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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Tell Stanford We’re Moving Beyond Organic

September 7, 2012 |

The following is a guest post from Dan Allen, the CFO of Farmscape Gardens, a Los Angeles-based organic garden installation and maintenance company that since its founding has become the largest urban farming venture in Southern California.

Researchers at Stanford have launched another salvo in the battle between conventional and organic produce. After reviewing more than 200 studies, they concluded that organic produce is not significantly safer or more nutritious than conventional produce.

Chuck Benbrok at Washington State has already taken issue with their conclusions. Meanwhile, Brian Fung at The Atlantic correctly observed that their study misses the point by choosing to focus on organic food in the first place rather than its impact on the environment. Organic cultivation builds topsoil – a scarce and vital resource – rather than depleting it, and avoids the carbon emissions associated with synthetic fertilizer production. Read More

Aquaponics for Japan: Challenging the Hegemony of an Anachronistic Agricultural Bureaucracy

July 19, 2012 |

The following guest post was written by Aragon St-Charles, who founded Japan Aquaponics in June of 2011 after the great earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Through this social enterprise, St-Charles aims to introduce and promote aquaponics in Japan to increase food security and insure against disruptions to the food system.

Aragon St-Charles, Founder of Japan Aquaponics

Agriculture in Japan offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past, into an era of millions of small home farms of less than a few acres providing for family sustenance and hopefully a little extra to take to market. Given the high tech reputation of Japan this may seem to be at odds with our perception of the country, and yet with the average farmer and his wife (both heartwarmingly sharing the back-breaking work) being nearly 70 years old and farming less than 5 acres of land, the dichotomy is very real. Read More

Westchester Urban Farm – The Journey from Wasteland to Wholesome

June 28, 2012 |

The following is a post by Mary Lissone, a veteran gardener and one of the first to be recruited by longtime friend Karen George to help set up the Westchester Urban Farm (WUF) in Los Angeles, CA.  Lissone provides advice, content and design for the project, communicating the WUF story in multiple formats to get people excited.

As with all journeys, a reason for taking the first step is always needed. None could have been more earnestly felt than one mother’s wish to help rehabilitate the reputation of her son’s local high school.

Much was already in progress – in 2011 it became a magnet school, Westchester  Enriched Sciences Magnet (WESM), specializing in Aviation & Aerospace, Environmental & Natural Science and Health & Sports Medicine; but it was receiving little attention as most of the community had already “decided” on its image and nothing short of an ET landing and benediction would change it. Even the impressive solar panel project in the parking lot (highly visible) didn’t seem to elicit any response. Read More

Wanted: Farmers

April 13, 2012 |

The following is a guest post from Dan Allen, the CFO of Farmscape Gardens, a Los Angeles-based organic garden installation and maintenance company that since its founding has become the largest urban farming venture in Southern California.

Urban farming has a dirty secret: the vast majority of garden plots in backyards, schoolyards, community gardens, rooftops and vacant lots are in a state of disrepair. Weeds outnumber thriving vegetables, soil nutrient levels are depleted, and irrigation is irregular at best.

This reality clashes squarely with the presentation of urban farming by journalists, academics and activists. The noble objectives of these urban farming projects means that those covering urban farming tend to overlook the harsh reality that most are neglected, ravaged by pests and withered from irregular irrigation. Read More

‘Peak Industrial Agriculture’ Will Mean Big Growth in the Sustainable Ag Industry

April 2, 2012 |

The following is a guest post from Ro Kumar, the founder of LocalBlu, a blog covering urban farming and sustainability. Based in the Bay Area at UC Berkeley and Stanford, he is a passionate advocate for a cleaner planet with healthier people. Subscribe to Ro’s updates.

Stock brokers make big bucks by making smart bets on big opportunities. There is no smarter or bigger bet than sustainable agriculture. This is because there are very few industries which are assured to always be around—mobile phone apps, solar, and even banking are not among them. Agriculture, however, is and always has been the biggest and most important industry of human civilization. For this reason, shifts in agriculture represent tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs.

We are currently undergoing such a shift as the dominant farming practices used since the Green Revolution demonstrate themselves to be inherently unsustainable. Industrial agriculture’s inevitable demise will also mean the inevitable growth of alternatives. Read More

Land Values Lynchpin to Large-scale Adoption of Urban Ag

February 28, 2012 |

The following is a guest post from Dan Allen, the CFO of Farmscape Gardens, a Los Angeles-based organic garden installation and maintenance company that since its founding has become the largest urban farming venture in Southern California.

In a guest post for Seedstock on Friday, Roxanne Christenson argues that urban agriculture must professionalize if it is to keep growing, creating jobs, and providing quality food for urban residents. Her observation is a good one, as even a casual survey of urban farming ventures reveals that non-profits outnumber for-profits by a wide margin. And I agree with her conclusion regarding the potential benefits of urban agriculture training programs:

“The time is ripe for the professionalization of urban agriculture. It will then not only deliver the social and environmental benefits touted by the advocates, but it will also be an industry that generates significant economic benefits as well.”

However, I take issue with Roxanne’s prescription for how we get there. She argues that the missing link is business training, along with financial and management strategies to pair with agricultural expertise. Read More