sustainable agriculture practices
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.
“Our idea is that sustainable is renewable and so we’re in the solar business because basically the ranch is a big solar panel that we use to harvest sunshine and turn into grass that we turn into beef. We also want to make farming attractive to the next generation because if the next generation isn’t attracted to it then it isn’t sustainable.”-Keith Lankister, Bar Double L Beef
Wendi Lankister met her husband Keith while studying ranch management in college. Keith Lankister was studying to be a farrier. The couple found they shared a desire to start their own sustainable cattle ranch. After twelve years of working on ranches around the west gaining valuable insight into the processes of raising livestock, the Lankisters settled just outside Glenrock, Wyoming with their three daughters. Today, the Bar Double L Beef ranch is a profitable adventure in homeschooling, healthy living and grass fed certified organic cattle.
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.
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.
When high-school sweethearts Matt and Carissa Visser left Michigan in the mid-nineties to attend college in Oregon, they never dreamed they would eventually return to Michigan to start a small-scale organic farm.
But in 2009, that’s exactly what they did.
“We simultaneously came to a point in our lives where we were looking for a new direction,” says Carissa. “We wanted to find a career in which we could own our own business, work together, and feel good about our jobs.”
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.
William ‘Bill’ VanScoy takes a few moments away from his family and his greenhouses full of freshly transplanted seedlings to explain how his traditional hog farming operation became one of the largest hydroponic fruit and vegetable farms in Ohio.
“With the reducing acres of usable land in the USA, hydroponics (currently) is one of the more promising ways to keep pace with the growing food demands of a growing world population,” states VanScoy. And keeping up with demand is how it all started for this green thumbed Ohio family.
In many urban areas across the nation, access to fresh, locally grown and produced food is difficult to come by, and South Florida is no exception. Seeing an opportunity to address challenges to local food availability in this area, The Urban Farmer, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based organization that grows and sources locally grown food, was launched to meet the demands of South Florida residents for locally and sustainably grown food. While The Urban Farmer is still in startup mode, it’s garnering support and keeping afloat because of its founders’ love of educating – and feeding – Floridians awesome, local produce.
I recently got in touch with Stephen Hill, a principal at The Urban Farmer, to find out how and why the organization was founded, how Urban Farmer serves Florida and what the organization has planned for the 2013 season.
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.
Brooke Salvaggio, founder and owner along with husband, Daniel Heryer, of Kansas City, Mo-based Urbavore Urban Farm, started farming in Kansas City when she was 24 years old. She grew up in suburbia, surrounded by fertilized lawns, SUVs and plastic bags. “I was a bit jaded as a teenager,” Salvaggio said.
When she turned 18 years old, Salvaggio started traveling. “I was looking for answers and thought I might find them in older parts of the world,” she said. “I experienced simple living off the land and I was hooked.”
Just a couple of bad seeds
When Salvaggio returned to Kansas City, she started to grow gourmet, market crops on a 1/4-acre and founded BADSEED, a “green” event-space in downtown KC. She sold the produce she grew at farmers’ markets. In 2009, Heryer, co-owner, joined Salvaggio and began working at the farm.
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.
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.