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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Posts By Trish Popovitch

A Firm Believer in the Three P’s of Sustainable Growing, Craig McNamara Talks Walnuts, Water and Waste

March 14, 2013 |

Craig McNamara, president and owner of Winters, CA-based Sierra Orchards. Photo Credit: Sierra Orchards.

When it comes to sustainable agriculture, Craig McNamara, owner of Sierra Orchards, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture and son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, believes firmly in the three P’s of sustainable growing: planet, people and profit. Living in the organic walnut orchard that comprises the bulk of his farming business you could argue he’s living in and up to his principles.

McNamara began his career as a farmer in his late 20s. He began as a truck farmer, but soon found traditional produce was not right for him. “The marketing challenges of a truck farmer were very difficult. Being a small produce grower farming, harvesting, packaging and shipping my own product into the wholesale market was extremely challenging. I said ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ I’ve got to find a crop that has fewer harvests per year, is less perishable and a crop that I just have more control over and for me that was walnuts.” Sierra Orchards was founded in 1980. Read More

MOSES Farmer of the Year Shares Insights on Organic Farming, Offers Advice to New Farmers

February 28, 2013 |

Photo Credit: Johnson Farms.

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farmer of the Year award has been a long time in the making for Johnson Farms of Madison, South Dakota. Charlie Johnson and his brother Allan, along with their cousin Aaron and a handful of farm laborers, manage 2,800 acres of South Dakota farmland growing the ingredients for organic animal feed. On his way to pick up the award, Charlie Johnson shared a few insights into organic farming from the ‘long haul’ perspective.

It was Charlie and Allan’s father who started the farm in Madison. “My dad was a different kind of character,” explains Johnson. “He was kinda half hippie half profit.” Bernard Johnson had toyed around with the idea of chemical free farming for decades. He converted to a 100 percent organic production in 1976, years before the organic movement really began the paradigm shift from fringe obscurity to national awareness. Read More

The Feds, The Food Safety Modernization Act, and the Farmers Caught in the Middle

February 18, 2013 |

Image Credit: FDA.

The American food system safety regulations have not experienced a major overhaul since the height of the Great Depression in 1938. On January 4, 2011 President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). On January 4, 2013 a new produce safety rule, ‘Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption,’ was proposed and looks likely to go into effect. Some farmers are concerned that the new regulation will have an adverse effect, making sustainable practices harder to follow and cost more to implement than many small producers can afford. So what’s the truth behind this federally mandated food system shakeup?

The FSMA is a vehicle for not only reacting to public health issues, but also for preventing them from occurring in the first place. Instead of waiting for producers to execute a voluntary recall of a tainted crop, the government can now force such a recall. Read More

Nevada Farmer Employs Sustainable Small Farm Business Model that Brings Customers and Profit to Her

February 12, 2013 |

Pigs in the

Wendy Baroli is a happy farmer. It even says so in her email signature. She’s happy for many reasons including a productive, profitable small farm, a penchant for heritage breeds and her healthy contribution to the planet. But what she seems most happy about is her small farm business model that brings the customers to her, reduces overheads and provides clients a custom farming experience that’s become a way of life.

Baroli comes from a family of farmers, Italian immigrants that farmed organically because they were too poor to do otherwise, but never planned on actually being a farmer. In fact, politician seemed more up her alley. But then she discovered the truth about politics: there’s only so much you can do from the sidelines. She wanted to be the change. Read More

Electrical Engineer Leverages Knowledge of LEDs and Green Tech to Sustainably Grow Organic Mushrooms

February 6, 2013 |

Shiitake mushrooms growing under LED light. Photo Credit: Mountain Mushroom Farm.

Being an organic shitake mushroom farmer in Malo, Washington isn’t the easiest thing to do which is probably why electrical engineer, master electrician and green technology inventor Marc Keith decided to do it. Along with his wife Vivian, Keith runs Mountain Mushroom Farm, which he claims is one of the most self-sustaining low energy organic farms around. He may be right, and he would know, having built the farm from the ground…well, underground, up.

By carving out a chunk of his hillside and burying a shipping container, Keith was able to begin an underground shitake mushroom farm on his mountain property. His design choices and mathematical mind ensured the supports were perfectly aligned and the retaining walls perfectly sealed. Read More