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Sustainable Farming

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Organic farming just as productive as conventional, and better at building soil, Rodale finds

Organic agriculture is a fine luxury for the rich, but it could never feed the world as global population moves to 9 billion. That's what a lot of powerful people -- including the editors of The Economist -- insist. But the truth could well be the opposite: It might be chemical-intensive agriculture that's the frivolous luxury, and organic that offers us the right technologies in a resource-constrained, ever-warmer near future. That's the conclusion I draw from the latest data of the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial (FST), which Rodale calls "America's longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic …

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I raise pigs on annual pasture crops. Am I farming sustainably?

Bob Comis with his porkers. Will they leave the land more productive than they found it? Photo: Zach Phillips The concept of sustainability isn't very useful as a critique of industrial agriculture -- all you have to do is create a friendly definition of "sustainable," and the critique is turned on its head. However, sustainability does interest me as it relates to my own farm. Am I farming sustainably? That is, am I farming in such a way that the land I work will be as, or even more, productive for future generations? Or, am I farming unsustainably -- that …

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Can the United States feed China?

China is worried -- and rightfully so -- that it might not be able to feed itself.Photo: Jerrold BennettIn 1994, I wrote an article in World Watch magazine entitled "Who Will Feed China?" that was later expanded into a book of the same title. When the article was published in late August, the press conference generated only moderate coverage. But when it was reprinted that weekend on the front of the Washington Post's Outlook section with the title "How China Could Starve the World," [$ubreq] it unleashed a political firestorm in Beijing. The response began with a press conference at …

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New eco-friendly fertilizer: Plant farts

While those lousy cows are pooting out greenhouse gases, some hardworking plants – anaerobic digestors, which are crucial to the production of biogas – are making waste that can be used as cheap, natural fertilizer. Digestate, the byproduct of anaerobic digestion, could replace manufactured nitrogen fertilizers that are energy-intensive and expensive to produce.

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What’s the season between winter and spring? Maple time! [VIDEO]

Spring doesn't seem like it would be maple syrup time (based on the pictures on Vermont syrup bottles), but so it is. At the cusp of freezing and melting snow is when the sap is running. And while the rest of the country is praying for warmth, the maple farmers are wishing for cold. The longer it stays cold, the longer the syruping season lasts. Last year, the season here in Minnesota was short, but I made it out just in time to spend the day with Chris Ransom. His operation is based on his backyard trees as well as …

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Radiation-tainted milk in Japan, Pollan on food movement elitism, and more

When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the web. --------- Nuke disaster hits Japan's food supply Note to planners: Don't plunk highly volatile industrial projects onto rich farmland. Doing so ensures that industrial disasters will quickly cascade into food crises. Tragically, Japan's Fukushima region isn't just a source of nuclear-derived electricity. It's also a major source of milk and vegetables -- and its farmland has already been impacted by the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. From Saturday's The New York Times: As Japan edged forward in its battle to …

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Ask Umbra on how much food Americans waste, and what to do about it

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, Do you have a reliable source/figure for the total amount of food wasted by Americans?  I read somewhere that up to 40 percent of the food we buy may be thrown away. That means people spend an additional 66 percent on food products they don't/can't actually consume. Most of this "subsidy" goes to food processors, not to mention packaging, transporting, fertilizer, and, of course, agro-corps like Monsanto. Do you know if those figures are accurate? Professor IkeWichita, Kan. Someone has too much food on their plate ...Photo: jbloomA. Dearest Ike, It’s true …

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Forget farmers markets — I want to sell my pastured meat at Price Chopper

This pastured piggy went to Price Chopper.Photo: Kevin SteeleIt is time to make local passe. It is time to make regional the new local. Enough of farmers markets, CSAs, and direct on-farm sales. Yes, they are exciting -- they feel like they are getting us somewhere. And, to be honest and give them their due, they have gotten us somewhere. The reality, however, is that they will never get us there, whither goest we must if we want to make a change -- real change. I will say it as straight as I can: I want to see my pork …

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Dairy cows frolic in meadow to celebrate spring [VIDEO]

Still trying to keep it positive! One thing that that makes it easier is that spring really has arrived up here in the North Carolina mountains -- it must be 70 degrees, and the arugula we planted a few weeks ago in cold frames is taking off. Evidently, it's spring-time in England, too. I dare you to watch this video and not share the delight of these dairy cows getting their first taste of fresh grass after a long winter being cooped up and eating hay:

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Forget the gloom — new ways of living and organizing our economy are flourishing

Despite a flurry of bad news recently, good things are spouting up.Photo: Judy Merrill-SmithThe last couple of days have been gloomy ones. I kept checking in with the vague and dire reports from the nuclear-power bleeding edge in Japan. For part of the time I was also immersed in a post about truly awful things going on in the U.S. poultry industry. While digging into the industry's routine abuse of farmers and reckless endangering of public health, I was haunted by the thought that these were the folks on whom we're supposed to be counting  to "feed the world" going …