Small Dairy Farm & Value Creation

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Kevin and Ranae Dietzel, owners of a small dairy herd near Jewell, Iowa, named their signature cheese after this cow, Ingrid. Amy Mayer

A lovely little piece from the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), that illustrates again how the production of artisanal cheeses can add value, in this case to an otherwise economically challenged farming enterprise

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

“Come on!” he hollers in a singsong voice. “Come on!”

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.: Continue reading

Bee Mogul Is A Thing

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Bret Adee’s family operation provides more than two billion bees to farmers who need to pollinate their crops. Before the hives are moved to the California almond groves where they are used in January and February, they are kept on a cattle ranch at a safe distance from pesticide and herbicide sprays. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

We already knew a fair amount about the business of bees, but had not yet heard the term bee mogul, which sounds like it may have been an excellent thing once upon a time, but now, maybe not so much:

KERN COUNTY, Calif. — A soft light was just beginning to outline the Tejon Hills as Bret Adee counted rows of wizened almond trees under his breath.

He placed a small white flag at the end of every 16th row to show his employees where they should place his beehives. Every so often, he fingered the buds on the trees. “It won’t be long,” he said.

Mr. Adee (pronounced Ay-Dee) is America’s largest beekeeper, and this is his busy season. Some 92,000 hives had to be deployed before those buds burst into blossom so that his bees could get to the crucial work of pollination. Continue reading

Heatless Habanero!

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New York City’s Blue Hill restaurant is the biggest buyer of “Habanadas,” a habanero bred to be heatless, so the focus is on its melon-like flavor. Courtesy of Blue Hill

A few reasons to read this include Dan Barber and his Blue Hill being mentioned in the opening sentence; plus the arrival of our new chef at Chan Chich Lodge, hinted at last month; plus the fact that many of our guests cannot tolerate the heat of habaneros; plus our plan to expand the variety of salsas produced at Gallon Jug Farm; plus the fact that the plant breeder responsible for this innovation is in one of our favorite places for agricultural innovation:

For Dan Barber, the celebrated chef of the New York City restaurant Blue Hill, each course of a meal is an opportunity to tell a story. One of these stories is about a pepper — an aromatic, orange habanero without any heat. Continue reading

Food, Its Contents & Its Discontents

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Alex Reynolds/NPR

We appreciate that an immigrant restaurant owner has the courage to state the unpopular but important facts underpinning one of the popular memes of our time (thanks as always to the salt over at National Public Radio in the USA):

Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Costs Of Those Lists

by Diep Tran

Everyone loves a cheap eats list. A treasure map to $1 tacos! $4 banh mi! $6 pad Thai! More often than not, the Xs that mark the cheap spots are in the city’s immigrant enclaves. Indeed, food media is never so diverse as when it runs these lists, its pages fill with names of restaurateurs and chefs of color.

These lists infuriate me.

Continue reading

Corn Culture Cropped

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Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Ill. A thriving American Indian city that rose to prominence after A.D. 900 owing to successful maize farming, it may have collapsed because of changing climate. Michael Dolan/Flickr

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) and the folks at the salt for raising our awareness of another corn-influenced culture we knew nothing about until just now:

1,000 Years Ago, Corn Made This Society Big. Then, A Changing Climate Destroyed It

by Angus Chen

About a 15-minute drive east of St. Louis is a complex of earthen mounds that once supported a prehistoric city of thousands. For a couple of hundred years, the city, called Cahokia, and several smaller city-states like it flourished in the Mississippi River Valley. But by the time European colonizers set foot on American soil in the 15th century, these cities were already empty. Continue reading

Millenia-Old Amazonian Practices Worthy Of Marvel

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New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit Jenny Watling

Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery. Continue reading

Millet, India & A New Green Revolution

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A woman farmers harvests pearl millet in Andhra Pradesh, India. Millets were once a steady part of Indians’ diets until the Green Revolution, which encouraged farmers to grow wheat and rice. Now, the grains are slowly making a comeback. Courtesy of L.Vidyasagar

Thanks to the folks at the salt for this note on millet:

Getting people to change what they eat is tough. Changing a whole farming system is even tougher. The southern Indian state of Karnataka is quietly trying to do both, with a group of cereals that was once a staple in the state: millet. Continue reading

Climate, Change & Mayan Foodways

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Farmers Gualberto Casanova (left) and Dionisio Yam Moo stand among young corn plants in Yam Moo’s improved milpa plot. Gabriel Popkin

We are grateful as always to our friends at the salt, one of National Public Radio (USA)’s great occasional series, for this story (the photo after the jump is a beauty, so read on):

Mayans Have Farmed The Same Way For Millennia. Climate Change Means They Can’t

by Gabriel Popkin

Dionisio Yam Moo stands about four-and-a-half-feet tall, and his skin is weathered from years in the tropical sun. A “proudly Mayan” farmer, he grows corn, beans and vegetables on a six-hectare farm in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. The farm is surrounded by dense tropical forest, and crops grow amid fruit trees in thin soil, with the peninsula’s limestone bedrock protruding in places. Continue reading

Trees & Sustainability On Small African Farms

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Baobab and palm tree/Rod Waddington via Flickr

Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary:

Trees improve the environment—and bottom line—on small African farms

Farmers, Chefs & Connections

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Farmers and chefs looking for their perfect match at Bluejacket, a restaurant and brewery in Washington, D.C. Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to the folks at the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), one of the greatest investments any country has made in broadcast news and features:

‘Speed Dating’ For Farmers And Chefs: ISO A Perfect Local-Food Match

By Dan Charles

…Ashley Heaney and Mark Heaney, from Green Acres Family Farm in Gapland, Md., are sitting in a booth on one side of the room, looking expectant and a little tense. They have a cooler full of eggs from their pasture-raised chickens beside them. This is their chance to show off those eggs to a collection of big-city chefs.

They’re here for matchmaking, though not of the romantic sort. It’s an annual “speed-dating” event where farmers get set up with chefs, in an effort to put more local food on restaurant tables. Continue reading

Back To The Land, And A Future

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Vincent Martin, right, made a living selling health club memberships in Paris until he left his job about five years ago. “Land is key,” he said. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

We are going back to the land this year, in Belize, and can relate to the description and explanation these ex-urbanites give for their retreat to the rural, agricultural life of their forebears:

Life on the Farm Draws Some French Tired of Urban Rat Race

By

SAULX-LES-CHARTREUX, France — Two years ago, Elisabeth Lavarde decided to quit her office job in Paris and start a new life in Saulx-les-Chartreux, a small town with two butchers and one baker just south of the capital.

Ms. Lavarde, 39, is now an apprentice farmer at a 24-acre farm that grows organic vegetables, sold directly to local consumers. New farmers like Ms. Lavarde usually make what they see as a decent salary of about 1,500 euros, or about $1,600, a month, slightly above the French minimum wage.

“I wanted a job with more meaning,” she said. “I felt like I was tilting at windmills.” Continue reading

Economic Models Adapting To Evolving Challenges

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Aerial view of flooded rice fields participating in California’s BirdReturns program. White areas are dense gatherings of birds. Photo © Drew Kelly for The Nature Conservancy

The Moneyball approach to thinking about how to make the next big breakthroughs in conservation–not surprising that we are hearing this from The Nature Conservancy’s best and brightest:

Economics: The Next Frontier in Conservation Science

BY ERIC HALLSTEIN, SARAH HEARD

Engaging in markets is not new for The Nature Conservancy. But with our roots as a land trust, we thought about markets in a very specific way. We bought property to protect biodiversity using donor and public funding. We were in the market for “externalities.” Continue reading

Ancient Grain, Great Again

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It is not quite as ancient as geological time, but rye grain goes way back. And deserves as comeback, we think, almost regardless of all the nifty innovations that will determine the future of grain-growing. While we are busy with greatness-making, our thought is at this moment, let’s not forget the grains that got us here:

Rye, a Grain With Ancient Roots, Is Rising Again

By Julia Moskin

Any adventurous eater who has wandered into the woods of modern Nordic cuisine has probably tripped over a loaf of rye bread. There is wonderfully chewy rugbrod at Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal, spice-scented Swedish limpa at Plaj in San Francisco, and darkly rugged toast at Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. Continue reading

Boosting Crop Yields Without GMO

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Yann Coeuru/Flickr.com

Thanks to Anthropocene for this summary on agricultural technology possibly breaking through the GMO debate in the near future:

A non-GMO approach to producing bigger, better wheat

by Catherine Elton

Researchers have developed a new technology that not only increases the yield of wheat plants, but also makes them more resilient to drought. What makes this technology so interesting is that—if  successful in field trials—it might provide an alternative to genetic modification approaches to boosting wheat yields. Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & How They Matter

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Our lives in the New World Tropics has allowed a frequent convergence between birds and coffee, even in the most simple terms of enjoying birdsong in our garden over the first morning cup. That very garden of our home in Costa Rica sits in what was historically cafetal (a coffee finca), with large trees shading the coffee that still grows along the little stream that runs along the property line. Blue-crowned motmots (the Central American cousin to the Andean Motmot mentioned below, have been frequent residents.

The coffee plantings at our home are insignificant compared to the 100+ acres of Gallon Jug Estate shade-grown coffee at Chan Chich. Of the nearly 350 bird species recorded in the Chan Chich Reserve’s 30,000 acres, a large percentage are migratory, making their home in the coffee as well as the healthy forest habitats that make up the reserve.

Sustainable agriculture is rarely a “get rich quick scheme”, but taken within the context of the “seventh generation stewardship”, the benefits will continue to outweigh the costs.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike

By Gustave Axelson

Early one morning last January, I drank Colombian coffee the Colombian way—tinto, or straight dark.

I sipped my tinto while sitting on a Spanish colonial veranda at Finca Los Arrayanes, a fourth-generation coffee farm and hotel deep in northwestern Colombia’s Antioquia region. The sun had not yet risen above the high ridges of the northern Andes. In the ambient gray predawn light, the whirring nocturnal forest insects were just beginning to quiet down.

My senses of taste and smell were consumed by the coffee, which was strong and bold in a pure way, the flavor flowing directly from the beans, not a burnt layer of roast. But my eyes were trained on a small wooden platform that held a couple of banana halves. The first bird to visit was an Andean Motmot, one of Colombia’s many Alice in Wonderland–type fantastical birds. It sported a green-and-turquoise coat and black eye mask, and it was huge—longer than my forearm, with a long tail with two circles at the end that swung rhythmically from side to side like the pendulum of a clock.

The motmot flew away and I took another sip of coffee to be sure I didn’t dream it. Another bird soon landed on the platform to pick at the bananas. This one was yellow, though Colombians call it tangara roja, because males of this species are completely red. In its breeding range, birders from the Carolinas to Texas know it as the Summer Tanager.

For more than 5 million years, a rainbow of Neotropical migrant birds (tanagers, warblers, and orioles) has been embarking on epic annual migrations from breeding grounds in North America to the New World tropics. In Colombia, these wintering areas are a lot different now than they were just 50 years ago. From the 1970s to the 1990s, more than 60 percent of Colombian coffee lands were cleared of forest as new varieties of sun-grown coffee were planted. During that same period, populations for many Neotropical migrant species plummeted—a drop many scientists say is related to deforestation of the birds’ wintering areas across Central and South America.

And yet, coffee doesn’t require deforestation. Continue reading

Adaptation, Climate Change, Winery Operations

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Solar panels dot the buildings at the family’s Carneros Hills Winery. Jason Henry for The New York Times

When a family does its homework on the property that represents its livelihood and our own appreciation for their craft, we take note just as we do when the professor teaches:

Falcons, Drones, Data: A Winery Battles Climate Change

Jackson Family Wines is among California
winemakers employing both high-tech and old-school
techniques to adapt to hotter, drier conditions.

By

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Harvested grapes. Jackson Family Wines is one of the largest family-owned winemakers in the country. Jason Henry for The New York Times

On a misty autumn morning in Sonoma County, Calif., Katie Jackson headed into the vineyards to assess the harvest. It was late in the season, and an army of field workers was rushing to pick the grapes before the first rains, however faint, began falling.

But on this day, Ms. Jackson, the vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines, was not just minding the usual haul of cabernet, chardonnay and merlot grapes. She also checked on the sophisticated network of systems she had put in place to help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Continue reading

Avocados Of The Future

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Thanks to Wired for this preview of things to come in the world of avocados:

IT’S THE WINTER avocado harvest at the University of California’s orchard in Lindcove, and the fruit jumbled in the back of Eric Focht’s SUV are a palette of earthy tones, some rough and flecked with frosted tips, others green and smooth. The horticulturist selects three miniature fruit, bright green and rotund, which together fit easily in the palm of his hand. “We were thinking of calling it the Lunch Box,” says Mary Lu Arpaia, who oversees the avocado breeding program at the orchard. But for now it’s just an experimental variety, officially known by a string of numbers. It’s too soon to tell if “Lunch Box” will ever be released to the world.: Continue reading

The Vertical Farm, Explained In Long Form

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Vertical farming can allow former cropland to go back to nature and reverse the plundering of the earth.Illustration by Bruce McCall

For all the reasons we have to enjoy reading this — the Ithaca, New York setting we care deeply about, including Cornell University not least, plus a main character straight out of entrepreneurial conservation central casting — most importantly we have been posting on vertical farming for years and this exposes some of what we have been missing up to now. We have taken information as it arrives on our doorstep, in small bundles. Now, a more in-depth look at the past, present and future of:

THE VERTICAL FARM

Growing crops in the city, without soil or natural light.

By Ian Frazier

No. 212 Rome Street, in Newark, New Jersey, used to be the address of Grammer, Dempsey & Hudson, a steel-supply company. It was like a lumberyard for steel, which it bought in bulk from distant mills and distributed in smaller amounts, mostly to customers within a hundred-mile radius of Newark. It sold off its assets in 2008 and later shut down. In 2015, a new indoor-agriculture company called AeroFarms leased the property. It had the rusting corrugated-steel exterior torn down and a new building erected on the old frame. Then it filled nearly seventy thousand square feet of floor space with what is called a vertical farm. The building’s ceiling allowed for grow tables to be stacked twelve layers tall, to a height of thirty-six feet, in rows eighty feet long. The vertical farm grows kale, bok choi, watercress, arugula, red-leaf lettuce, mizuna, and other baby salad greens. Continue reading

One Type Of Farm Of The Future

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Dan Charles/NPR

The last story of 2016 offered by the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) seems a fitting story for us to link to as we jump in to 2017, which will be a year for stretching our farming and food activities beyond simple farm-to-table, onward to a bigger reach (more on which to come). It is useful, and heartening, to hear this family’s story:

By Returning To Farming’s Roots, He Found His American Dream

by Dan Charles

Eighteen years ago, on New Year’s Eve, David Fisher visited an old farm in western Massachusetts, near the small town of Conway. No one was farming there at the time, and that’s what had drawn Fisher to the place. He was scouting for farmland. Continue reading

Food’s Future Seen In Urgent Present Perspective

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Cristiana Couceiro

When this particular chef develops a thought into action, we are at least curious. When he shares a short essay on how the future of food might work, such as A Blueprint for the Future of Food, we take note. The following is from Turning Points, exploring how key moments from this year might signal something important coming in the year ahead.

Turning Point: France becomes the first country to outlaw food waste.

Not long ago, just before boarding a trans-Atlantic flight, I overheard a woman tell her friend that she had packed her own water bottle because she disliked wasting all the plastic bottles given out on planes. A few minutes later she was on the phone with another friend, explaining that she was on her way to Europe for the weekend to shop and relax. Continue reading