sustainable agriculture methods
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.
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.
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.
Sierra Valley Farms has found that by being open to new ideas, keeping farming practices simple and diversifying its products, farming sustainably can be successful and rewarding, according to owner Gary Romano.
“I’m a third generation farmer,” Romano says. “My family were flower growers in the Bay Area. My mom’s side of the family were cattle ranchers in the Sierra. When I was a kid growing up, I was raised on the flower farm. We did it the old-fashioned way—allowing cover crops to grow, hand weeding—the natural way. I took that model to use here and it works.”
In 1990, Romano bought the last 65 acres of his family’s ranch, located in the high Sierra of Plumas County, California and decided to turn it into a farm. It was a three-year process for Sierra Valley Farms to become Certified Organic, the only organic farm within 100 miles, according to Romano.
A Firm Believer in the Three P’s of Sustainable Growing, Craig McNamara Talks Walnuts, Water and WasteMarch 14, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
When it comes to sustainable agriculture, Craig McNamara, owner of Sierra Orchards, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture and son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, believes firmly in the three P’s of sustainable growing: planet, people and profit. Living in the organic walnut orchard that comprises the bulk of his farming business you could argue he’s living in and up to his principles.
McNamara began his career as a farmer in his late 20s. He began as a truck farmer, but soon found traditional produce was not right for him. “The marketing challenges of a truck farmer were very difficult. Being a small produce grower farming, harvesting, packaging and shipping my own product into the wholesale market was extremely challenging. I said ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ I’ve got to find a crop that has fewer harvests per year, is less perishable and a crop that I just have more control over and for me that was walnuts.” Sierra Orchards was founded in 1980.
Urban Farm Collective Converts Vacant City Lots into Edible Gardens, Exchanges Food for Hours WorkedMarch 7, 2013 | Susan Botich
It all started with a simple idea: bring neighbors together to transform vacant city lots into neighborhood food gardens. Why? To improve the quality of food available to the community. From that little seed, the Urban Farm Collective (UFC) has grown into multiple working gardens throughout the Portland, Oregon area.
“In the seed stages, it was very much just a handful of friends,” says Urban Farm Collective Director Janette Kaden. “We had yards and we thought we’d share them and turn them into gardens.”
But it took some creative thinking to cultivate that seed idea into the strong community network it has grown to be.
“In 2009, we started with one garden,” Kaden says. “About a dozen people came to the table to talk about this idea of transforming vacant lots into gardens. But, out of that, only one or two people would show up at the garden to work.”
During this time of year, Rising River Farm’s namesake, the Chehalis River, flows fast and steady, and even though the rainy weather makes it seem that spring is months away, Jennifer Belknap is itching to get outside. Even after 15 years of co-running Rochester, WA-based Rising River Farm with her husband, Jim McGinn, she is still anxious to begin planting the seeds that usher in another season.
Rising River Farm began in 1994 when Jim and two friends started a three-acre community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on land leased from Betsie DeWreede of Independence Valley Farm, located just outside of Rochester, Washington.
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.
The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farmer of the Year award has been a long time in the making for Johnson Farms of Madison, South Dakota. Charlie Johnson and his brother Allan, along with their cousin Aaron and a handful of farm laborers, manage 2,800 acres of South Dakota farmland growing the ingredients for organic animal feed. On his way to pick up the award, Charlie Johnson shared a few insights into organic farming from the ‘long haul’ perspective.
It was Charlie and Allan’s father who started the farm in Madison. “My dad was a different kind of character,” explains Johnson. “He was kinda half hippie half profit.” Bernard Johnson had toyed around with the idea of chemical free farming for decades. He converted to a 100 percent organic production in 1976, years before the organic movement really began the paradigm shift from fringe obscurity to national awareness.
It’s quiet right now at the Greenhorn Ranch, but come Friday, after the first batch of chicks is delivered, Terry Gentry and Joan Hurst will be busy for the next eight months nurturing and processing chickens. As owners of G & H Pastured Poultry LLC, their mission is to raise healthy poultry.
When the women purchased 20 acres outside of McCleary, Wash., in 1997, their vision of the property didn’t include a poultry business. They thought of themselves as “gentleman ranchers,” Joan says, and the vision for the property evolved over time.
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.
Competition from the North Pushes Resourceful Rhode Island Hydroponic Farmer to Downsize and DiversifyFebruary 8, 2013 | Helen Weatherall
A job done right looks easy. Likewise Swiss chard that has celebrated five birthdays and boasts a girth of six inches looks normal at Mark Phillips’ Absalona Greenhouse Farm in Chepachet, Rhode Island. Twenty years now in the business of hydroponic farming, Phillips has mastered the art of soil-free growing. Of his accumulated knowledge what he didn’t learn from his plants themselves he mostly learned from listening to his gut rather than to opinions of others.
“I fell into it. I didn’t think I was going to work for myself,” said Phillips who earned an environmental studies degree in college. Unbeknownst to him his career was set in motion the day he took a job at a greenhouse the summer after graduating. But he took to the work and in 1990 decided to go into business for himself.