Posts By Desa Philadelphia
Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier admits that when his book The Vertical Farm, Feeding the World in the 21st Century was released, he wasn’t entirely optimistic about the idea catching on immediately. After all, his proposition that cities and towns should develop local, indoor, entirely sustainable, multi-story farms is antithetical to the industrialized, globalized farm practices that became the norm in the last century.
If it were up to The Land Institute, instead of miles upon miles of amber waves of grain the American heartland would look a lot more diverse. The Salina, Kansas research institution promotes agricultural systems that are more in line with the state’s prairies—where different varieties of plants thrive side by side—than with its celebrated monochromatic wheat fields.
The Land Institute was founded in 1976 when Wes Jackson quit his job as chair of California State University-Sacramento’s environmental studies program to return to his native Kansas in order to do practical research on his ideas about alternative, sustainable agricultural methods. Jackson, who has a B.A. in biology, an M.A. in botany and a Ph.D. in genetics is widely considered a visionary in sustainable agriculture circles. He argues that because of the way we have been farming for centuries there is now a “problem of agriculture” meaning that the very way we farm is in question.
Urban Farming (urbanfarming.org), the organization that uses abandoned city lots to grow food for the hungry, was conceived when singer Taja Sevelle, a protégé discovered by Prince, moved to Detroit to record an album for Sony Records. She was devastated by the struggles of the city’s poor, already in the throes of the recession. The food banks couldn’t keep food on the shelves and were appealing for donations. She also noticed that as people fled the city there were more and more empty lots.
Local Dirt (localdirt.com) is a site for suitors. However, instead of matching up locals who are looking for love, it matches up anyone who loves to eat local food with the farmers who are willing to feed them. The service is grounded in research that shows that given the choice people would prefer to eat food grown in their own community (even more than they would prefer to eat organic). And it is driven by the desire to help small farmers market their products without having to rely on the kindness of supermarket chains. “Farmers lose about 40% of their crops because they just can’t sell it,” says Heather Hilleren, who came up with the idea for Local Dirt in a social entrepreneurship course that she took while studying for her MBA. “The local foods movement has finally given me hope for the future of farming.”
Farmers in Iowa who are considering adding new crops to their offerings now have an online tool at their disposal to help them estimate market demand. Using an array of government statistics, the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner estimates the demand for 80 crops in state and in bordering states. The Market Planner, which became available for use last fall, is the result of a collaboration between the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and the Institute for Transportation at ISU.