Organic Food

Organic Food

Want a better organic garden? Call out the soil-critter army

The helpful Jerusalem cricket.Photo: Franco FoliniCross-posted from Cool Green Science. There are 1 billion bacteria in a single gram of soil. (Give or take a few million.) But how can you get that army — and its insect friends, like the two-inch Jerusalem cricket pictured to the right — to help you grow bigger veggies and prettier flowers? There’s nobody better to ask than Nature Conservancy soil ecologist Sophie Parker, who recently turned Grist on to the fascinating (and sometimes scary) world of soil organisms. I asked Sophie to give us some tips to make our gardens grow even better …

Organic Food

California schemin': How a fake organic fertilizer bamboozled farmers and watchdogs alike

What’s the difference?: What seemed like organic fertilizer to farmers could have been spiked with the synthetic kind.Truck photo (left): Iris Shreve Garrott It’s no secret that the organic food industry has seen explosive growth, taking only a mild drubbing through the recession and then continuing its ascent. At the heart of that growth has been trust — consumers are willing to shell out more bucks for organic because the food’s been grown without synthetic chemicals, with that claim verified from farm to market. Yet two major cases of federal fraud have been filed in the past six months, rocking …

Another danger of non-organic farming: Exploding watermelons

People opt for organically-farmed food for all different reasons, but here's one of the more compelling ones we've seen: Agricultural chemicals can make watermelons explode.  Chinese watermelon crops just had an unfortunate run-in with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, which makes plants' cells divide faster to pump up growth rates. Supposedly forchlorfenuron can bump up harvest schedules by two weeks and increase fruit size by 20 percent. But if farmers spray too late or in the wrong conditions, acres of melons explode like "land mines" in a scene of carnage that one farmer said haunted his dreams. This is, of course, …

Say Earthalujah! Reverend Billy preaches the green gospel

The Reverend wants you to believe the Earth can be saved! Amen.Photo: Brennan CavanaughThe Reverend preaches: “It’s not easy for Americans to slow down their consumption. No, it ain’t! We’ve got to help each other out. Give each other the power. Yes we do! To back away from the product. To turn. To escape the big box. The hypnosis of corporate greed! Amen, hallelujah.“ And the choir sings: “Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu-jah! Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu, Eartha-lu-jah!” “This force is inside each of us,” the Reverend continues. “It’s in the air. It’s coming through the floorboards. Earthalujah. Yeah, yes, amen. Give us the …

Produce industry wants Americans to eat their pesticide-laden veggies

For years, the Environmental Working Group has warned consumers away from "The Dirty Dozen," the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the most trace pesticides. But the produce industry has had enough of this anti-vegetable propaganda!  A consortium of food groups, from the American Mushroom Institute to the National Watermelon Association Inc., is mounting a campaign to reassure consumers that it's perfectly safe to eat pesticide-laden products. Industry groups are writing to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ask him to publish data about pesticide residue with context explaining that the amount of pesticides found on their products really isn't that …


How does my garden grow? With the aid of a pretty good digital planner

Steph Larsen’s digital farm plan takes shape in the material world.Photo: Steph LarsenWhat’s black and white and dirty all over? My garden plan! Last year’s was, anyway. Most farmers I know will say that keeping good records and plans is fundamental to farming success. By no means am I what you might call a natural planner — I lean towards the “organized chaos” style of living. But when it comes to growing things, I’m convinced that adding a healthy dose of order to the garden chaos is a necessity. There are just too many variables to consider otherwise. Garden plans …

Sustainable Farming

Factory farms the only way to ‘feed the world’? Not so, argues Science paper

To “feed the world” by 2050, we’ll need a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. Even progressive journalists trumpet the idea (see here, here, and here, plus my ripostes here and here). The public-radio show Marketplace reported it as fact last week, earning a knuckle rap from Tom Laskway. At least one major strain of President Obama’s (rather inconsistent) agricultural policy is predicated on it. And surely most agricultural scientists and development specialists toe that line … right? Well, not really. Back in 2009, Seed Magazine organized a forum predicated on the idea …

Sustainable Farming

Bounty hunting: an inside look at a successful farmers market operation [VIDEO]

Last spring, I had the pleasure of following the farm-to-market process with one of the “successful” upstart organic farms in Minnesota. Laura and Adam from Loon Organics let me film and work through their Friday-Saturday operation. I had been idealizing the idea of starting a farm: seeing the beautiful produce stacked up at the market made me want to take out a loan, buy 50 acres, and start my own little operation. But after a day with the folks at Loon Organics, the frantic reality of running a diversified farm comes into focus:

Sustainable Food

Will the real food movement please stand up?

Image: Will Etling’s “Sustain,” originally for GOOD magazine and contributed to Green Patriot Posters. Farmer Bob Comis recently suggested that the food movement is suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” He argued that several vocal factions — foodies, locavores, and “smallists” — tend to dominate the food movement discussion, unrealistically distracting us from our ultimate objective: bringing affordable, organic food to all as part of a broader commitment to social justice. For decades now, organic farmers and sustainable food activists of all stripes have been vexed by the question: Is this a movement? Can it scale and have meaningful impact? At …

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