sustainable agriculture news
“This bill supports research, marketing, creating infrastructure, access to healthy food, and education – all necessary for the success of agriculture…. Local and regional agriculture will be the major driver for the farm economy of the future. This bill is important to the future of farming in our country and the health and well-being of America.” – David Bauermeister, Northwest Agriculture Business Center
One of the main issues small growers face is a lack of established infrastructure that promotes sustainable food choices. As the number of farmer’s markets in the nation climbs past the 8,000 mark and as the USDA reports almost $5 billion in annual revenue from local farmers, the federal government is entertaining an addition to the Farm Bill to help alleviate some of the problems facing independent producers. HR 1414 aka the Local farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 hopes to improve opportunities through assistance grants, training, marketing assistance and technology allowing small growers to keep up with increasing demand.
Sitting peacefully across the street from a busy auto body shop and tucked behind fencing within the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg is the Pennsylvania state capitol’s only operating urban farm. The customary city noise becomes a distant memory as a symphony of tree-perched birds welcomes you through the farm’s gates and onto the lush, green organic vegetable farm.
Farm Manager Kirsten Reinford lovingly calls Joshua Farm an oasis amid a lively, sometimes troublesome section of the city. She started the urban farm in 2006, as a program of The Joshua Group, a nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth. Through the mentoring group, Joshua Farm brings fresh, organic food and positive energy to a neighborhood with the highest poverty, unemployment, violent crime and school dropout rates in Harrisburg.
The land is dotted with vacant and abandoned homes. The economy is in tatters. Unemployment, infant mortality, poverty, crime, and drug abuse are major challenges facing the dwindling population.
This is the land capitalism left behind.
A new enterprise combining urban farming, substance abuse rehabilitation, and an alternative economic model is attempting to provide that recovery on the many fronts in which it is needed.
A nationwide initiative to encourage hospitals to provide patients and employees with healthier food choices may benefit independent growers. The Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) program encourages hospitals across the country to pledge to a more sustainable food program in their facilities with a focus on buying local and encouraging preventative healthcare.
The Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) program is the brainchild of the folks at Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and is just one of their many initiatives to encourage hospitals to use their purchasing power to promote preventative healthcare through healthy food. HCWH began in 1996 in response to the discovery that the burning of medical waste was one of the largest sources of the carcinogen dioxin on the planet. HCWH is comprised of 28 separate organizations in 52 countries. The group is a privately funded 501 c3 with several green program successes already under their belt.
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.
The demand for local food continues to grow, often faster than small growers and infrastructure can keep up. That’s why the work of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) is vital in connecting small farmers to big business in Northwest Washington State.
Founded in 2006, NABC is the brainchild of a group of farmers and politicians who noticed a gap in the small business assistance market. Independent growers running small farms are first and foremost farmers. Brand development, marketing, establishing a customer base and utilizing accounting technology are often unfamiliar and time consuming aspects of the small farm business. NABC provides assistance in these and other areas helping to keep small farms viable.
When you think of New York City, you think of an urban cement jungle of taxis and crowded people – antithetical to a peaceful world of green gardens and fresh produce. Not Zach Pickens. When he followed his wife, a theatre producer, to the Big Apple from his Ohio roots, he figured it was just the time to start his rooftop garden business: Rooftop Ready Seeds.
Pickens, a political science major, wasn’t exactly trained for urban farming. When he saw an empty rooftop on his apartment building in Brooklyn, he relied on memories of his grandparents’ backyard gardens to guide his effort to ‘green’ the asphalt plot.
Eventually, he was hired as the farm manager for Riverpark Farm, supplier for Riverpark restaurant, and one of the largest urban farming models in New York City (they launched their rooftop farm on the site of a stalled construction site).
The City of Detroit, once the wealthiest city in the United States, saw its population peak in 1950 at 1.8 million. In the sixty years since, population declined by 60 percent to approximately 713,000 in 2010.
As a result, the city’s once bustling 139-square miles contain an estimated 200,000 vacant parcels comprising a quarter of the city’s land area, according to the Wall Street Journal. The vacant land stretches for miles, forming vistas across urban prairies interspersed with abandoned structures.
Urban farming has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to deal with vacant property, revitalize neighborhoods and provide job skills and nutrition to remaining local residents struggling with poverty and a lack of access to fresh produce.
Jeff and Laura Hamons manage Synergistic Acres, a sustainable livestock farm in Parker, Kan. Neither Jeff nor Laura grew up on a farm, but the couple decided to go into farming because they believe everyone in the Kansas City-area should have access to healthy, humanely-raised meat.
Synergistic Acres has been operating for a year and the family’s farming lifestyle has synched with their personal belief system. “We had not even considered living on a farm two years ago,” Jeff Hamons said. “We have tried to get a fast start without growing too fast too soon. We had a great first year and connected with a lot of families searching for the same food we raise.”
Last year, the farm raised around 500 broilers, 75 turkeys, breeding sows, a boar, four grower pigs, 18 cattle, and a flock of 70 layers. The Hamons keep livestock in a natural setting. The farm’s animals live their lives outside on pasture.
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.
News Release – Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Growing Power, a leading local urban agriculture organization, today announced the launch of Farmer’s for Chicago, a new program that will make available up to five acres of City-owned vacant lots for urban farming activity, and help expand the supply chain for local neighborhood-level food production and wholesale. The city lots will be prepared for local nonprofits that will be able to install food growing equipment, and train up to 20 people in urban farming and skills.
“Once made available, these vacant lots will help stabilize communities by bringing productive activity to areas that need it around food deserts,“ said Mayor Emanuel. “Farmers for Chicago will give local residents a chance to not only learn how to grow food in their communities, but also build their own food enterprise.”
News Release – LOS ANGELES, CA – Worldwide, agriculture possesses the distinction of being the single greatest consumer of fresh water, accounting for nearly 70% of available withdrawals each year for irrigation. In the United States alone, 42% of all irrigated water is lost to evaporation.
With water prices, scarcity and quality all threatening the margins and livelihood of farmers, the SEEDSTOCK Ag Water Conference, scheduled for Wednesday, February 19, 2014, will focus on solutions to the challenges facing sustainable agriculture.
“Scarcity and abundance are not nature given—they are products of water cultures. Cultures that waste water or destroy the fragile web of the water cycle create scarcity even under conditions of abundance. Those that save every drop can create abundance out of scarcity.” - Vandana Shiva, ‘Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit‘[i]
Humans, animals, and plants all depend on water to survive. It quenches our thirst, nourishes our livestock, and sustains our crops. Civilizations have risen and fallen as a direct result of access to clean water and agricultural irrigation. Today, despite increasing technological advances in farming, we are no less dependent on water.
Every day, the U.S. agricultural industry pours 128,000 million gallons of water into irrigation, according a 2005 USGS survey of national water resources.[ii]. Aquaculture and livestock production draw another respective 8,780 and 2,140 million gallons per day, but both are dwarfed by irrigated agriculture, which represents the second largest drain on the nation’s water resources, surpassed only by thermonuclear power.