Diversifying & Betting The Farm

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Mueller plans to build his chicken barns in the corner of this corn field just south of his home. His barns would house “breeders,” the hens that lay the eggs that will hatch to be raised for meat. Credit Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Thanks to Harvest Public Media for this story on diversification that some farms take on in order to take advantage of growing demand, and open space:

The Gamble Of The Farmers That Raise Our Chicken

Tim Mueller has raised corn and soybeans on 530 acres near the city of Columbus, Nebraska, for decades, but today he is planning to take a big gamble.

The big box retailer Costco is building a new chicken processing plant in Fremont, about an hour from Mueller’s farm. The company plans for the plant to slaughter 2 million birds per week. To raise all those chickens, the company is recruiting about 120 farmers to sign on as contract poultry farmers.

Mueller wants in. But to do that, he plans to take out a massive $2 million loan to finance the construction of four chicken barns. Continue reading

Ammonia, Who Knew?

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Anhydrous ammonia. Photo © Thirteen Of Clubs / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

Recognizing its utility as a household cleaner, especially to remove grease, ammonia has a smell that is familiar to most of us. But, nearly all of the annual industrial production of ammonia goes into other products, especially nitrogen fertilizer. Some farms inject ammonia directly into the soil. Others apply urea or ammonium phosphate fertilizers made from ammonia. All aim to supplement the availability of nitrogen for crop growth. Not all the ammonia gets into the crop. Inadvertent losses of nitrogen from fertilizers to the atmosphere account for about ten percent of fertilizer applications across the USA. Some nitrogen is also lost in the runoff to streams and rivers. Continue reading

Sustainable Education

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To me, conservation tourism isn’t just about facilitating guest experiences in nature, but rather, it is about ensuring that guests walk away from their experience having gained a new appreciation for the systems they have interacted with. When I first spoke with Crist about spending my summer at Chan Chich, we mostly discussed working on developing a hydroponic food production system at the lodge. Not only would this system serve as a food supplier for the kitchen, but would also have an interactive educational aspect so guests could learn about the process. While this project is still a focal point of my internship, sustainability isn’t just about improving one aspect of a system, just like good conservation tourism is about having a medley of experiences.

When strengthening both the guest experience and sustainable operations at Chan Chich, it isn’t enough to just focus on what is going in to the kitchen. Rather, it is essential to focus on what is coming out of the kitchen as well.

Sustainable waste management has been important to the operations at Chan Chich for some time now. However, never before has these processes been visible to guests. While the hydroponic project is still under development, applying the project’s ideas of sustainable technology and guest education to waste management in the meantime is highly beneficial.

The result?

Continue reading

First Day at Chan Chich

Hi! My name is Emily, and I am one of the La Paz interns for summer 2017. As an environmental science and engineering student, I have never had an internship at a hotel, let alone one in a remote location in a foreign country. However, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University has prepared me for work in another large aspect of the Chan Chich property: sustainable agriculture. Ultimately, this is where my work will lead me, but until then I am becoming integrated with the lodge as a whole.

My first surprise during my experience so far was the actual lodge itself. On the drive to Chan Chich, we passed a great deal of farmland, with each area becoming less and less populated as we went on. However, as we turned down a road marked Chan Chich, the landscape instantly changed from cleared pastureland to a road densely surrounded by large trees draping over us as we drove. Soon, a sprinkling of lights entered our view, dotting the driveway and welcoming us to Chan Chich. Suffice it to say that my time searching Chan Chich on Google and Instagram did not do it justice. The greens of the grass and trees blended with the variety of flowers abundant across the property. The lodge and cottages were far more magnificent in real life making them feel humble and authentic while also luxurious all at once.

Continue reading

Climate, Agriculture & Disruption

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Journalist Chris Clayton writes for an audience filled with climate skeptics: farmers and leaders of agricultural businesses. He’s telling them that a changing climate will disrupt their lives. Courtesy of Chris Clayton

From the salt over at National Public Radio (USA), here is an interview in keeping with the spirit of yesterday’s post on peaches:

…Clayton is a Midwesterner and agricultural policy editor at DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He’s also the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, which describes in detail how farmers and farm lobbyists have dealt — or, more often, refused to deal — with a changing climate.

It has sometimes put Clayton in an awkward spot, as he acknowledged when I reached him this week in his office in Omaha, Neb.

Does it make you nervous, as a reporter at a farm publication, talking about climate change?

All the time. I feel like the guy who has to tell people things they don’t want to hear. But if I simply ignore the topic or ignore the issues, am I doing anybody any favors? Continue reading

I Love Peach

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Peaches that bloomed late and thus missed the March freeze at Pearson Farm in Georgia. Production in the state this year might be just a quarter of what it was in 2016. Credit Maura Friedman for The New York Times

I have family in Georgia, and can attest to the state’s obsession described in the first paragraph of the article below. I have visited the state when peach is at its best, and the obsession makes sense to me. Although the article does not mention climate change, per se, considering the news I cannot help filtering this story through that one.

Farmers in the south are part of “the base” that have been led to believe that climate change is a hoax, and that efforts to mitigate it are wasted, even wasteful. Which leads me to wonder whether peach farmers at a moment like this might be on particularly fertile ground–whether they might be inclined to listen to science that can help them understand the season’s tragedy in a new light. For as long as there have been farmers they have been inclined to listen to all kinds of explanations for why things happen the way they do. Maybe climate change has just not been presented by the right messenger with the right message. I love peach enough to want to find out:

The South Faces a Summer With Fewer Peaches

By

ATLANTA — Peaches are such a part of Georgia’s identity that schools, streets and health care plans are named after them. Even the sticker you get when you vote is in the shape of the fruit. South Carolina, one state over, grows more peaches than Georgia. A giant statue of a peach is its most famous roadside attraction. Continue reading

The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease

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Goats climb an argan tree in Morocco to dine on its fruit. Jeremy Horner/Getty Images

At Chan Chich Lodge we are just embarking on a tree-related culinary journey, so any counterintuitive story about trees is likely to catch my attention these days.

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Thanks to Marc Silver at National Public Radio for the story about the picture above, Do Tree-Climbing Goats Help Plant New Trees? It is a short read and worth every second of your attention if you are interested in arboreal foodstuff.

This image to the left, while not as amusing as the one above, shows a deer doing the same thing with less panache. That deer will spread the seeds of that wild fig far and wide in the forest, increasing food supply. Continue reading

Gallon Jug’s Bird Friendly Coffee

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This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind in the last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:

A short round-up of coffee news.

Farmers, Loggers & Biodiversity

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Serro Ricardo Franco is in one of the world’s biggest and most diverse ecological reserves. But reality on the ground is different, putting many animals at risk, such as Yacare caiman and giant river otters. Photograph: Angelo Gandolfi/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

Sometimes, sitting in a glass house, reading the news makes me want to throw a stone. The glass house where I live includes a farm in an extremely biodiverse area. It is surrounded by nearly half a million acres where logging happens. But there is farming, as you can read about in the news below, and there are plenty of better ways of farming; there are loggers like those in the news below, and there are forests where extraction happens according to standards such as those set and enforced by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Instead of throwing a stone, I get up every day and make sure the glass around here is as transparent as possible, because we can demonstrate a better way of supplying food, of harvesting wood, and doing so with the protection of wildlife in constant view. Meanwhile, I do read the news from elsewhere and continue to share it here (thanks to the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts in Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade for this one):

Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazil’s farmers and loggers target national park

The Sierra Ricardo Franco park was meant to be a conservation area protecting rare wildlife

To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere. Continue reading

Leading Legumes To A Better Place

 

Anthropocene’s Emma Bryce has summarized the science of Building a better soybean:

What will it take to build crops that can withstand future climate changes? A group of plant biologists think they might be on to a solution for soybeans. Using genetic engineering, they’ve created a plant whose yields remain unaffected by high-stress conditions. The key lies in a genetic tweak that makes the plant overexpress a particular enzyme, which is thought to boost the efficiency of their photosynthesis cycle and enhance seed production. Continue reading

Coffee’s California Coming

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Jay Ruskey is one of the first farmers to be growing coffee commercially in California. His coffee plants share the farm with avocado and cherimoya trees and passion fruit vines. Credit Morgan Maassen for The New York Times

It always seemed that California could grow just about anything, so why did it take so long for this to happen? Thanks to Stephanie Strom for this story in the New York Times:

GOLETA, Calif. — There is a new crop growing in Southern California’s famous avocado groves — coffee.

About two dozen farms between San Diego and here, just outside Santa Barbara, are nurturing coffee bushes under the canopies of old avocado trees, in what may be the first serious effort in the United States to commercialize coffee grown outside Hawaii, home of Kona coffees. Continue reading

Crop Type & Pesticides

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Image: Pixabay

Thanks to Emma Bryce for A more nuanced approach to reducing insecticides on our food, shared via Anthropocene:

Food, Labels & Useful Information

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Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

We link to the occasional food trend article when it matches something we are working on, whether it is the Chan Chich Lodge culinary program or the food production at Gallon Jug Farm. This article, Whole Foods Would Look a Lot Different If It Were Science-Based, almost lost me with the first sentence, an annoying cliche within a sappy first couple paragraphs, but there is a useful case made starting soon after. We are dealing with these very questions so I can suggest the majority of the article starting after the jump:

Whole Foods used to be my idea of grocery heaven. Once upon a time, I shopped at the California Street location in San Francisco — it was light and airy with produce for miles. I knew the cheesemonger. I had philosophical conversations with the butcher. I stared longingly at the Le Creuset bakeware. The soap aisle smelled like lavender. Heaven.

But eventually, I fell out of love. Or, to be more specific, I changed my mind about organic food after reading the research: It turns out organic isn’t more nutritious or even necessarily better for the planet. So I pretty much stopped shopping at Whole Foods altogether. Continue reading

GrowFood Carolina

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I am always on the lookout for simple but effective graphics illustrating ideas that we attempt to put into action in our various projects–why reinvent the wheel? By rabbit hole good fortune, after I was referred to the Coastal Conservation League as a regional leader in entrepreneurial conservation for the southeastern USA, one of their programs, as illustrated above and described in words below, came to my attention:

The Conservation League started its Food and Agriculture program in 2007 with the goal of protecting South Carolina’s small, family farms. Between 1992 and 1997, more than 200 acres of rural land were converted every day to urban uses, placing South Carolina in the top ten states in the nation for rural land loss. We quickly realized that small farmers lacked access to the infrastructure available to industrial farms, and were therefore unable to say “no” when a developer offered to buy their land. The League saw a food hub as critical to our work protecting rural landscapes and improving quality of life across the coastal plain. Continue reading

Lost Rice, Found Alive

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An upland rice strain. Courtesy of Brian Ward

Thanks to the salt and National Public Radio (USA) for this story about the strain of a grain means so much to billions of people around the world:

A grain of rice, like a grain of sand, sifts through your hands with a mysterious and lovely sameness. Mostly white or tan, hundreds or thousands of grains pour smoothly out of buckets, out of burlap, into bowls, with a sound like small waterfalls. Rice seems so simple, really. And yet, because it plays a central role in world cuisines, these modest grains can carry the weight of history. Sometimes that history is deeply surprising. Continue reading

Cosmic Crisp

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A worker takes a break after planting young Cosmic Crisp trees in an orchard near Wenatchee, Wash. Dan Charles/NPR

The folks at the salt, over at National Public Radio, deliver (click the image above to go to the story) the crispest, juiciest food stories:

Get ready for a new kind of apple. It’s called Cosmic Crisp, and farmers in Washington state, who grow 70 percent of the country’s apples, are planting these trees by the millions. The apples themselves, dark red in color with tiny yellow freckles, will start showing up in stores in the fall of 2019.: Continue reading

Breaking Rules When The Result Is Worth It

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The strawberries at Harry’s Berries, grown in Oxnard, Calif., are harvested only once every five days, to give the fruit time to reach its peak flavor. Credit Amy Dickerson for The New York Times

Renegade behavior in the abstract attracts us almost always. We admit to favoring examples, cases, histories that point to unusual choices that we think provide a model for others to follow to solve problems. However, sometimes there is no choice but to point to the downside of renegade behavior, aka breaking the rules on which society depends. And there are plenty of lousy renegades we read about but do not foul up these pages with. Today, it’s coming up strawberries. Thanks to Rick and Molly and to Karen Stabiner for bringing this story forward:

Red, Ripe and Renegade: Berries That Break All the Rules

“This one should be O.K.,” he said, sounding not quite convinced. Then again, his definition of ripe is more stringent than most. Continue reading

Gangsta Garden’s Gentle Giant

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Ron Finley in a garden outside his home in Los Angeles. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

When Amie passed along a link to him way back when, it was all fresh news about an amazing challenge set up by an urban charismatic. Now that challenge has been turned around and amped up and we link again to Ron to help him gets what he needs:

Fighting Eviction, a Gardener Turns to Organic Industry Giants for Help