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 family farmer is making a comeback with a starring role in the new American dream.
In recent years, the number of individual farms in the United States has increased for the first time since World War II, according to the 2007 Agricultural Census, the most recent data compiled by the USDA. A new wave of beginning family farmers have headed back to the fields, driven by a desire to connect with the land, frustration with the industrialized food system, and high unemployment rates.
The majority of new farms are very small, earning less than $10,000 per year. They tend to be run by younger farmers, two thirds of whom rely on off-farm work to supplement farm income, the census revealed. As with any new business venture, it can take several years to begin to turn a profit.
Say the word ‘sustainable’ and prepare to pull out a dictionary as people have varying opinions on what that term actually means. Add farming to the mix and efforts to parse out sustainable farming from unsustainable farming run into a thicket of differing opinions.
Yet, there’s one definition of sustainable farming that typically doesn’t make the news headlines, especially those containing the word ‘green:’ A family-run farm that sustains a multi-generational family.
Mattson Family Farms is a no-till commercially viable farm that has beaten the odds for a century. “My grandfather immigrated here from Denmark in 1911 to homestead,” says Carl Mattson. The farm is located a little over 100 miles east of the Rocky Mountains on Highway 2 on a plateau about 3,200 feet above sea level.
Like many neighborhoods in Detroit, Boston-Edison, once home to Henry Ford, has seen better days. Abandoned, burned out structures are interspersed with vacant lots. Although an intact historic district survives, much of the neighborhood suffers from the post-industrial poverty and neglect that plagues much of rest of the city.
It is here that Noah Link and Alex Bryan, recent University of Michigan graduates, launched Food Field, an organic farm, in 2010. After working on several area farms and gardens, the pair was inspired to join Detroit’s burgeoning urban agriculture movement. Together, they drafted a business plan and applied to purchase land through the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, a state-operated clearinghouse for tax-reverted public property. The Authority approved the plan, and after soil tests found no contamination (a common issue in post-industrial urban landscapes), they purchased a 4-acre parcel that was the former site of an elementary school.
Growing organic food in the desert is no easy task. But Marilyn Yamamoto, who cultivates several acres of land a short drive from the famed Los Vegas Strip, has transformed her acreage into a test garden to help gardeners in the area determine the most efficient plants to grow on their properties so as to provide quality healthy food for their families.
Yamamoto says the small-scale growing operation known as Cowboy Trail Farm, which she operates as nonprofit under the name ‘Organic Edibles LV, inc’, is a labor of love.
Yamamoto, a Master Gardener, says she first began to experiment with desert cultivation techniques a few years ago, when her organization received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She used the funds to acquire two hoop houses.
Harvest Power is about dirt. It’s also about soil regeneration and managing the modern day intersection of waste, agriculture and energy, so that ongoing human consumption can be used as the engine to drive ongoing renewable energy.
In three and a half years, CEO Paul Sellew has created a company that diverts more than two million tons of organic waste material from landfills and turns it into some 29 million bags of soil, mulch and fertilizer products while producing 65,000 megawatt hours of heat and power-generating energy to run its facilities.
Harvest Power operates in 30 sites across the U.S. and Canada, using strategic partnerships with municipalities, haulers and state-of-the-art anaerobic digesters to create high value compost that is in turn used to create more high nutrition food that can be later be recycled into the system starting the whole process over again.
Nothing is impossible - so says a rock climber with his head pitched back staring up an ugly face of granite, a kayaker caught in a squall, a skier pointing tips down a sheet of black ice – or a man who has done all of this and then taken up farming Down East where topsoil is barely deeper than the pine pollen on windowsills in May. After chasing adventure in the guise of a Spanish literature scholar with a taste for Chilean deep powder, cliffs and white water, Eliot Coleman got himself some acreage.
Of course a lot happened in between, but the story of Four Season Farm and how it came to be began with Coleman turning his quest for adventure away from situational adrenaline surges to another sort of challenge: to extract sugar carrots from a fir wood rooted on ledge.
It was late 1960’s when Coleman came back down to earth. A decade earlier the back-to-the-land how-to book, ‘Living the Good Life’, by Helen and Scott Nearing had emerged and became something of a bible among the younger set.
First Time Farmers in Hopewell, NJ Embrace Unique Business Model, Hope to Grow Sustainable Farm MovementFebruary 25, 2013 | Missy Smith
Like many people jumping aboard the local food revolution, Robin and Jon McConaughy’s sustainable farming journey all started with an article that took a peek behind the conventional farming curtain. Ten years ago, as Robin McConaughy was flipping through the New York Times’ Sunday newspaper, she came across Michael Pollan’s article “Power Steer”, which chronicled the life of a conventionally raised cow from birth to dinner table.
“It disgusted me. It was such an eye opener,” reflects McConaughy, who says that neither she nor her husband have farming backgrounds. “I actually thought people farmed on green fields. I never [considered] what the meat from the supermarket actually was.” Already having a desire to own some land where their now 10- and 12-year-old boys could grow up forming a first-hand understanding of nature, McConaughy and her husband Jon found Pollan’s belly-turning piece to be the final push in a healthy, sustainable direction.
In 2003, the McConaughys purchased their 60-acre farm in Hopewell Township, N.J., and got to work raising some animals for their family’s consumption.
Soil is not just a growing medium; it is an ecosystem whose health affects the yield and taste of produce. “Synthetic fertilizer increases [crop] yield,” says J.D. Tovey, chief marketing officer of Carbon Cultures, “but it’s artificial. Biochar is about increasing the health of the soil.” And that is the mission of Carbon Cultures: to build healthy soils, healthy forests, and healthy people through the use of biochar.
Biochar is essentially a charcoal that is created by the burning of biomass at low temperatures, and its use as a soil amendment has a long history. Long-time farmers know what biochar is, Tovey says. “My grandfather would talk about it,” but people new to farming aren’t necessarily aware of biochar and its benefits. A famous example of a biochar-amended soil is the Terra Preta soil found in the Amazon Basin. This soil’s creation by humans occurred between 450 BC and AD 950, and centuries later, it is still a fertile soil, demonstrating that “biochar doesn’t lose its effectiveness,” Tovey says, and contributes to the long-term fertility of soil.
Several years ago, George Vidal and Emilio Perito responded to a personal calling to simultaneously conduct business and to do their part in preserving our natural resources. Realizing that water depletion and eroding topsoil were becoming major problems, the two set out to start a company that would address these environmental concerns by creating products designed to increase sustainability in farming.
“In the United States, topsoil is vanishing at a rate of 10 times faster than it can be formed,” explains Vidal. “Our current agricultural practices have already stripped our topsoil of many nutrients and minerals, which have a direct effect on our produce and grain that is fed to livestock, which leads to fewer nutrients to our bodies.”
Seventy-five years ago, Albert and Frances Lundberg moved from the John Steinbeckian Dust Bowl of Nebraska to California to try their hand at farming land that had not yet been destroyed by pretty much the same challenges farmers face today – drought and poor soil management.
Albert had seen the results of shortsighted farm husbandry and passed along his philosophy of sustainable agriculture to his four sons, Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer, who established Lundberg Family Farms, and pioneered organic rice growing in America.
Third-generation farmer, Jessica Lundberg, summed up the enterprise’s ongoing commitment to sustainability as more than an abstract liberal value. It’s a pragmatic imperative.
“When my grandparents left dried-up Nebraska and came to Northern California, they had new-found appreciation for being stewards of the land,” Lundberg said. “Soil is a living organism and must be treated well.”
Startup Pioneers New ‘H2H’ Process to Efficiently Convert Supermarket Food Waste into Liquid FertilizerFebruary 6, 2013 | Noelle Swan
Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States. An estimated 40 percent of all food grown here never nourishes anyone, but instead rots away in landfills. What if those nutrients could be captured, before they started to rot and returned to the soil, all in a matter of hours? That’s exactly what Daniel and David Morash say they can do at California Safe Soil, convert wasted food into a nutrient-rich soil additive. Sound like composting? It’s a similar concept but the Morash’s say that their process is faster, safer, and more effective. They have teamed up with researchers at UC Davis to try and prove it.
The concept is not entirely new. The idea of using digested food to fertilize plants is nearly as old as agriculture.