to have any trace of their products are usually turned into evidence for Monsanto to sue the farmer for patent infringement. In its ruling Monday, the U.S court of Appeals said the organic growers must have faith in Monsanto’s promises that it will not sue them as long as the contamination is slight.

This is bad news for organic farmers and consumers. Certified organic items cannot contain GMOs, and at this rate, it will be harder to protect non-biotech crops. Exports have been impacted as well. Japan recently canceled their wheat orders from the United States due to fear of contamination. The ruling illustrates the inaccessibility of justice for small farmers and consumers, even after clear violations have taken place.

my colored world fades to gray

Image Source: nosha, Flickr, 26 June 2009

Sources: Elaine Watson, Food Navigator – USA, 12 June 2013; Hank Schultz, Food Navigator – USA, 03 June 2013; Dan Charles, NPR, 30 May 2013; Mark Drajem and Jack Kaskey, Business Week, 06 June 2013; Sara Sjolin, Market Watch, 30 May 2013; Carey Gillam, Reuters, 10 June 2013;

A Map for the Honey Bees!

Honey Bee Haven has created an interactive map showing where community members have created flourishing zones for bees to thrive. Bee (and pollinator) populations are taking a blow from current agricultural practices, specifically pesticides. You can take the pledge to create an environment in your own living space to benefit bees, then can upload your haven location to the map. Photos of your location can be uploaded as well!

The site states:

Bees pollinate a significant majority of the world’s food. In North America alone, honey bees pollinate nearly 95 kinds of fruits, including almonds, avocados, cranberries and apples. In fact, we can thank honey bees for one in three bites of food we eat.

Join others in taking part to protecting our pollinators!

Honey Bee Haven Map Screenshot

Source: Andrew Olsen and Sara Knight, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides, 2013

On Pets – Meet Sufi and Tél

Meet Sufjan and Tél, my two parakeets. These guys are also known as budgerigars, or budgies for short. They are small parrots found in the wild in the Australian outback. Naturally green and yellow, breeding mutations have caused the dominant yellow gene to disappear, leaving blue, white, grey, and sometimes violet undertones in their feathers.

Budgies are found at almost any pet-store and are often considered a “cheap bird” for kids and beginning bird owners. Unfortunately, with that stigma, they are also seen as disposable compared to larger and more expensive parrots. There are many up for adoption because their previous owners did not want to commit to their needs. Please consider adoption if you are planning to accept a bird into your family. They are always joyful and energetic when treated right, and will surely brighten your day for a long time.

Budgies have very pleasant voices, and have the potential to mimic sounds. They do, like most parrots, squawk. They become background noise to those who find the songs and chirping appealing. Those who do not like a lot of noise should not get a bird. They respond to the energy in the room, making commotion when it gets loud, and napping when the room is quiet. If you are tense, they are tense. A happy bird is a talkative one.




Little Sufi!

I will be making more posts about them in the future. Hopefully our adventures, notes, and guidelines may come in handy for someone!