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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Posts By Helen Weatherall

Trust for Public Land Forays into Boston Urban Agriculture Land Deals

April 8, 2014 |
Residents of the Dudley neighborhood participate in a raised bed community garden build day at the DNI Community Land Trust. Photo courtesy of Dudley Neighborhood Inc.

Residents of the Dudley neighborhood participate in a raised bed community garden build day at the DNI Community Land Trust. Photo courtesy of Dudley Neighborhood Inc.

It is said it takes a village to raise a child. And what does it take to raise a commercial crop of leafy greens on a vacant lot in Boston? A different kind of village—one that includes experts practiced in the art of land tenure.

By bringing together such experts,  the Trust for Public Land is helping to facilitate urban agriculture in the City of Boston. Back in 1972, the organization’s founder, Huey Johnson, recognized that negotiating land deals calls for expertise in law, real estate and finance.  The trick to open space preservation, as he saw it, was to employ the strategies of modern business.  Forty some odd years later, TPL has seen through over 5,300 parks and conservation projects in the majority of the nation’s states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Read More

Croatian Startup Offers Cloud-based, Data-driven Dairy Farming Tool

March 28, 2014 |
Farmeron co-founder Matija Kopic (left) with fourth generation farmer and rancher Jeff Fowle of Etna, California (photo by Dave Saunders Director of Sales and Business Development, Farmeron)

Farmeron co-founder Matija Kopic (left) with fourth generation farmer and rancher Jeff Fowle of Etna, California (photo by Dave Saunders Director of Sales and Business Development, Farmeron)

Years of observing and assisting his father on his family’s farm in Croatia informed Matija Kopic about the intricacies of running a dairy farm.  The problem Kopic identified is not a shortage of data, dedication or diligence – but time.  After leaving the farm and gaining information technology expertise, Kopic set out to remedy the problem with powerful software and a start-up he named Farmeron.

Founded in Osijek, Croatia, the capital of the country’s well-known farming region Slavonia, Farmeron is a cloud-based comprehensive management tool for dairy farmers.

Farmeron’s American presence includes a headquarters in Palo Alto, California and offices in Columbus, Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota, with plans to expand into the southeast and southwest. Read More

City of Boston Adopts Urban Ag Zoning Ordinance, Seeks to Build Equitable Farming Community

March 14, 2014 |
Boston urban agriculture enterprise Higher Ground is now raising crops on Boston rooftops. Credit: Higher Ground staff

Boston urban agriculture enterprise Higher Ground is now raising crops on Boston rooftops.
Credit: Higher Ground staff

“Farming” may not be the first word that comes to mind when people think of Boston, but with December’s passage of Article 89, a new ordinance legalizing for-profit urban agriculture in the city limits, that may soon change.

This is how Edith Murnane, Boston’s Director of Food Initiatives would have it.  Appointed in 2010 by former mayor Menino, Murnane’s responsibility is to increase access to healthy and affordable food, expand Boston’s local food production, and build a strong local food economy.

“We want to make sure that all boot-strapper farmers that have one, maybe two nickels to rub together can participate,” says Murnane. Read More

Startup Converts Former Twin City Brewery Building to Aquaponic Facility

January 24, 2014 |
Fed by nutrients provided by cultivated tilapia, a crop of parsley thrives.  Photo by Fred Haberman

Fed by nutrients provided by cultivated tilapia, a crop of parsley thrives.
Photo by Fred Haberman

As perhaps much does in Minnesota in the wintertime, the aquaponics start-up Urban Organics began with ice.

Pond ice, that is.

That’s because Fred Haberman, a public relations expert, dedicated social entrepreneur, and founder of The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships got to talking with his “ice man,” David Haider.

It came to light that the two had a common dream: to bring farms to the Twin Cities’ food deserts.

Read More

Nonprofit Combats Poverty in Orphanages by Teaching Aquaponics, Food Preservation

January 14, 2014 |
: A view of an aquaponics facility in Mexico built with help from Aquaponics & Earth (photo taken by Teresa  Musser)

: A view of an aquaponics facility in Mexico built with help from Aquaponics & Earth (photo taken by Teresa
Musser)

In 1979, John Musser embarked on an expedition into the rugged far reaches of America’s southern neighbor to visit Mexican orphanages, where he witnessed both hungry children and food waste.

Upon his return, Musser founded the Texas-based non-profit Aquaponics & Earth and stepped up to the challenge of helping orphans in Mexico and across the world secure adequate nutrition. Through hardware and education, Musser’s organization enables orphanages to become self-sustaining, freeing themselves from dependence on food aid. Read More

Enterprising Brothers Build ‘Rowbot-ic’ Delivery System to Stem Nitrogen Waste In Corn Production

December 12, 2013 |
Image Credit: Rowbot

Image Credit: Rowbot

With each passing year, 100 million acres of corn are sown in the United States. As these acres are fertilized, an estimated 50 percent of the nitrogen applied is wasted due to runoff and other factors, so that half of the hefty sum spent annually by corn farmers to feed their fields might as well be poured down a drain or tossed to the wind.

The enormous scale and consequence of this waste is what motivated a team of three very bright brothers with expertise in environmental science, dairy farming and robotics to devise a solution called “Rowbot.” Read More

Spanish Lit Scholar, Extreme Adventurer Turns Thin Layer of Topsoil into Thriving Four Season Farm

February 28, 2013 |

Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Maine. Photo Credit: Four Season Farm.

Nothing is impossible - so says a rock climber with his head pitched back staring up an ugly face of granite, a kayaker caught in a squall, a skier pointing tips down a sheet of black ice – or a man who has done all of this and then taken up farming Down East where topsoil is barely deeper than the pine pollen on windowsills in May. After chasing adventure in the guise of a Spanish literature scholar with a taste for Chilean deep powder, cliffs and white water, Eliot Coleman got himself some acreage.

Of course a lot happened in between, but the story of Four Season Farm and how it came to be began with Coleman turning his quest for adventure away from situational adrenaline surges to another sort of challenge: to extract sugar carrots from a fir wood rooted on ledge.

It was late 1960’s when Coleman came back down to earth. A decade earlier the back-to-the-land how-to book, ‘Living the Good Life’, by Helen and Scott Nearing had emerged and became something of a bible among the younger set. Read More

Competition from the North Pushes Resourceful Rhode Island Hydroponic Farmer to Downsize and Diversify

February 8, 2013 |

A show of the diverse products offered by Absalona Greenhouse, a hydroponic farm based in Chepachet, Rhode Island. Photo Credit: Mark Phillips.

A job done right looks easy. Likewise Swiss chard that has celebrated five birthdays and boasts a girth of six inches looks normal at Mark Phillips’ Absalona Greenhouse Farm in Chepachet, Rhode Island. Twenty years now in the business of hydroponic farming, Phillips has mastered the art of soil-free growing. Of his accumulated knowledge what he didn’t learn from his plants themselves he mostly learned from listening to his gut rather than to opinions of others.

“I fell into it. I didn’t think I was going to work for myself,” said Phillips who earned an environmental studies degree in college. Unbeknownst to him his career was set in motion the day he took a job at a greenhouse the summer after graduating. But he took to the work and in 1990 decided to go into business for himself. Read More