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Sustainable Farming

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Big Ag is pissing away our nation’s rich topsoil

Midwest farmland is more scarred and eroded then previous reports suggested.Photo: Environmental Working GroupBad federal policy and intensifying storms are washing away the rich dark soils in the Midwest that made this country an agricultural powerhouse and that remain the essential foundation of a healthy and sustainable food system in the future. That's the alarming finding of a new Environmental Working Group report that highlights innovative research by scientists at Iowa State University (ISU). The report is titled "Losing Ground," and it shows in stark terms what industrial-scale crop production is doing to our soil and water in the Corn …

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Faces of death (and flavor) [VIDEO]

WARNING: Video contains images that some may consider disturbing. Close to 10 billion animals are killed every year in the U.S. (100+ million are pigs). With that statistic in mind, only six pigs died during the making of this video ... but it was tough. Killing animals is heavy business. After the deeds were done, the folks at Duskwind Farm gave me the heads. With these faces full of flavor, I made a number of dishes, including tete de cochon. Watch this video to see the process from living pig to decadent dish:

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Coming soon, to a city near you: open-source agriculture

Sharing the bounty of knowledge.Most people attempting to build a viable urban agriculture business are acutely aware of the enormously challenging and time-consuming process of navigating zoning regulations. Having worked in this sector, I can personally testify that the process is tedious and time-sucking. Over the past couple of years, a number of cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have begun enacting, or at the very least exploring, new regulations. One of the major challenges facing policymakers, however, is identifying effective policies and best practices. Which is why I got excited when I learned about Washington, D.C.-based John …

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Big Ag demands right to pollute California’s Central Valley

A Central Valley field.Photo: calwestThe Los Angeles Times details a brewing skirmish over agricultural runoff being fought in California's Central Valley. At issue are proposed regulations that would for the first time force farmers to address fertilizer and pesticide runoff from their fields. A group of environmental organizations is pushing for the regulations, as the L.A. Times reports: "Runoff from irrigated agriculture is the largest source of pollution to Central Valley waterways and the Delta," said the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance and more than 70 other state and local groups in a …

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Budget fight threatens to turn Farm Bill into Industrial Ag Bill

Will eco-friendly and people-friendly farm programs get steamrolled?Will the next Farm Bill, scheduled for passage in 2012, put public policy in service of a food system that works for farmers, eaters, and the environment? Well, optimism over federal food-policy reform never runs very high in sustainable-ag circles. The agrichemical lobby is flush with cash and friends in Congress and the White House. But the current budget fight is making a bleak situation look downright disastrous. It's looking like the looming budget deal will slash funding for the few programs that currently counteract the Big Ag policy agenda. And while the …

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Medium is beautiful: why we need more mid-sized farms

Let's fill meat counters with ethical, sustainable cuts.Photo: Anthony AlbrightRecently, I have made the argument in a couple of different articles (here and here) that in order to make local-regional meat broadly affordable and accessible, we should make a shift from the direct markets (farmers markets, CSAs, on-farm sales) to the existing indirect, arms length markets of supermarkets (and mom and pop groceries and butcher shops). Coming from me, if you know my politics and you know the history of my writings, this is a shocking claim. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about it very hard over the last few …

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When locally sourced food isn’t available, the tough grow it anyway

Ruben and Kristin Hernandez are bakers in Baltimore, Maryland, who wanted to use locally-sourced wheat in their bread. Only problem is, no one grows the required “hard” wheat in Maryland, because the relatively humid climate leads to disease. (Hard wheats are rich in gluten, the protein that gives bread its elasticity and structure.) Ruben briefly considered growing the wheat himself, on the roof of his bakery, but ditched the idea when he found Aaron Cooper, the one farmer on the Eastern Shore willing to give it a shot. The secret to growing organic hard wheat in a place no one …

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I’m coming out — as a farmer

Steph Larsen down on the farm. Or not?Last spring, our sheep had six lambs. Now five of them have taken a one-way trip to the meat locker, bound for not only our freezer but those of five other families, too. The chickens are laying eggs moderately well, and we might actually be turning a small profit on them. Unlike last year, I picked this year's chick breeds based on which produce well all year and give me the diversity of egg colors that my customers like. We've also sketched out plans to sell a few vegetables, herbs, and fruits through …

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Chile crisis of 2011 reveals need for more resilience and diversity on the farm

Chile crops just couldn't take the heat from the February cold snap.Photo: Demetri MouratisWhat a difference a few days of aberrant weather can mean to our food security, our pocket books, and our penchant for hot sauce. The record freeze that hit the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico in early February is still affecting vegetable availability and food prices in general more than 6 weeks after the catastrophe. Restaurants across the U.S. are rationing peppers and tomatoes on their sandwiches and in their salsas. Prices for peppers have jumped as much as 50 percent, and for tomatoes by 15 percent, …

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The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food

Buying sustainable pork shouldn't involve breaking the piggy bank.A couple of years ago at a farmers market, a woman approached my stall, a little apprehensively. She looked old and beaten down. Her face was weathered and worn. Her hands looked rough and gritty. But, it was clear that she was younger than she looked. Her clothes were poor. Her jeans were worn thin around the knees and had faded spots of dirt here and there on her thighs. Before she even said a word, I imagined a life of hard work and hard times for her. She came over to …