Sustainable Farming

Locavore

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 …

Sustainable Food

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, …

Locavore

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 …

Organic matters

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 …

Pastured paradoxes

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 …

China's ordering take-out

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 …

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.

Getting sappy

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 …

Choice nuggets

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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