What larger lesson have you gleaned from your work?
The lesson is what’s out there in nature - how does nature do it? What can we learn from that? How can we take those ideas and either manipulate them and use them in our farming systems to accomplish the same kind of things that we’ve done as we’ve short circuited [the process] with off-the-shelf chemicals? If we do it by using systems that nature has evolved, we bypass the danger zone of creating things that nature hasn’t learned how to deal with. And we’re using materials and ideas that already exist on the planet. There’s microbes that already exist and know how to metabolize the stuff. The planet knows how to deal with these things as part of the system.
Larry Jacobs, a visionary from California, pioneered a new form of agriculture three decades ago that demonstrated to skeptics food could be cultivated profitably without the use of farming chemicals and pesticides. He went on to found the Del Cabo Cooperative in Mexico, which continues to assist indigenous farmers in growing and selling their produce at a price that creates a sustainable livelihood for their families.
In part one of a two-part interview with Seedstock.com, Larry Jacobs, NRDC’s 2013 Growing Green Award winner, explains why he chose in 1980 to make the switch to organic farming. This occurred at a time when U.S. farmers who experimented with organic farming methods were not even on the radar screen, and were often considered residents of “Kookville,” Jacobs says.
“The year is heavy with produce. And men are proud, for of their knowledge they can make the year heavy. They have transformed the world with their knowledge.” - John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
Like all of us, writer and grower David Mas Masumoto is a product of his culture and his regional circumstances not to mention the owner of the famous Masumoto Family Farm peach orchards in the arid Central Valley of California. His love of the land punctuates his narrative as he shares his wisdom of organic farming, family ties and the story that is sustainable agriculture.
The Masumoto family has farmed peaches, on an 80-acre patch of land south of Fresno, since 1948. After finishing college, Mas Masumoto returned to his family farm and a few years later bought 40 acres of land from his father. In the mid-1980s he made the decision to farm organically.
Sustainability isn’t just a token phrase at Mainstone Farm in Wayland, Massachusetts. It’s in their tagline. This “sustainable and natural” farm has been in cultivation for almost 150 years, and managers Tim and Pauline Henderson intend to preserve its fertility. “Even for our own garden, before we got into vegetables in 2003 or 2004, we never used pesticides,” explains Pauline. “It’s just something we believe in.”
Through practices like cover cropping, composting, and crop rotation, Tim and Pauline preserve soil health and ensure that the land remains fit for vegetable production year after year. Their 30 acres of vegetables are hugely productive – so much so that Pauline can’t even approximate the farm’s annual vegetable output in pounds. “We do so many crops, and with two or three plantings, I just couldn’t tell you,” she laughed.
It is expected that crops and, in turn, revenue may be lost to pests, but through the use of integrated pest management and farmscaping, the crop damage caused by native pests can mitigated. However, when exotic, or invasive, species enter a farm’s ecosystem, traditional IPM practices designed to work with native prey and predators, may prove unsuccessful in stemming the damage these new intruders cause.
Invasive species are organisms – plants, insects, mollusks, or pathogens – that cause economic or environmental damage when introduced into a new landscape. The annual damage in the U.S. from invasive species is in the billions of dollar and their removal and or containment has been a major focus for federal and state agencies’ for years.
Greenhouse gardening might be a technology dating from Roman times (the emperor Tiberius reportedly enjoyed greenhouse-raised cucumbers daily), but Village Farms has taken their brand of hydroponic greenhouse horticulture to 21st century levels.
The publicly traded company was born some 25 years ago when CEO Michael DeGiglio was selling agricultural hardware to commercial greenhouses and decided to try his own hand. His first hydroponic greenhouse facilities covered a mere 10 acres. A couple of decades later, Village Farms facilities cover some 262 acres, providing fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to major retailers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada under the Village Farms® and Home Choice® brand names. Last year, the company saw more than $160 million in sales.
In the late 90’s, Frank Martin set up a card table in the gravel parking lot of the local post office and sold zucchini he had grown in his garden. So began the Prescott Farmer’s Market and Frank’s transition from passionate gardener to profitable farmer.
“At that first market day, I made $60 and thought, ‘Whoa, I made bank!’” he recalls, laughing.
Around that time, he met some students from Prescott College who had heard about a new idea, this thing they called “community supported agriculture.” For a school project, they organized local farmers who wanted to participate in the CSA and assigned each grower five items to harvest each week.
Though students are expected to learn about sustainable farming when volunteering at the University of Washington Farm, for some, their volunteer experience cultivates confidence, leadership skills, and friendships within a close-knit community of students who just enjoy gardening and sharing wholesome food.
The UW Farm owes its beginnings to a group of graduate students who wanted to garden, says Rachel Stubbs, farm coordinator for the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH). With that humble start in 2004, the farm has grown to become the campus center for the practice and study of urban agriculture and sustainability. Though it is only a third of an acre on the main campus and half an acre at CUH, “people think it’s this huge thing,” Rachel says.
When Gina Cavaliero and Tonya Penick watched their contracting firm collapse, they had a personal and professional epiphany that would change the course of their lives and work. “It was just awful. We were laying off a lot of people. I was spending sleepless nights trying to find a recession-proof business,” says Cavaliero. In 2008, as their business was failing, the two business partners were introduced to aquaponics by Morning Star Fisherman, a non-profit organization with a mission to use aquaponics as a means to relieve world hunger. “We were amazed and enthralled by it,” she says.
At the same time, the healthy food movement was gaining more momentum, and the business partners were eager to jump on board. “It all culminated at the same time,” she explains.
D.C. Startup Makes Urban Composting as Easy as Taking Out the Trash; Lush Soil Benefits Urban Farm ProjectsDecember 20, 2012 | Missy Smith
Tis the season for turkey, ham, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, hors d’oeuvres, a lot of desserts and cookies! In keeping with seasonal tradition, Americans are preparing to ‘wow’ their guests with all sorts of tasty delights. While food spreads at holiday parties can be very impressive, they can also be quite wasteful. How many of us have chucked a bunch of leftover goodies, because they sat out all day or because they didn’t get eaten?
Embrace of Sustainable Ag Tech & Practices Enables 3rd Gen Farm in Orange County, CA to Survive UrbanizationDecember 12, 2012 | Melonie Magruder
When Matt and A.G. Kawamura’s grandparents first came to California from Japan at the beginning of the 20th century, they worked as seasonal fruit pickers and, eventually, sharecroppers in an Orange County that was mostly about orange trees and maybe a couple of other crops.
Within a few years, however, the founders of what became Orange County Produce had created a fertilizer and farm supply company. After World War II, during which they were relocated to an internment camp in Arizona, the Kawamuras launched a company that grew and shipped fresh produce like lettuce, cabbage and cantaloupes.
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.
What began as an environmental studies project in 1999 at Dickinson College has evolved into a flourishing organic farm. From a handful of eager student gardeners, who began with a small garden plot on campus that grew into a half-acre plot, gradually the program grew as it attracted greater student interest, says Matt Steiman, assistant manager of production for the farm.
Today, the farm sits on 50 acres of land, in Boiling Springs, Pa.—about six miles off campus—that was donated to the college in the 80s. When the students approached the college administration, they were met with a great reception, says Steiman, with the only stipulation being that the farm had to be educational.