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Four New Studies Implore Us to Change the Way We Farm

Crazy weather we’ve been having this year: Monster snowstorms across New England, record-breaking freezes in the Midwest, drought, wildfires (in January!), and weirdly hot days in California. For many farmers across the country, and around the world, all this extreme weather—on top of ever-intensifying environmental and economic stresses—is pushing them to their edge. Read more

A Seed Library Grows in the Hudson Valley

There is a lot of talk these days about the need for more new entrants willing to fill in when older farmers retire (the average age of farmers in this country is 57 years old). But there has not been much discussion about rebuilding the support system, from infrastructure to community, that will keep those young farmers on the land.

The Hudson Valley Seed Library is an example of an effort that does both of these things–building community by supporting member-growers, employing local artists who design their seed packages, and holding events–like an art opening for this year’s “Art Pack” designs taking place at the Horticultural Society of New York this Thursday evening (more info below)–as well as providing a service to local growers: regionally adapted seeds. I spoke to Ken Greene this week about their work. Read more

Development Threatens One of World’s Oldest Fruit Seed Collections

As droughts threaten the wheat harvest in Russia, resulting in a ban on exports there this year that is driving up prices abroad, something entirely different now threatens one of the world’s most extensive collection of fruits and berries at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, a seed bank 19 miles southeast of St. Petersburg: development.

Perhaps one of the oldest in the world, the seed bank was started 84 years ago by Nikolai Vavilov, who died of starvation in one of Joseph Stalin’s labor camps in 1943. His seed bank was famously guarded by 12 scientists who eventually starved to death during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, despite the fact that they were surrounded by edible seeds. Now, a court will decide on Wednesday if the “priceless” collection of 4,000 varieties from all over the world–which includes 1,000 types of strawberries, and 100 varieties each of raspberries, gooseberries and cherries–will be handed over to the Russian Housing Development Foundation to be cleared for housing. Read more

CITES, Biodiversity Loss and the Culprit: Intensive Fishing and Farming

Governments from 175 nations are gathered in Doha, Qatar this week to discuss the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). High up on the agenda is a potential trade ban on bluefin tuna, supported by both the US and Europe, which would allow time for the species to recover before it can be traded again. Japan, where bluefin is a delicacy and where 80% of the fish is consumed, is strongly opposed to the move — despite convincing scientific evidence that the species is nearing collapse.

According to Charles Clover, journalist and author of the book The End of the Line, the Japanese press has arrived in Doha en masse, and “have been placing stories saying that the attempt to ban international trade in the bluefin is an attack on the Japanese custom of eating fish.” Yesterday’s report from Clover indicated that an Appendix II listing for bluefin is in discussion, which he says would equal “business as usual.” The film version of The End of the Line (reviewed here on Civil Eats) gave photographic evidence of the shady deals surrounding bluefin, including the fact that the Japanese company Mitsubishi is currently stockpiling the fish and now controls 60% of the trade.

While the bluefin has become a hot topic due to its sought after flesh, many endangered species get regularly ignored — even though we are currently seeing a “sixth great extinction” — one of the largest losses of biodiversity since the disappearance of the dinosaurs, according to Harvard biologist and two-time Pulizer prize-winner E. O. Wilson. Read more

Evaluating the Legacy of the Father of the Green Revolution

Norman Borlaug — best known for winning the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his role in the Green Revolution (the transformation of agriculture to an industrial, monocropped system, which increased the amount of food being produced in Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and elsewhere) — died this past weekend at age 95.

Borlaug’s life was dedicated to ending hunger through technology, and increasing yields was his single-minded aim. Though I do not doubt his sincerity in seeking to prevent famine, what he failed to recognize was that hunger did not persist because of a lack of food. That in fact, the root of hunger issues in the world have had more to do with a lack of equal food distribution. (As the BBC recently reported, elimination of food waste alone in the UK and the US could lift 1 billion people out of hunger if that food were instead better distributed.) Technology brings with it both bad and good; and in fact, climate change could be the worst end result of our dalliance with it. But in believing that somehow technology will only perfect us, we’ve stayed in denial about the potential for technology to also destroy us, whether quick (think atomic bomb) or more subtle — through the destruction over time of our soil. Read more

(VIDEO) A Perspective on Agricultural Sustainability: A Farm for the Future

Oil is history, and food as it is currently produced and eaten is going the way of the dinosaurs, too. So what are our real options for producing food to feed our population? A great one hour film called A Farm for the Future from the BBC seeks to answer this very question by investigating some of the methods for making real sustainable changes to a livestock farm in Devon, England belonging to the narrator of the film, Rebecca Hosking. There are no easy answers, but she discovers one root of unsustainability on farms is the energy we put into working against nature. While speaking to permaculture expert Patrick Whitefield, she asks if what he is proposing is “to design the energy out, or design the labor out” of the system. To which he replies yes, on both counts. Read more