If you live in the United States, you’re never far from a land-grant university. There are more than 100 of these institutions, which go by names like Texas A&M, Iowa State University and the University of California.
This system of schools was initiated in 1862 with lofty goals in mind—elevating agriculture to the realm of science, offering the common citizen access to higher education, and pursuing research that helps farmers improve their fields and fatten their hens. The program was a major success, providing invaluable research that was freely shared with farmers, which revolutionized American agriculture.
Unfortunately, today these public institutions are increasingly serving private interests, not the public good. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now flowing from corporate agribusiness into the land-grant university to sponsor buildings, endow professorships and pay for research. One land-grant university, South Dakota State, is headed by a man who sits on Monsanto’s board of directors. Read more
I bought a cider press at an auction last week. I am really excited to make apple cider this fall. The last two years, I had a bumper crop of apples. That sounds like gallons and gallons of cider to me.
But now I am wondering if I should put the cider press back up for sale. You see, my apple trees were in full bloom before the end of March when temperatures hit 90 degrees.
Then it dipped to 27 degrees earlier this week. A handy chart I found warns that fruit loss begins at 28 degrees, and if it hits 25 degrees, a near total loss occurs.
A lot of people are talking about the strange weather this spring. Come to think of it, a lot of people were talking about the weather last spring too. Read more
The content of “On The Future of Food” (a speech given in May of 2011 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at Georgetown University and recently published by Rodale Press) shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Prince or sustainable agriculture. The two have been connected since at least 1985, when HRH converted his farmland to organic, wildlife-friendly practices. In contrast to other monarchs and heads of state, the Prince has also been an advocate of sustainable practices for commercial operations and has long stood out as a critic of industrial agriculture. That he is so personally knowledgeable on the subject—as well as being in a position to influence discourse and policy at such a high level—gives him some clout to tell us what is wrong in the food system and what can be done about it.
The newly published version of his speech is a good book for someone who hasn’t yet heard: Our current industrial food system is failing us and the planet. The Prince shows the irony that “an industrialized system, deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatment, is promoted as viable, while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as unfit.” He also addresses the irony of obesity and hunger, two sides of the same dysfunction. He makes the usual case for the depth of the problem and the urgency of change and shares some reasonable solutions. Read more
Last spring, right on the heels of one of the biggest events in his life, his son’s wedding–and with the eyes of the world upon his family–Prince Charles came to the United States to deliver a speech at Georgetown University about the future of food.
There’s nothing like sitting in an audience and getting goose bumps listening to a great visionary tell it the way it is. They say lightening doesn’t strike twice, but when I heard Prince Charles’s speech that day, I felt the same kind of jolt I got the first time I saw Al Gore’s slide show on global warming. Gore’s power point stood out because it was the clearest, most concise explanation of our climate crisis I had ever heard.
Now, another elder statesman, Prince Charles, is boldly speaking out about another crisis that we urgently need to address. With eloquent words, clarity and heartfelt passion, the prince explained, what’s gone so terribly wrong with our food chain–and what we can do to make it right. Read more
A new article in the respected journal BioScience raises important concerns about the harmful influence of genetically engineered herbicide resistant crops on sustainable weed control. As many others have also noted, the excessive reliance on glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, has resulted in the emergence and spread of many harmful weeds that can no longer be controlled by glyphosate. These weeds now infest millions of acres of farmland the U.S., resulting in greater herbicide use.
But the new article goes well beyond most previous work by providing insight into the state of weed control for major crops in the U.S., and how the current use of engineered herbicide resistant crops is driving agriculture toward reduced sustainability. Read more
Scores of books depict farms as little slices of heaven on earth, where venison is smoked and butter is churned, and things seem perfect. But today’s farmers are far from unrealistic dreamers, longing for a Little House on the Prairie-esque pastoral ideal. They’re socially conscious doers. And when asked about books that inspire them, they cite writings that are practical, at times poetic, and that beckon them to rescue the land.
Here are some of the books that farmers are reading and getting inspiration from today. Read more
When he was seven years old, Malik Yakini, inspired by his grandfather, planted his own backyard garden in Detroit, seeding it with carrots and other vegetables. Should it come as any surprise that today, Yakini has made urban farming his vocation? The Executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), which he co-founded in 2006, he is also chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which advocates for a sustainable, localized food system and a food-secure Detroit.
It’s well known that Detroit has been hard hit by the economic crisis—its unemployment rate is a staggering 28 percent—but it also has one of the most well-developed urban agriculture scenes in the country. Over the past decade, resourceful Detroiters and organizations such as DBCFSN have been converting the city’s vacant lots and fallow land into lush farms and community gardens. According to the Greening of Detroit, there are now over 1,351 gardens in the city.
I spoke to Yakini, one of the leaders of Detroit’s vibrant food justice movement, about the problem with the term “food desert,” how Detroit vegans survive the winter, and what the DBCFSN is doing to change the food landscape in Detroit. “We’re really making an effort to reach beyond the foodies—to get to the common folk who are not really involved in food system reform,” says Yakini. Read more
A new report highlights scientific research and empirical experiences from around the globe demonstrating that genetically modified (GM) seeds and crops have failed to deliver on its advertised promises.
Advocates of GMOs claim that biotechnology increases yields, reduces chemical usage, controls crop pests and weeds, and delivers “climate ready” traits such as drought-tolerance. However, the on-the-ground experience in many countries discloses that this technology has failed on all fronts. Read more
In December of 2010, I bought the farm.
Clearly I mean this in the literal, not euphemistic, sense. (Although I’ve spent some time pondering why the phrase “bought the farm” means “to die,” but I digress.)
According to the legal survey, my farm is “12 acres, more or less,” meaning the surveyor measured off 12.006 acres and called it good. It has a cute farmhouse that I love living in, six strong outbuildings, a grove of trees on the north and west sides, and 4.6 acres of ground formerly planted in a corn-soybean rotation that now has grass seeds sprouting in it.
I live in northeast Nebraska, where a “farm” is usually much bigger than 12 acres, and a “farmer” is typically a 59-year-old white man who grows corn and soybeans and/or raises cattle for a living. Folks around here would call my place “an acreage.” But I aim to grow enough food to feed myself and others in my community. Isn’t that what a farm does? I’m calling it a farm, even if there are those who would object. Read more
The U.C. Santa Cruz Farm & Garden Apprenticeship changed my life. In the winter of 2005, I was burning the candle at both ends and burning myself out. I was working too hard, moving too fast, and my doctor had warned me that I was at risk of chronic fatigue. Then, that spring, I found myself living on an organic farm perched above the waters of Monterey Bay. Before I moved to the farm, my to-do list as an environmental campaigner had been packed with conference calls, protest organizing, and press conferences. After arriving at the farm, my biggest priorities became keeping the onions free of weeds, thinning the young fruits on the apple trees, and waking up early to cook for 35 other aspiring farmers.
The switch blew my mind. As I worked in the fields and the orchards I could suddenly see the myriad interconnections that knit together a farming ecosystem; ecology went from an abstraction to a visceral reality. Perhaps more important, living with a few dozen other industrial society dissidents gave me a new appreciation for the ideals of solidarity and the practice of community. The time I spent at the UCSC Farm & Garden deepened my hope that farming, done right, could help heal a battered environment and perhaps even remedy some of the world’s injustices.
So I was horrified when I learned last month that, due in part to state and federal budget cutbacks, the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture (as it’s formally called) may be forced to double its tuition—a move that would put this invaluable program beyond the reach of many people and set back efforts to educate a new generation of organic farmers.