Sustainable Farming

Real-life Farmville kills the same amount of time, actually does some good

We knew things were going to get weird once we found out there was a real-world Angry Bird. Now a farm in England is turning itself into live-action Farmville. For a £30 ($49) annual fee, members of MyFarm will get to weigh in on every decision made at Wimpole Estate Farm in Cambridgeshire. They'll vote on what to plant, when to harvest, what livestock to purchase, how to allocate the farm's land, which pig is the best singer, whether Brad should marry barley or amaranth, and every other choice that's critical to an agriculture/reality show hybrid. MyFarm is a project …

Sustainable Farming

I’ve seen the future and I can’t afford it: Marketplace’s botched ‘feed the world’ story

Let’s have a real debate about organic vs. conventional agriculture.Photo: Bio BrothersIn a recent report entitled “The Non-Organic Future,” public radio’s Marketplace program considered the challenge to agriculture of feeding a world population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050. It was, to be frank, a terrible piece of journalism. Short, virtually fact-free, and weakly reported, it gave pride of place to soil scientist Pedro Sanchez of Columbia University. To his credit, Sanchez is a well-intentioned scholar dedicated to reducing world hunger. However, he sees his mission through the lens of conventional ag. In essence, Sanchez is nothing short of …

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 …

Sustainable Farming

Give a cluck: Ask Umbra on secret backyard chickens

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, Have you heard of the underground backyard chicken movement, and would you recommend it for people who want chickens, regardless of city ordinances? DenineWestminster (no state specified, maybe to protect innocent chickens) Some chickens have to keep a low profile.Photo: Taber Andrew BainA. Dearest Denine, Don your feathered fedora, pull it low over your eyes, and let’s venture into the subterranean realm of secret backyard chicken coops. (Perhaps they will be the new speakeasies.)  First, anyone interested in the issue should peruse this immensely thorough and useful piece by Jill Richardson about …

Sustainable Food

A star Silicon Valley investor puts his money where his mouth is for sustainable ag

Ali Partovi: Investing green in green ag.As antidote to those who argue that the future of food is all about technologies like genetic engineering and new pesticides, I refer you to entrepreneur Ali Partovi (full disclosure: Ali and I are acquaintances) who has an Earth Day post over at Silicon Valley’s Techcrunch, one of the most influential tech-entrepreneur blogs around. Partovi, a former Microsoftie, is a cofounder of the music recommendation service iLike and was an early-stage investor in such online successess as Zappos, Dropbox, and that social network site a few folks use, Facebook. And now, as evidenced by …

Sustainable Farming

15 ways to celebrate agriculture on Earth Day

Agriculture: it doesn’t have to steamroll the environment to be productive. For over 40 years, Earth Day has served as a call to action, mobilizing individuals and organizations around the world to address environmental challenges. Agriculture, often blamed as a driver of these problems, is emerging a solution to environmental problems. It’s a source of food and income for the world’s poor and a primary engine for economic growth. It also offers untapped potential for mitigating climate change and protecting biodiversity, and for lifting millions of people out of poverty. Here are 15 solutions to guide farmers, scientists, politicians, agribusinesses and …

Sustainable Farming

Are ewe serious? The joys of raising lambs in springtime

Someone to watch over me: a mama ewe, with lambs. Photo: Steph LarsenWhen I get home tonight, eleven adorable newborns will greet me with their wide eyes and cute faces. Overseeing the care of so many is a daunting task, but luckily I have help: their mamas. Spring means lambs on Thistle Root Farm, and for the last few weeks our time has been spent caring for pregnant sheep, watching for the signs of impending birth, and making sure the new babies get off to the best possible start. At times, it’s not been easy. There’s an old shepherd joke …

Sustainable Farming

Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology

Coleman’s Four Season Farm: Start with biodiversity and well-nourished soil, add some appropriate technology, then harvest lots of healthy food. Photo: Barbara DamroschOrganic farming is often falsely represented as being unscientific. However, despite the popular assumption that it sprang full born from the delusions of 60s hippies, it has a more extensive, and scientifically respectable, provenance. If you look back at the first flush of notoriety in the 1940s, the names most often mentioned, Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, rather than being the initiators, were actually just popularizers of a groundswell of ideas that had begun to develop …

How to solve world hunger by bringing farming indoors

What if the only way to save crops from climate change was taking the climate out of the equation entirely? Researchers in the Netherlands think that artificially lit, carefully irrigated "sunless farming" may have the power to reverse world hunger. With the right crops and the right equipment, researchers think that a space as small as 1,075 feet — roughly a two-bedroom apartment — could feed up to 140,000 people. Indoor farming uses a fraction as much water, too — a little over a liter for a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of tomatoes, versus 16 gallons in an irrigated field. Growing …