Matthew Dillon learned a tough lesson about seeds early in his career. Dillon was the executive director of the Abundant Life Seed Foundation at the time. The former organic farmer says he had become “obsessed with heirloom conservation and the importance of conserving genetic diversity,” and had spent time building the Foundation’s seed bank. Then one day, Abundant Life’s office—and seeds—was ruined in a fire. Over 5,000 rare plant varieties went up in smoke. Read more
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When it comes to growing strawberries, Farm Fuel, Inc., a Watsonville, California-based company, is on the cutting edge.
The company grows wild and domesticated mustard and lightly processes the harvest into mustard meal, a soil amendment. They also work with farmers on a technique called Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD). This precise farming technique involves applying a combination of water and carbon-rich material (think rice bran, grape pomace, mustard meal, and molasses), and then wrapping the soil in plastic. Under the plastic, the ingredients combine to create anaerobic conditions.
The idea with both of these approaches is to kill the organisms that cause the long list of diseases that plague strawberry farmers–without pesticides or fumigants (a form of pesticide that treats the soil before anything is even planted). Why the search for alternatives? Read more
Industrial agriculture has huge, unsustainable impacts on our environment. And while organic and other ecologically based farming systems (agroecology) have huge benefits, some have suggested that it will never produce enough food. Production is only one of the challenges for food security. But, according to new research, even by this measure, critics seem to have substantially underestimated the productivity of organic farming. Read more
Conventional farming usually gets a bad climate rap. That’s because, in one way or another, food production accounts for up to a third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Some seep directly from agricultural soils, but others stem from transportation, farm machinery, and the substantial carbon footprints of synthetic fertilizers and other inputs. These indirect emissions add to the environmental impacts of staple crops like corn and wheat, oft-vilified grains that feed much of the world’s population.
But a new paper, published today in the journal Nature Communications, offers a slice of good news. The study found that a combination of a few basic farming practices boosted wheat production and put heaps of carbon back into the soil–more than enough to compensate for the GHGs emitted in the process of growing it. Read more
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard about the human microbiome.
Research into the galaxy of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that–when we’re healthy–live in symbiotic balance in and on our bodies has become one of the most intriguing fields of scientific study. But it turns out that plants have a microbiome too—and it’s just as important and exciting as ours. Read more
Editor’s note: The following post comes to you from the creators of Gastropod, the new podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before refrigerators, before long-distance trucks and ships. Most people had to survive on food from their immediate surroundings, no matter how poor the soil or challenging the terrain. They couldn’t import apples from New Zealand and potatoes from Peru, or rely on chemical fertilizer to boost their yields. Read more
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are often sold to farmers and the public on the grounds that they are the wave of the future, taking over where conventional plant breeding left off by improving productivity and sustainability. But that might be changing. Read more
Ricardo Sangüesa, a small avocado farmer, is staring out over a dry, cracked landscape. But he’s not in California; he’s in the Ligua Valley, in central Chile. Stray dogs wander through the empty Ligua riverbed, which is littered with trash. The only green he can see are the avocado trees, which grow in green squares that form a peculiar patchwork along the sides of the valley. According to Sangüesa, the river has been drained to feed the trees.
“Because they’re overexploiting the water by throwing it at the hills, the river has dried up,” he explains. “It’s as if someone used a paper towel to suck up the river.” Read more
Amidst heated discussions of global policy change, greenhouse gases, and emissions caps, food and farming–and the impact they are having on our changing climate—were also in the spotlight. After all, agriculture is one of largest contributors of human-caused emissions. Read more
Every fall, Paul Dinberg builds a kind of thatch-roofed hut on his 10-acre farm in Ridgefield, Washington. This “sukkah,” a ceremonial structure Jews are commanded to construct and (for the very observant) live in for the holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the Israelites’ 40 years of desert-wandering. But sukkahs also have agricultural roots, possibly harking back to temporary structures ancient Jewish farmers would live in during harvest time. For a modern-day Jewish farmer like Dinberg, that gives Sukkot—which begins at sundown October 8 this year—special meaning. “We observe all the different festivals, but as a family, Sukkot is our favorite,” he says. “What gives me satisfaction is the connection to the agricultural cycle.” Read more