Farm Innovations From Kampala

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Urban farms in Kampala, Uganda, make the most of their limited space. Photograph: Nils Adler

Vertical farming, urban farming, innovations we have seen mostly from industrialized places, are important in developing countries as well:

Rooftop farming: why vertical gardening is blooming in Kampala

Ugandans are finding creative solutions to the growing challenges of urbanisation

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Growth spurt: a child carries a tray of plants in eggshell flowerpots. Photograph: Nils Adler

When Martin Agaba realised his urban farm had run out of space, he decided the solution was not to expand outwards but upwards.

“We realised we had to use the roof,” he says. Of all the innovations that have galvanised people in his district in the Ugandan capital Kampala to grow their own food, these vertical box plantations remain his favourite.

Kwagala farm, located on half an acre of land, is the brainchild of Diana Nambatya, a professor in public health, who began growing vegetables to save money on food in 2010.

After receiving two cows as a dowry, she decided to use their dung to generate biogas for her home. Her burgeoning urban farm soon attracted the attention of the neighbours, and in 2012 she started training women at a small demonstration centre. Continue reading

Riverford, A Model Of Organic Farming In The UK

We first heard the name of the farmer on a favored music-oriented podcast, and then the name of his farm. After listening to his story, and his musical tastes, we had to learn more:

guy-singh-watson-4.jpgSelf-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week.

Guy is an inspirational, passionate, opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Continue reading

The Future Is Bright, And Getting Brighter

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TENGKU BAHAR / GETTY

The future is bright, in one alarming way. Ed Yong explains, in his latest story The Very Hot, Very Hungry Caterpillar (anyone with children or grandchildren, or who has read books to a younger generation will appreciate the title) that climate change will help insects thrive. While that may be interesting for biodiversity it has implications for humans worth considering now, before too late:

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been unwillingly nourishing insects by growing plants that they then devour. Their mandibles consume somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of crops produced around the world. And these losses are likely to grow as the world slowly warms.

By looking at how insects will respond to rising temperatures, a team of researchers led by Curtis Deutsch and Joshua Tewksbury have calculated how rice, maize, and wheat—which provide 42 percent of humanity’s calories—will fare as the globe heats up. The results aren’t pretty.

They estimate that the portion of these grains that’s lost to insects will increase by 10 to 25 percent for every extra degree Celsius of warming. Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

Coffee

I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

Continue reading

Option Bee

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Heidi Younger

The Blue Orchard Bee recently came to our attention thanks to Natalie Boyle. However, it seems the species has some competition as potential saviors of the farming industry.  This article by Catherine M. Allchin,  Honeybees Are Hurting. What Else Can Pollinate Our Food?, illustrates how…

…The dominant pollinator is under siege, straining the business of farming. Now growers are turning to alternative species to help their crops.

Jim Freese grows apples, pears and cherries on 45 acres in the north-central part of this state, on sagebrush-studded land his grandfather bought in 1910.

Walking among trees laden with shiny red cherries, Mr. Freese recalled that four years ago his trees were not producing well and his farm was financially struggling. Like many growers, he had been relying on rented honeybees to pollinate his cherry trees every spring, along with wild bees and other insects.

But that year, spring was expected to be cool. “Honeybees will just sit in the hive in cooler weather,” Mr. Freese said. He needed a way to ensure more flowers would develop into fruit than in the past.

At a horticulture meeting, he learned that blue orchard bees — a native species that doesn’t make honey or live in hives — could be used to supplement honeybee pollination. Blue orchard bees will fly at cooler temperatures.

Mr. Freese bought 12,000 cocoons and set them in his orchard to emerge when the trees bloomed. His investment paid off. “We doubled our cherry production from any previous record year,” he said.

His wife, Sandee Freese, said: “The little bees have been a godsend.”…
Continue reading

Bee Awesome

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Will Nissen’s bees north of Bakersfield, Calif. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Thanks to Jaime Lowe for this:

The Value Of Pollinating Bees

We love all creatures great and small, even (we try as best we can) the pesky ones. It is not because we are generous, though we hope we are. It is because we see their value. For hopefully obvious reasons, pollinators are our favorite bees. Our lives depend on them. That is why we have featured dozens of stories about them. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this one:

Watch This Native Pollinator Build Her Bee-Jeweled Nest

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A female blue orchard bee forages for nectar and pollen on Phacelia tanacetifolia flowers, also known as blue or purple tansy. Blue orchard bees are solitary bees that help pollinate California’s almond orchards. Josh Cassidy/KQED

While honeybees and their buzzing hives and hyper-fertile queens get all the press for pollinating our food supply, the hard-working blue orchard bee is one of 4,000 bee species native to North America that does its solitary work in relative obscurity. That is, until now.

In the video, you can see how this bee builds its nests, alternating mud and a purple nectar-pollen mixture in hollow, skinny spaces. The blue orchard bees are preparing a purple lunch box of sorts for their offspring so they have food to eat in the tunnel. The blue orchard bees’ work looks more like jewelry or even scoops of trendy ube ice cream than a nest. Continue reading

Plant-Based Diets Boost UK Chia Farming

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Thanks to Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, for this:

First UK-grown chia seeds to go on sale this week

The popularity of plant-based diets has created huge demand for the oil-rich seeds, prompting a farm in Essex to plant a crop

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Essex grown Chia seeds by Peter Fairs for Hodmedod’s Photograph: Rebecca Noakes/Courtesy of Hodmedod’s

The first UK-grown chia seeds go on sale this week, as demand for the plant native to the Americas is fuelled by the explosion in the popularity of plant-based diets.

The company Hodmedod, pioneers of British-grown pulses, grains and seeds, has been working with farmers Peter and Andrew Fairs, of Great Tey in Essex, to bring the new British crop to market.  Continue reading

Sustainability & Land-Use Choices

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Along the back of this field of sugar snap peas, sunflowers and bachelor buttons at Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center is a buffer of maturing big-leaf maples and red-osier dogwoods. It’s a combination of forest and thicket that the farm has left standing to help protect water quality in the river and aquifer. Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center

Another day, another sunflower because, why not? But this story is about much more than the overwhelming attractiveness of sunflowers:

Which Vision Of Farming Is Better For The Planet?

OxbowFarmers face a growing dilemma. Specifically, a food-growing dilemma.

How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment?

As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research.

It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change. Continue reading

When & Where & How Should Crops Be Genetically Modified?

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A wheat field in Mouchamps, France. There are very few genetically modified crops grown in Europe compared to the United States. Credit Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Thanks for this GMO primer by Carl Zimmer:

What Is a Genetically Modified Crop? A European Ruling Sows Confusion

In Europe, plants created with gene-editing technologies will be stringently regulated as G.M.O.’s. But older crops whose DNA has been altered will be left alone.

Mushrooms that don’t brown. Wheat that fights off disease. Tomatoes with a longer growing season.

All of these crops are made possible by a gene-editing technology called Crispr-cas9. But now its future has been clouded by the European Union’s top court.

This week, the court ruled that gene-edited crops are genetically modified organisms, and therefore must comply with the tough regulations that apply to plants made with genes from other species.

Many scientists responded to the decision with dismay, predicting that countries in the developing world would follow Europe’s lead, blocking useful gene-edited crops from reaching farms and marketplaces. The ruling may also curtail exports from the United States, which has taken a more lenient view of gene-edited foods.

“You’re not just affecting Europe, you’re affecting the world with this decision,” said Matthew Willmann, the director of the Plant Transformation Facility at Cornell University. Continue reading

Vegetarianism For Footprint Reduction

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Replacing 50% of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would push back the overshoot date by five days. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty

Our vegetarian diet ambitions are strengthening for all kinds of reasons. Footprint reduction among them. Thanks to our colleague Mathis Wackernagel for his regular reminders of the anything but regular footprint growth humanity imposes on the planet each year:

Earth’s resources consumed in ever greater destructive volumes

Study says the date by which we consume a year’s worth of resources is arriving faster

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days.

As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded.

Earth Overshoot Day falls on 1 August this year – marking the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate

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Guardian graphic. Source: Overshootday.org

To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt. Continue reading

Rewild The Uplands?

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Int2.jpgIntelligence Squared has an app that allows you to listen to their debates and lectures at your own convenience, on your phone or wherever, whenever you choose. If, like us, you have found the rewilding debate interesting, this is one you will want to listen to:

THE BATTLE FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE: BRITAIN SHOULD REWILD ITS UPLANDS

Imagine if swathes of the British countryside were allowed to be wild once again, if trees and rare plants could flourish and beavers, boars and white-tailed eagles could retake their place in the ecosystem. That’s the goal of the growing numbers of nature-lovers who support the idea of rewilding Britain’s uplands. We tend to think of these uplands as ‘wild’ and ‘natural’. But in fact, as the rewilders point out, they are entirely man-made, the result of clearances by man to make way for millions of sheep whose grazing over the last 200 years has rendered the land bare. Continue reading

Dairy, Feed & Food

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Yesterday, in our continued quest to consider the future of a family dairy farm, we visited what must be the largest such farm in central Costa Rica. At 7,545 feet above sea level overlooking the valley from the northern slope, it may also be the highest.

BrealeyGoats.jpgIt has eight times the land and double the cows compared to where we are based, 10 miles north and about 1,000 feet lower in altitude. That farm also has dairy goats. More on other implications of the visit later. Here, a quick note on feed. We had noticed on the dairy where we live that pineapple is part of the diet of the cows.

BrealeyCheese.jpgThe dairy manager had explained that this is an important part of the nutritional mix. Despite our surprise we had not asked more about it. Yesterday we did, and the answer was another surprise. Milk production rises 10% or more with the pineapple added to the feed. The animals are healthier because of the fiber content of the fruit, compared to cows eating grains such as corn or soy. Plus, the methane bi-product is significantly decreased. Food produced in a dairy making this dietary change represents one small step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the type of coincidence I never expect, but always enjoy, this article was near the top of my news feed today. Thanks to Judith Lewis Mernit and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies for take my yesterday’s lesson and adding some important detail:

How Eating Seaweed Can Help Cows to Belch Less Methane

Emissions from the nearly 1.5 billion cattle on earth are a major source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Now, researchers in California and elsewhere are experimenting with seaweed as a dietary additive for cows that can dramatically cut their methane production.

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Holstein cows feeding at a dairy farm in Merced, California. MARMADUKE ST. JOHN / ALAMY

The spring morning temperature in landlocked northern California warns of an incipient scorcher, but the small herd of piebald dairy cows that live here are too curious to care. Upon the approach of an unfamiliar human, they canter out of their barn into the already punishing sun, nosing each other aside to angle their heads over the fence. Some are black-and-white, others brown; all sport a pair of numbered yellow ear tags. Some are more assertive than others. One manages to stretch her long neck out far enough to lick the entire length of my forearm.

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Scientist Ermias Kebreab has studied how to reduce cow methane emissions for more than a decade. GREGORY URQUIAGA/UC DAVIS

“That’s Ginger,” explains their keeper, 27-year-old Breanna Roque. A graduate student in animal science at the University of California, Davis, Roque monitors everything from the animals’ food rations to the somatic cells in their milk — indicators of inflammation or stress. “The interns named her. She’s our superstar.” Continue reading

Other Farms Of The Future

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08824.jpgYou can click on any of these photos to go to their source, and they are inserted here because the article that brought this farm (?), this company, this phenomenon to my attention did not have any images. It was good to have only the New Yorker words to start with because, like all good writing, it forced me to imagine what this might look like. However, my imagination fell short.

Out of the Ordinary

Farm+One.jpegFarm.One is New York City’s grower of rare herbs, edible flowers and microgreens for some of the best restaurants in the city. Our Edible Bar and Tasting Plates make these fresh, exciting ingredients available for the first time in an event setting. Guests can discover botanical ingredients for the first time, with the expert guidance of our farm team. Taste ingredients on their own, or paired with cocktails and other beverages, for a colorful, flavorful and aromatic experience like no other.

VS_Inspiration_at_Farm.One-9124This short piece by Anna Russell below continues our stream of thought about the farm of the future, and takes it into very unexpected territory. Hydroponics and urban farming have been featured many times in these pages over the years so that is not what has our attention. It is the mixing of art and agriculture that gets us thinking outside the box:

Tribeca’s Hydroponic Underground

Chic stems and tender greens thrive deep below Worth Street on the rolling shelves of Farm.One.

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08817.jpgHydroponics are a slippery slope. You might find yourself, one Sunday morning, at a Santa Monica farmers’ market, loitering among the apples, say. You come across a bunch of papalo, a leafy herb native to central Mexico, and toss it in your mouth (your tastes are expansive; a papalo leaf is nothing to you) and wham!: a brand-new flavor. Suddenly, you’re up at all hours, watching vertical-farming videos on YouTube, ordering seed packets from eBay, buying rhizomes—rhizomes!—and worrying about spider mites. You get some fennel crowns and a pouch of parasitic wasps, and you’re on your way. Continue reading

A Mom’s Pride & Joy, Heirloom Berries

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Heirloom berries growing outside the White home. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

Pondering the future of a heritage dairy in Costa Rica is our 2018 summer pastime. The future of a heritage berry is a welcome distraction. With more moms like Jeanne Lindsay and more sons like Richard Stevens Jr. we can trust that the uniquely North American flavor produced on this farm is in good hands. Thanks to Rachel Wharton:

What Will The Small Family Dairy Of The Future Look Like?

Milk.jpgOur current work, better described as the pleasure of learning, is thinking through how an old fashioned dairy farm retains relevance in Costa Rica in the future. When we saw a book like this one to the left, authored by someone we have linked to plenty, we had to dive in. We listened to the author first and then found this item we had missed in the salt a couple months ago:

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro sat down with author Mark Kurlansky to discuss his new book, Milk!A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, and unpack some of the controversies surrounding what he calls “the most over-argued food in history.”

Humans, it turns out, are unique in their preference for the dairy drink. “In nature, we aren’t meant to have milk past weaning,” Kurlansky says.

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A man pours milk into a can in India’s Mayong village in 2015. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk.
Anupam Nath/AP

But because of a genetic aberration, many humans can process the sugars found in milk and dairy products well into adulthood.

And while that makes some of us unique among mammals, it doesn’t mean that all humans have those genes. “It’s still only something like 40 percent of the human population that can drink milk past the age of two,” Kurlansky told NPR.

The genetic change is primarily found in white, northern European populations and their descendants. And although it may be Eurocentric to say that all humans can enjoy dairy in the same way, it hasn’t stopped milk from becoming a global industry. Continue reading

Helping Plants Make Their Own Nitrogen

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Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes. Sharon Doty

Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

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Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.
Sam Scharffenberger

If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Butterflies Bear Bucolic Benefits

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Milkweed was first mentioned in these pages  so long ago I had forgotten their importance to Monarch butterflies, a seemingly perennial topic for our contributors. So thanks to Margaret Renkl for keeping that tradition going in her Monday op-ed, and reminding us in the process that while it is not all good news out there, it is also not all bad news:

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last

NASHVILLE — I was pretty proud of myself the spring I planted my first organic garden. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a first-year graduate student in creative writing, a program entirely unrelated to horticultural mastery. But I had taken a college course in environmental biology, and I knew the basics: The more chemicals you use in a garden, the more chemicals you’ll need in the garden. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, more reliable than the seasons.

At my house, companion planting — marigolds in between the broccoli, tomato vines encircling the spinach — would repel bugs the natural way. Any lingering pests would be dispatched by beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. One evening I watched happily as cabbage white butterflies flitted over silvery broccoli leaves. Those little white butterflies pausing in the gloaming on the water-beaded broccoli made for a tableau of bucolic harmony. Continue reading

Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

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The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
Department of Agriculture

If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading