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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Nile Valley Aquaponics Aims to Bring 100,000 Pounds of Wholesome Nutrition to a Food Desert

July 21, 2016 |
Dre Taylor (center) giving a tour of Nile Valley Aquaponics. (Photo courtesy of Males to Men)

Dre Taylor (center in white shirt) giving a tour of Nile Valley Aquaponics. (Photo courtesy of Males to Men)

In a neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, blighted by crime and lack of economic opportunity, a transformation is taking place. A vacant lot less than an acre in size has been cleared and a greenhouse has been built that will house a self-sustaining aquaponics system. Already growing on the property are basil, thyme, parsley, a variety of leafy greens as well as tomatoes, onions, and peppers – all using home compost and with no added chemicals.

Dre Taylor, the founder of Males to Men, is the entrepreneur behind the Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 Pounds Food Project that aims to bring fresh, chemical-free, healthy food to a neighborhood that is considered a food desert. When asked what led him to become an urban farmer, Taylor doesn’t hesitate, “I became an urban farmer because I wanted to be self-sufficient.” Read More

$2 Million in Grants for Urban Agriculture Projects Awarded to 42 Conservation Districts in US

July 20, 2016 |
Seeds@City Urban Farm, located in downtown San Diego, serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for the sustainable urban agriculture program at San Diego City College. (photo courtesy Damian Valdez/Seeds@City Urban Farm)

Seeds@City Urban Farm, located in downtown San Diego, serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for the sustainable urban agriculture program at San Diego City College. (photo courtesy Damian Valdez/Seeds@City Urban Farm)

News Release – The National Association of Conservation Districts, in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, has awarded $2 million in grants to 42 conservation districts in 25 states to boost technical assistance capacity for urban agriculture and conservation projects.

“NACD and the conservation districts we represent work on a scale that no other conservation organization or coalition does,” NACD President Lee McDaniel told an audience of conservation leaders in Minneapolis on Sunday. “We have the reach we need to engage the 98 percent of folks who don’t necessarily produce our fuel, fiber, and food, but still can make a sizable and positive difference on the landscape.”

“With today’s announcement, NACD is broadening its base and the base of support for conservation in this country. We are going to reward, support, and encourage conservation implemented on every landscape.” Read More

Women in Food: Shavel’le Olivier Uses Power of Connection to Engage Youth in Improving Food Access

July 20, 2016 |
Shavel'le Olivier (in glasses), leader of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth with the group's Mobile Market team. (Photo courtesy of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition)

Shavel’le Olivier (in glasses), leader of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth with the group’s Mobile Market team. (Photo courtesy of Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition)

On the streets of a Boston, MA neighborhood where one grocery store was vastly outnumbered by fast-food venues, and health reports consistently revealed staggering numbers of chronic disease cases, 17-year-old Shavel’le Olivier sought to become a force for change.

Now, seven years later, Olivier leads the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition Vigorous Youth group, a thriving youth organization that is working to increase food access and improve health outcomes in the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan.

“Our mobile farmer’s market is totally youth-led, and we’ve brought our farm stand to the bus station, the local health center and senior residences,” says Olivier. “We started Mattapan on Wheels. We are about to begin Mattapan Flavors. We’re always asking, ‘What can we do now?’” Read More

Pedal-power and Precision Revolutionize Food Rescue in Boulder

July 19, 2016 |
Boulder Food Rescue makes pickups from grocery stores and restaurants seven days per week and in all weather conditions in order to keep food from falling through the cracks. Photo credit: One Thousand Designs

Boulder Food Rescue makes pickups from grocery stores and restaurants seven days per week and in all weather conditions in order to keep food from falling through the cracks. Photo credit: Ethan Welty

When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.

On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with  local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate.  As the study had already shown, timing was key. Read More

Urban Agriculture Fair Celebrates Growing ‘Hyper Local’ Food Movement

July 18, 2016 |
envision urban agriculture fair san diego food systems alliance

On Saturday July 30th, San Diego Food System Alliance will be hosting an Envision Urban Agriculture Fair from 1:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. to support the local food movement and celebrate the City of San Diego’s implementation of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551).

SAN DIEGO, CA – On Saturday July 30th, San Diego Food System Alliance, Slow Food Urban San Diego, International Rescue Committee, and Alchemy San Diego will be hosting an Envision Urban Agriculture Fair from 1:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. to support the local food movement and celebrate the City of San Diego’s implementation of Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551). The Fair will include an urban farmers market, heirloom seed swap, healthy cooking demos by chefs, soil corner with composting demos, local kombucha and beer, local organic food makers, workshops including beekeeping, resources for growers by nonprofits and nurseries, small farm animals, crafts for kids, and live music. The sponsors for the Fair includes Urban Plantations and UCSD.

Envision Urban Agriculture Fair will be held at SILO – MAKERS QUARTER™, an outdoor venue in East Village with several vacant lots nearby. The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Ordinance (AB 551), recently ok-ed by the City Council in the City of San Diego, will provide a property tax incentive for private landowners to turn their vacant lots into urban farms and community gardens. In the City of San Diego, it is estimated that there are at least 3,000 vacant lots that are eligible for this tax incentive.   Read More

5 Innovative Urban Home Growing Systems for the Apartment Gardener

July 14, 2016 |
IKEA is introducing hydroponic indoor gardening kits for the urban dweller.

IKEA is introducing hydroponic indoor gardening kits for the urban dweller.

Home gardening continues to grow in popularity across the country in tow with the rise of local food movement. According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, an increase of over 17% in the past five years. However, with 63% of the American population living in cities that comprise only 3.5% of the country’s land area, many urban apartment dwellers with growing proclivities often lack access to land on which to plant even a micro garden, and have difficulty obtaining plots in crowded and oversubscribed community gardens. Fortunately, the growing challenges of apartment-dwellers haven’t gone unnoticed by urban gardening entrepreneurs, who have created a number of innovative growing systems to help city dwellers and micro-gardeners in almost any location grow their own produce. Here’s a list of five urban home growing systems worth checking out.
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Aquaponics Startup Serves Up Rainbow Trout with Side of Veggies

July 13, 2016 |
Redemption Fish Company in Salem, MA is a budding aquaponics business raising fish and produce to stem the tide of collapsing fisheries in New England. Photo courtesy of Andy Davenport.

A view of one of Redemption Fish Company’s young aquaponics tanks. The Salem, MA based company is a budding aquaponics business raising fish and produce to stem the tide of collapsing fisheries in New England. Photo courtesy of Andy Davenport.

Selling seafood in New England has never been a problem. But with local fish populations collapsing, and the appetite for seafood remaining the same, providing fish to sell is becoming more dire than most people may realize.

“Living in New England, we are assailed with seafood left and right—it is a humongous part of the culture up here—and a delicious one at that,”  Redemption Fish Company co-founder Andy Davenport says. “With the constant pressure on the oceans and recent restrictions on fishing, such as the Cod populations in the Gulf of Maine, we figured we would help lighten the load and provide people a local option to [help] the hurting oceans and the current farmed fish option that’s from hundreds of miles away.”

To be clear, Davenport and his business partner Colin Davis aren’t your typical New England fisherman. They met as roommates in Cambridge, Massachusetts while Davenport was working in the biotech industry and Davis ran a farm-to-table grocery business. With their backgrounds, it may make sense that aquaponics was a natural outgrowth of their friendship. Read More

Women in Food: Tessa Edick and FarmOn! Corral Capital For Hudson Valley Ag Programs

July 12, 2016 |
Tessa Edick posing with a copy of her book on the Hudson Valley food system. Edick is the Executive Director of the FarmOn! Foundation, which raises capital to support a variety of food system-building projects in New York's Hudson Valley. Photo courtesy of FarmOn! Foundation.

Tessa Edick posing with a copy of her book on the Hudson Valley food system. Edick is the Executive Director of the FarmOn! Foundation, which raises capital to support a variety of food system-building projects in New York’s Hudson Valley. Photo courtesy of FarmOn! Foundation.

When Tessa Edick was a young girl, she spent visits to her grandmother’s dairy farm in upstate New York pining over a big city life in which she would have her own elegant law office and manicured, dirt-free fingernails.

“Honestly, we were broke, and it was just smelly and embarrassing,” she says. “I wanted glamor and success. But a funny thing called life happened.”

As she grew into an ambitious communications professional, Edick found an unlikely synergy between her early farm experiences and her love of boutique culture. Beginning with her own label of specialty jarred sauces–Sauces N’ Love—that ended up selling in 4,000 stores nationally within its first five years, Edick continued to carve out a niche for herself as a food product development pro. She created lines for Tom Colicchio, Todd English, and several major retail companies, and in 2010 established her own consulting and development company called Culinary Partnership that offers everything from co-packing to TV production services. Read More

Hydroponics Ideal Teaching Tool for STEM Learning, says Georgia Middle School

July 11, 2016 |
Pine Grove Middle School in Georgia has a robust agriculture program—now, hydroponics will be part of the mix. (photo courtesy Zach Hurley/Pine Grove Middle School)

Pine Grove Middle School in Georgia has a robust agriculture program—now, hydroponics will be part of the mix. (photo courtesy Zach Hurley/Pine Grove Middle School)

Indoor growing and hydroponic agriculture is not just for adults. So says Pine Grove Middle School in Valdosta, Georgia, which began construction on a new hydroponics learning laboratory for its students this past march.

One of the primary reasons for the new facility is the school’s desire to become STEM-certified.

STEM-certified schools are recognized by the Georgia Department of Education as offering top-level education in science, technology, engineering and math. Because hands-on learning is seen as vital for this type of education, Pine Grove Middle School decided that hydroponics is an ideal teaching tool.

The school is funding the hydroponics learning laboratory with a $700,000 ‘Boosting Learning Through Authentic STEM Learning’ grant that was awarded by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Georgia Innovation Fund. Read More

Yes, Cattle Do Still Roam the Rolling Pastures of Orange County, CA

July 7, 2016 |
Frank Fitzpatrick, owner of Silverdo, CA-based 5 Bar Beef overseeing his herd of pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle. Photo courtesy of 5 Bar Beef.

Frank Fitzpatrick, owner of Silverado, CA-based 5 Bar Beef overseeing his herd of pasture-raised, grass-fed cattle. Photo courtesy of 5 Bar Beef.

Today, amidst the urban sprawl and paved over groves and ranches of yore, Orange County, CA residents might be surprised to learn that it is still possible to find cattle happily nibbling on grass and grazing the rolling pastures of 5 Bar Beef, a Silverado, CA-based ranching operation located in the Santa Ana Mountains. Residents can purchase 5 Bar Beef’s grass-fed, pasture-raised beef at several farmers’ markets in the county and online.

5 Bar Beef is something of a throwback, but the sustainable holistic grazing practices in use on the 800-acre ranch are entirely evidence-based — and Frank Fitzpatrick, owner and head cowboy in charge, believes that the techniques he uses offer hope for California’s water crisis and the planet at large. Read More