Posts By Melonie Magruder
Rather than ‘Figure Out More Ways to Blow People Up’, Former NASA Engineer Seeks Solution to Feed WorldFebruary 21, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
When NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011, a lot of the engineers and systems technology staff ended up heading to defense industry contracting firms. But Douglas Mallette, founder and CEO of Cybernated Farm Systems, says he wanted to help feed the world rather than “figure out more ways to blow people up.”
So he founded Cybernated Farm Systems with the idea of building a fully self-generating and sustainably-operating greenhouse growing system that could feed precisely 634 people for 30 years, leave a small carbon footprint and provide nutritious, organic, fresh food in a world of rising poverty and hunger.
Rob Johnston, founder of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, got an early lesson in the importance of seed diversity back in 1972, when he formed a communal truck farm in southern New Hampshire, growing 15 acres of vegetables that were marketed through a co-op in Boston and New York.
A Japanese distributor in New York wanted specialty produce and Johnston had to go to Japan simply to find the seeds. The resulting odyssey into exotic seed sourcing awakened a different kind of seed, planted long ago in him by his grandfather, a Pennsylvania farmer who used to take Johnston out into the fields of a summer evening to “listen to the corn grow.”
He set up Johnny’s Selected Seeds (originally called Johnny’s Appleseeds, until he was informed that name was already trademarked) and issued his first seed catalogue in 1974.
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.”
Landscape Maintenance Co., Toro, Sees Opportunity in Drip Irrigation to Help Farmers Use Water More EfficientlyFebruary 5, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
Known for decades for their landscape maintenance equipment found on nearly every golf course on the planet, Toro is looking to change the way farmers think about irrigation and husbandry of an essential, endangered resource: water. The company moved into agricultural drip/micro irrigation innovation about 15 years ago, when they bought out the El Cajon-based company Hardie Irrigation.
“Since then, Toro started getting into water management and has really developed its micro-ag division, focusing on drip irrigation,” Toro Marketing and Communications Manager Sky Anderson said. “Water is always going to be a farmer’s first concern, so how can he use it more efficiently and economically?”
Greenhouse gardening might be a technology dating from Roman times (the emperor Tiberius reportedly enjoyed greenhouse-raised cucumbers daily), but Village Farms has taken their brand of hydroponic greenhouse horticulture to 21st century levels.
The publicly traded company was born some 25 years ago when CEO Michael DeGiglio was selling agricultural hardware to commercial greenhouses and decided to try his own hand. His first hydroponic greenhouse facilities covered a mere 10 acres. A couple of decades later, Village Farms facilities cover some 262 acres, providing fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers to major retailers in the U.S., Mexico and Canada under the Village Farms® and Home Choice® brand names. Last year, the company saw more than $160 million in sales.