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
From the United Nations Climate Summit to the People’s Climate March and the accompanying Flood Wall Street action, all eyes have been on the climate this week.
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
Editor’s note: This is the first in a multipart series about the connections between faith and farming.
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
Ben McLean is oddly optimistic for someone fighting, daily, to save his company. The Florida farmer and vice president of Uncle Matt’s Organic says he has seen the fruit on around a third of his citrus trees turn green, hard, and inedible. Read more
In the summer of 1970, a group of friends followed an old stagecoach road into the woods of California’s Gold Country. They were hunting for mining relics and pioneer oddities hidden in the forest, but what they found was even more rare: antique fruit trees.
There, perched 5,000 feet in the Sierras, was a thriving fruit orchard, branches heavy with rare varieties of apples, plums, cherries, and pears. Without pruning or pesticides, the trees had been alive since the Gold Rush—a far cry from the commercial fruit trees of today, which last fewer than 35 years. Read more
Whenever we go to the farmers’ market together, my husband and I disagree about whether we should buy the pricey certified organic berries (my husband’s vote) or the less expensive ones grown without certification, but described by the farm as “sustainably produced.” If I look deep into a farmer’s eyes and she tells me that her fruit is “no-spray,” I’ll buy her berries, saving almost a buck a pint. (After all, the strawberries we grow in our own backyard are not certified organic, but I feel good about eating them.)
Lately I’ve been wondering–is my husband right, or is no-spray enough? And what about the assertion—sometimes made by conventional growers—that certified organic farms use pesticides too? Read more