Posts By Jeremy Ogul
From red, white, orange, yellow and purple rainbow carrots to Persian mulberries, some of the most unusual and tasty produce varieties found in Southern California’s famed farmers markets are sustainably grown by Weiser Family Farms. Alex Weiser, President at California-based Wieser Family Farms, said the very success of the farm depends in large part on the sustainable practices that it employs.
In spring 2009 Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez were in their final semester at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business headed toward careers in consulting and banking when a remark made by a professor about the potential for growing mushrooms with used coffee grounds piqued their interest. With a desire to create a socially responsible and sustainable business that could make use of the millions of tons (~24 million tons per year) of used coffee grounds that go almost entirely to waste each year, the two classmates decided to further investigate the idea. What emerged from their research and consultations with mycology experts was Back to the Roots Ventures (BTTR), a startup company focused on sustainably farming gourmet mushrooms in used coffee grounds.
There’s not a key issue that the next generation faces that doesn’t have agriculture at the center of it, according to US Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who spoke Wednesday at UC Davis.
From the obesity epidemic to climate change to joblessness, what happens in agriculture plays a critical role, Merrigan said. Her speech focused on the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative, a USDA-wide effort to carry out President Obama’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems.
One of the greatest problems confronting farmers today is how to control plant disease and pests while minimizing environmental impact and remaining profitable. When synthetic chemical pesticides were first developed in the early 20th century, they were embraced as a less harmful solution to the highly toxic inorganic chemicals (sulfur, lead and arsenic) that humans had been using to kill insects on their crops for the past 4,500 years. However, evidence pointing to the environmental damage and adverse human health effects caused by the synthetic chemical pesticides that fueled the Green Revolution continues to mount.
AgraQuest, a biotechnology company that develops biological and low-chemical pest management products, believes that it has the solution: Biopesticides.
Most agricultural experiments last anywhere from a few months to a few years, but at Russell Ranch near Davis, CA, researchers are in the midst of a 100-year study measuring the sustainability of various farming systems.
The study, known as Long-Term Research on Agricultural Systems (LTRAS), is designed to measure the long-term impact of different cropping systems, irrigation practices, tillage methods and carbon and nitrogen inputs on agricultural sustainability. It was started with a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program in 1990.
In fact, there’s an entire system – including a smartphone application – developed by ClimateMinder, a Glendale, California based startup company, that enables growers to wirelessly monitor environmental conditions in both greenhouses and open fields.
Students at St. Philip’s Academy, an independent K-8 school in Newark, NJ grow their own salad greens. They use an aeroponic growing system installed in a fourth-floor classroom in which they plant, harvest and package such leafy greens as Chinese lettuce, arugula and komatsuna for delivery to their cafeteria. “It’s kind of amazing – it doesn’t get more local than this,” said Frank Mentesana, a St. Philip’s Teacher and Program Facilitator.
St. Philip’s aeroponic growing system is part of a pilot project being managed and run by an urban farming startup called EcoVeggies to trial a growing system developed by AeroFarms
Mike Yohay, CEO of San Francisco-based urban agriculture startup Cityscape Farms, was raised in Brooklyn, NY where he grew up with almost no knowledge of where his food came from or how it was grown. This all changed for Yohay when he went off to study at Grinnel College in Iowa. There he saw firsthand the pollution and topsoil erosion caused by large-scale agribusiness operations. He was also troubled by the fact that despite its rich soil, Iowa exported most of the food that it produced and imported most of the food that it consumed. Yohay also worked in Costa Rica’s La Amistad rainforest, where he participated in low-impact organic farming that supported a local community.