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Gardening Behind Bars: San Quentin’s First Harvest

Eric Davis remembers the first time he saw the flower garden at San Quentin prison. “It [was] the only green thing in the yard,” he recalls.

Last fall, the Insight Garden Program (IGP) and Oakland community gardening nonprofit Planting Justice added a little more green. An organic vegetable garden joined the flowers that were planted in 2003. And this month, the vegetable garden will have its first harvest. Read more

In Memory of John Kinsman

John Kinsman, a dairy farmer and loving husband and father from the hilly Driftless region of Wisconsin was an unlikely and unassuming giant in the global struggle for justice and food sovereignty. But a giant he was, touching the lives of countless people around the world in his 87 years of farming, protesting, strategizing and building relationships and solidarity. John died peacefully Monday at 87, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, surrounded by family on his farm. Read more

MESA: Multicultural Exchange Program for Farmers

Lauren Augusta realized the need for sustainable agriculture exchange while working at a conventional agriculture training program, where she observed the detrimental effects of agrochemicals on the land and farmers’ health. “I loved the idea of cross-cultural exchange, but I ultimately couldn’t defend the agricultural model my old program promoted,” she says. “I was increasingly alarmed by the unjust and disconnected farming practices I witnessed.” Read more

Farm Protesters Land Seized Back by UC Berkeley

The newly established farm on UC Berkeley-owned Gill Tract will soon be empty. At the time of this writing, it is surrounded by riot police from at least 8 different UC Campus police forces. Nine have been arrested. This is the end to a standoff that began on Friday, when the police blocked farmers from entering or leaving, forcing supporters to toss food and water over the fence. In addition, the UC has filed suit against 14 individuals and 150 additional unnamed persons.

The farm began with a celebration of life, the planet and the people’s right help determine the fate of a place owned by a state-supported institution. Three weeks ago on, Earth Day, a group of 200 volunteers occupied the Gill Tract. The multi-generational crew planted two acres of vegetables, including a children’s garden, and began to offer workshops on sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. A small encampment sprang up, but organizers insisted it be limited only to those doing the everyday work of maintaining the farm.

The land in question is a 10-acre parcel that comprises the last remaining class 1 agricultural soil in the East Bay. Despite years of community action favoring the creation of a research site specializing in urban and organic agriculture, the land is slated to be sold for development.  Read more

Did Climate Change Drink My Apple Cider?

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 Prince’s Speech: A Love Poem to the Future

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

Kitchen Table Talks: Dairy Farmers Squeezed to Utter Extremes

Perhaps no one represented the American work ethic more than the dairy farmer. Early morning hours and hard physical labor, often conducted in solitude while ankle deep in muck. Families working together to get the job done. They have long proudly supplied a demand for their community, and like most farmers, are clearly not in it for the money.

Today however, the American dairy farmer also represents the frustration and economic hardship evident across our nation. Increasing volatility in the price of milk paid to farmers, higher feed costs, corporate consolidation in the supply chain, organic milk farms scaling up, and questionable government policies all have farmers shedding a few tears. The life is so unappealing that the number of American families remaining in milk farming has plummeted from roughly 165,000 20 years ago, to less than 50,000 today. Read more

Farmers Talk About the Books that Inspire Them

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

Malik Yakini of Detroit’s Black Community Food Security Network

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

In Nebraska, On The Farm

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