Posts By Noelle Swan
Have you ever wondered how some plants are able to endure the most extreme conditions from the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park to the high altitudes of Mt. Everest? It turns out that many of these plants likely owe their survival to symbiotic fungi that make themselves at home within the plants tissues. Microbiologist Russell (Rusty) Rodriguez and geneticist Regina Redman of Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies in Seattle, Washington are trying to foster similar relationships between fungus and plants in agriculture in hopes of improving drought and salinity tolerance, promoting temperature resistance, and boosting nutrient content.
The husband and wife team first discovered a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a plant by chance while studying plants that grow in different soils in Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Rodriguez was collecting data for the U. S. Geological Survey where he worked as a principle investigator and microbiologist. Redman was conducting her own research while working as a research professor in the State University of Montana’s microbiology department.
Industrialized agriculture pollutes water, land, and soil; harms natural wildlife habitats; threatens natural resources, all while still leaving a billion people hungry around the world, charged a new policy brief by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy organization with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “American agriculture is at a crossroads: a point where we can either apply our scientific knowledge to create a vibrant and healthful food and farming system for the future, or double down on an outdated model of agriculture that is rapidly undermining our environment and our health,” the brief began.
While grassroots movements around the country have pushed back against industrialized agriculture for decades, the science has only recently caught up to the sentiment, said Doug Gurian-Sherman, plant pathologist and senior scientist for the Food and Environment Program at UCS.
Nearly 1 billion people around the world are hungry. Another billion people are obese. At the same time, one third of the food produced for human consumption spoils or goes to waste. These problems have become pervasive throughout the globe. They affect industrialized and developing nations alike. Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson of Chicago, Illinois saw these statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as symptoms of a failed global food system. In response, they launched Food Tank: The Food Think Tank as a platform for anyone with a stake in the global food system to contribute to a solution. According to the non-profit’s website, “Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is for the 7 billion people who have to eat every day.”
The family farmer is making a comeback with a starring role in the new American dream.
In recent years, the number of individual farms in the United States has increased for the first time since World War II, according to the 2007 Agricultural Census, the most recent data compiled by the USDA. A new wave of beginning family farmers have headed back to the fields, driven by a desire to connect with the land, frustration with the industrialized food system, and high unemployment rates.
The majority of new farms are very small, earning less than $10,000 per year. They tend to be run by younger farmers, two thirds of whom rely on off-farm work to supplement farm income, the census revealed. As with any new business venture, it can take several years to begin to turn a profit.
“Scarcity and abundance are not nature given—they are products of water cultures. Cultures that waste water or destroy the fragile web of the water cycle create scarcity even under conditions of abundance. Those that save every drop can create abundance out of scarcity.” - Vandana Shiva, ‘Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit‘[i]
Humans, animals, and plants all depend on water to survive. It quenches our thirst, nourishes our livestock, and sustains our crops. Civilizations have risen and fallen as a direct result of access to clean water and agricultural irrigation. Today, despite increasing technological advances in farming, we are no less dependent on water.
Every day, the U.S. agricultural industry pours 128,000 million gallons of water into irrigation, according a 2005 USGS survey of national water resources.[ii]. Aquaculture and livestock production draw another respective 8,780 and 2,140 million gallons per day, but both are dwarfed by irrigated agriculture, which represents the second largest drain on the nation’s water resources, surpassed only by thermonuclear power.
Startup Pioneers New ‘H2H’ Process to Efficiently Convert Supermarket Food Waste into Liquid FertilizerFebruary 6, 2013 | Noelle Swan
Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States. An estimated 40 percent of all food grown here never nourishes anyone, but instead rots away in landfills. What if those nutrients could be captured, before they started to rot and returned to the soil, all in a matter of hours? That’s exactly what Daniel and David Morash say they can do at California Safe Soil, convert wasted food into a nutrient-rich soil additive. Sound like composting? It’s a similar concept but the Morash’s say that their process is faster, safer, and more effective. They have teamed up with researchers at UC Davis to try and prove it.
The concept is not entirely new. The idea of using digested food to fertilize plants is nearly as old as agriculture.
Although the Swartz family has been farming for three generations, Joe Swartz’s Sky Vegetables in Amherst is very different from the typical farm of his father and grandfather.
When his grandparents, John and Anastasia Swartz immigrated to the United States from Poland, they settled on a 40-acre homestead where they raised dairy cows, tobacco, onions, vegetables, and five children. Their sons, Walter and John Swartz took over the farm and expanded production to 300 acres of rented land in Amherst and surrounding towns.
According to a recent report released by the National Resource Defense Council, nearly half of all the food produced in the United States never makes it to the dinner table. At the same time, hunger has become a major problem in the United States, with 46 million people relying on the nations’ Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). The Boston Area Gleaners, a non-profit food rescue organization based in Waltham, Mass., seeks to bridge the gap between excess food and hungry people by diverting some of that waste to families in need through an age-old practice of gleaning, or picking crops that have been passed over during primary harvest.
When Marty and Kris Travis first founded Stewards of the Land, a cooperative of local family farmers in Illinois, they were fledgling farmers themselves.
“This was before any local food thing hit in this part of the state,” Marty Travis said. “Still, we felt like we wanted to do something to provide great, healthy food to the local community.”
At the time, Travis and his wife lived on Spence Farm, his family farmstead, with their son, Will. Though the 160-acre farm had been in his family for 175 years, his parents never worked the land. Tenant farmers managed the land throughout his childhood.
“If you step back and look at the big picture, there is a major concern with federal agriculture policy that basically directs a lot of money to one type of farming.”
–Susan Prolman, Executive Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strives to serve as a voice for the small, mid-sized, and mixed-use farmer. According to the coalition’s website, their mission is to foster an agricultural environment where “a safe, nutritious, ample, and affordable food supply is produced by a legion of family farmers who make a decent living pursuing their trade, while protecting the environment, and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities.”
Former Dorm Room Fish Farmer Scales; Barramundi Becomes Star of Worldwide Sustainable Aquaculture OperationSeptember 18, 2012 | Noelle Swan
Josh Goldman started raising fish in his dorm room in 1983. Today, his company Australis Aquaculture, LLC, which is headquartered in a small town in Western Massachusetts, operates one of the world’s largest indoor fish farming facilities as well as several offshore fish farms in Vietnam. The star of his operation is the little known (at least around the United States) Barramundi fish.
Lates calcarifer, also known as the Barramundi or the Asian seabass, hails from the Indo-West Pacific region and Goldman thinks it is going to blow tilapia and farm-raised salmon right out of the water.
When Bill Suhr started Champlain Orchards in 1998, he knew nothing about growing fruit. At 25-years-old, with a few years experience as an environmental consultant, he decided he wanted to farm the land. Unsure of what kind of farm he was looking for, he rented a room from a woman named in the Lake Champlain area and started touring properties. His landlord suggested that he might enjoy running an orchard, a prediction Suhr says turned out to be “spot on.”
In 1998, a group of Cambodian immigrants and former farmers living in the economically depressed city of Lowell, Massachussets reached out to Tufts University for help. Their objective: to learn the business side of farming. Out of this request emerged the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a partnership between Community Teamwork, Inc. – a community action action agency based in Lowell, MA – and the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition.
Immigrants have flocked to Lowell since the days of the mills. Once hailed as the cradle of the American industrial revolution, the city fell into a deep depression with the collapse of the New England textile industry nearly a century ago and has been trying recover ever since.