In the opening scene of the film After Winter, Spring a French farmer name Guy spots the stony edges of an ancient farm tool peeking up through the ground in his field. He holds the tool in his hand, proof that people have cultivated the Périgord region in southwest France for more than 4000 years.
“That does something to you, to know we’re a speck of dust to all that has come before,” he says.
Last fall, after wondering for years about whether I should buy produce from farmers who claim that they are “organic, but not certified,” I dug into some big questions about certification. That process led me to explore many other seemingly respectable food labels that—while much less popular than organic—seemed to offer a similar, if slightly different level of transparency between eaters and farmers. Read more
Eastern Washington is commodity wheat country; over 2 million acres of the grain grow in the state each year. Although researchers and farmers continue to explore alternative crops, today’s soft white wheat is remarkably easy and cheap to grow in this arid region.
Over a decade ago, however, two small Washington farms began embracing diverse varieties of wheat, growing hulled ancestors including spelt, emmer, and einkorn, collectively called farro. It’s often difficult to create demand for an unfamiliar crop—and these two farms took different, yet equally successful, approaches. Read more
Last fall, the Culinary Breeding Network organized the first-ever Variety Showcase in Portland, Oregon, an event that brought together plant breeders, seed growers, farmers, produce buyers, culinary educators, and some of the city’s best chefs to taste and evaluate the most exciting new open-pollinated vegetable crops being grown in the Pacific Northwest. It’s tempting to dismiss a bunch of chefs swooning over exotic carrots as a farm to table cliché, but the event refocused attention on the most fundamental aspect of farming and cuisine: the seed.
Few farms save their own seeds. Most rely on a few major seed companies that control the majority of seed production in North America. Historically, the development of new seed varieties was a core public service offered by land-grant universities with strong ties to local communities. Read more
These days, consumers expect organic food manufacturers to pay close attention to how ingredients are sourced. But, one company has taken the process a step further. Nature’s Path, the British Columbia-based organic cereal manufacturer, has kicked off an innovative crop-sharing model with local farmers by purchasing 5,640 combined acres of farmland in Canada and northern Montana. Read more
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
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