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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Minneapolis Landscape Business Works to Make City Ordinances Compost-friendly

April 16, 2014 |
Images courtesy of Giving Tree Gardens

Images courtesy of Giving Tree Gardens

With a penchant for all things rotting, Russ Henry has built a sustainable business, literally from the ground up.

Giving Tree Gardens is an organic landscaping service in Minneapolis well known for its high quality compost. Specializing in native species planting, pollinator-friendly designs and organic gardening education, Giving Tree Gardens has been building a sustainable business and a positive influence in the Twin Cities since 2005.

Russ Henry, owner of Giving Tree Gardens, spent many years in the landscaping world before starting his own company. Read More

New Farmer Residency Program Seeks to Address Land Access Challenge

November 18, 2013 |
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Image Credit: ISLAND

Access to land is one of the most formidable obstacles facing young people who want to start a farm, according to a 2012 study by the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. The study notes that the price of farmland doubled between 2000 and 2010 in the United States.

A nonprofit organization in Bellaire, Michigan, the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, or ISLAND, is working to address this problem with a new farmer residency program that will launch in spring 2014. The program operates in partnership with the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, a local land trust that owns the 11-acre property the residents will farm. Read More

Awareness of Environmental Impact, Embrace of Sustainability, Defines 4th Generation Deardorff Family Farms

August 5, 2013 |
Photo credit: Deardorff Family Farms

Photo credit: Deardorff Family Farms

The Deardorff family has been in the produce business since 1937, helping local farmers in Venice, Hollywood, and Los Angeles distribute their produce. As the city of Los Angeles swelled in the early 1960’s, the Deardorffs followed many of their growers north to Ventura County and began to work the land themselves on their own 50-acre ranch. Since then Deardorff Family Farms has passed through four generations and grown immensely. Today, cousins Scott Deardorff, and Tom Deardorff II farm 2,000 acres of sustainably grown celery, tomatoes, greens, and mixed vegetables throughout Ventura County. They market their produce through wholesale distributors, at local markets, and directly to consumers. Read More

The Art and Angst of Water: California Farm Bureau’s Danny Merkley Insures Water Flows in Fair, Balanced Manner

August 1, 2013 |

“With water, it’s soil. Without water, it’s dirt.” -Danny Merkley, California Farm Bureau

A symphony, a balancing act and an art form. These are just a few ways Danny Merkley, Director of Water Resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation, describes managing the flow of water in the Golden State. It’s been his job since 2007, but a love of water blossomed early in this fourth generation California farmer.

“Growing up on the ranch I ran a number of irrigation systems from surface irrigation systems, row systems to sprinklers to, in a small way, some drip systems early in the 1990s. Water to me is an art form; moving water across a field, across large acreages of land, across more than just a 20 foot front yard. I’ve always been fascinated with water, but water policy I accidentally walked into when I got bit by the water bug working at the state water board in 2004,” shares Merkley. Read More

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

Water Conservation, Passion for Great Food and Sustainability Fuel Family’s Foray into Hydroponics

February 27, 2013 |

Amelia and Ben Von Kennel, owners of Amelia’s Farm in front of their 6,000 square-foot, commercial, hydroponic greenhouse. Photo Credit: Amelia’s Farm.

A simple passion for great tasting food and sustainability fueled the founding of Amelia’s Farm, a hydroponic farm based in Bells, Texas. Amelia Von Kennel, co-founder and executive vice president, and Ben Von Kennel, co-founder and chief executive officer, established the Farm in October 2011. The couple sold their house in Dallas, Texas, and moved their family ranch to Bells, Texas. Since the move, the Von Kennel’s focus has concerned strengthening the Amelia’s Farm brand, and building a 6,000 square-foot, commercial, hydroponic greenhouse. The Farm grows pesticide-free, non-GMO produce all year round.

I recently had a conversation with Amelia Von Kennel. She discussed how the couple started farming, why she and Ben value healthy food and how the Farm stays sustainable. Read More

Reno, NV Startup Sees Opportunity in High Tech, Inexpensive Irrigation Control Systems for Small Farmers

January 31, 2013 |

When Reno, NV based sustainable agriculture enthusiast Eric Jennings noticed one morning that, yet again, his irrigation system had watered his sidewalk more than his backyard farm, he decided that it was time to put his engineering skills to good use. “Water is expensive and scarce in this area, and wasting it just bugged me so much that I started tinkering around in the garage” Jennings noted.  Most of the commercially available water irrigation control systems were either prohibitively expensive or excessively complex; “there was just nothing around designed for the small farmer” he concluded.

Around six months’ later, he’d created Pinoccio; a small, cheap microcontroller with an embedded WiFi unit that could be combined with a soil moisture sensor to control irrigation remotely. Read More

N.C. State CEFS Report Lays Out Strategies to Reduce Environmental Impact of Outdoor Hog Production

December 4, 2012 |

Photo Credit: West Wind Farms

News Release – The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) has released a new report entitled Conservation Practices in Outdoor Hog Production Systems: Findings and Recommendations from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

The report, written by N.C. State University animal science Research Associate Silvana Pietrosemoli, explains strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of outdoor hog production systems, which can pose environmental risks if not properly managed. Read More