In June 2011, Ken Armstrong watched a YouTube video that would change the course of his life. The video was created by urban farmer Will Allen, founder of the sustainable agriculture nonprofit Growing Power, Inc. and avid proponent of aquaponic farming. A year later, in June 2012, Armstrong would break ground on his own aquaponic operation, Ouroboros Farms.
Armstrong and his business partner Kenji Snow started Ouroboros with a strong desire to join the future of farming. “We wanted to be innovators and a model for a new integrated, living ecosystem methodology of farming that partners with nature, rather than trying to overcome it,” said Armstrong.
Beekeepers have been reporting entire hive losses since 2006, when the media dubbed the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Several studies have pointed to poor nutrition, pesticide, pests, and pathogens; however, no single smoking gun has emerged.
The owners of Sun Aqua Farms began their hydroponics careers early in the field’s emergence. It was the 1990s, and Richard Bee, a mechanical engineer by trade, found the promise of growing produce with efficiency and speed intriguing. The lure of working with new technology tantalized him.
In 1993, Bee, along with his wife, Deidre, and stepson, Roger Harris, built a small greenhouse on land in Pennsylvania they acquired with savings and a small business loan. At first, they grew lettuce. “It was somewhat of a gamble and a leap of faith in the technology and practice of hydroponics,” said Sun Aqua Farms Food Safety Manager Josh Zieger.
When Maya Dailey started farming nine years ago, she had little more than big dreams and credit cards on which she purchased seeds. Today, Dailey runs a thriving five-acre farm on the edge of Phoenix, Ariz., and is a well-known figure in the local foodie scene.
She started by growing herbs and selling them to establishments in Santa Fe, N.M., where Dailey worked in the restaurant industry. After moving to Arizona, Dailey added flowers and eggs to the mix.
In 2006, Dailey started a full-time farm at her present location, leasing land tucked in the back corner of The Farm at South Mountain, a peaceful desert oasis featuring trees, grass, picnic tables, three restaurants, a home décor shop and a massage studio.
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.