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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Seattle Neighborhood Transforms Patch of Grass into Community Orchard

May 7, 2013 |

community orchard of west seattle“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a community orchard?” That question posed by Aviva Furman to her neighbor, Narcissa Nelson, was the beginning of the Community Orchard of West Seattle (COWS). This 1/8 acre demonstration garden showcases what a bit of networking, volunteerism and community support can achieve.

For newcomers to the orchard, the grass alongside its edge is a reminder of what the area used to be – a strip of grass that had to be mowed every year. The challenge initially for the organization was finding a site as the grant money from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods and support from key stakeholders was there, says Nelson. Without a site, “we were concerned with time and missing the planting opportunity of spring and the possibility of having to forfeit the grant money.” Read More

Former Landscape Architect Takes on Challenge of Launching Organic Farm in Romeo, MI

April 8, 2013 |
Lisa Jaroch of Cold Frame Farm and her husband in front of their cold frame hoop house.

Lisa Jaroch of Cold Frame Farm and her husband in front of their cold frame hoop house.

When landscape architect Lisa Jaroch decided to leave her job designing parks and greenways at Hamilton Anderson, a prestigious Detroit architecture firm, she was ready to move in an entirely new direction.

A hands-on landscape designer, she had always possessed a green thumb and a passion for sustainability – interests that led her to pursue a new life as an organic farmer.

“This is my encore career,” she says.  “It brings everything together for me.”

Jaroch left her job in 2011 to pursue certification through Michigan State University’s 9-month Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP) program at the Student Organic Farm. The 10-acre farm doubles as a hands-on learning laboratory and a local food producer, offering a 48-week CSA, a 7-month campus farm stand, and supplies MSU dining halls with fresh produce. Read More

Great Basin Permaculture Takes on Challenge of Growing Sustainably in Arid Nevada Environment

April 3, 2013 |

great basin permacultureWhen Las Vegas-based sustainable agriculture enthusiast Jessica Penrod decided to begin learning about permaculture, she sought out local study courses in vain. Permaculture is the branch of sustainable agriculture that reaches back to pre-industrial times for inspiration as to sustainable uses of land; it combines horticulture, design, architecture and engineering in a philosophy which encourages followers to treat each landscape as a waste-minimizing ecology. As such, it’s well suited to Nevada’s desert environment, where water and soil are inherently scarce resources. Read More

Bike Trip Across Rural America Results in Techie’s Conversion to Sustainable Farmer

July 2, 2012 |

Farmer Nathan Winters of Relly Bub Farm. Photo: Nathan Winters.

How does a Los Angeles-based techie completely disconnected from food and agriculture end up a passionate sustainable farmer? It’s really quite simple. The techie-turned-farmer in question, one Nathan Winters, strikes out on a 4300-mile bike ride across America’s rural landscapes to find inspiration. He works on a number of farms along the way and ends up with a passion for organic “bootstrap” agriculture that leads him to start Relly Bub Farm in southern Vermont.

I recently spoke with Winters to learn more about his embrace of agriculture, how his cross country trip shaped his philosophy on farming, his words of wisdom for new farmers, the challenges he faces and more. Read More

Los Angeles-based Sustainable Ag Venture Seeks to Create Network of Urban Farms to Feed and Foster Community

April 9, 2012 |

What do cuisine, land use, architecture and renewable energy have in common? A lot, according to Urban Green, a company working to connect these “inter-related disciplines.”

Urban Green operates three urban farms and a 4,800 square foot food facility in Los Angeles, CA. The farms employ a variety of growing practices, from traditional permaculture at the first site, which has been running for six years, to hydroponics at a new project in downtown Los Angeles. Urban Green takes a holistic approach to all of its projects, using not only permaculture practices, but reusable and biodegradable containers for its cuisine and renewable energy sources whenever possible. Read More

New Mexico’s Permaculture Institute Sees Undisturbed Ecosystems as Models for Sustainable Ag Systems

March 26, 2012 |

Scott Pittman, Founder of the Permaculture Institute. Photo courtesy of Permaculture Institute.

Scott Pittman has spent over 27 years traveling the world and teaching permaculture, a holistic approach to sustainable living that sees agricultural and societal structures as integrated components of the natural ecosystem. The word permaculture is a contraction of “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture”. Pittman’s Permaculture Institute defines permaculture as ‘an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how to build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.’

The Permaculture Institute, headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also emphasizes the care of the earth and the care of people as equally important and intertwined imperatives. “It sounds simple enough. But when you really look at the implications, it requires a huge amount of study and understanding,” Pittman says. “Before one can care for something one has to know how it operates.” Read More

Amidst Hotbed of Organic Ag, UMass Amherst Provides Students Foundation for Success in Sustainable Food & Farming

March 2, 2012 |

Even though it is hardly the breadbasket of America, New England has become a hotspot for sustainable agriculture. “We don’t talk about organic farming here, we just assume that the farm’s organic,” says professor John Gerber, chuckling slightly. “The culture is shifting and students are responding to it.”

Gerber’s sustainable food and farming students have been the driving force behind a steady expansion of sustainable agriculture programming at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As program advisor, Gerber says that he has seen a tremendous uptick in interest in agriculture over the past five years, with the number of majors increasing ten-fold, from five to 50. Read More

Los Angeles-based Huntington Ranch Experiments with Edible Landscapes and Food Forests

September 23, 2011 |

Researchers at the Huntington Ranch are experimenting with innovative farming techniques focused on ecosystem-based growing and using multi-level polyculture to create “edible landscapes.” Such landscape systems require less upkeep, have a lower environmental impact, and are less expensive in the long run.

Located on fifteen undeveloped acres of land at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, the Ranch features a vegetable garden, dozens of fruit trees, an avocado grove, a “food forest,” and a half-acre zone featuring demonstration spaces for container gardening and pruning workshops. The Ranch functions as an outdoor classroom, demonstration garden, and research lab for sustainable urban agriculture. Read More