Ugandans are finding creative solutions to the growing challenges of urbanisation
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
Self-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
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
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.
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.
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)…
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.”…
Thanks to Jaime Lowe for this:
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:
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
Thanks to Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, for this:
The popularity of plant-based diets has created huge demand for the oil-rich seeds, prompting a farm in Essex to plant a crop
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
Another day, another sunflower because, why not? But this story is about much more than the overwhelming attractiveness of sunflowers:
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
Thanks for this GMO primer by Carl Zimmer:
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
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:
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
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
Intelligence 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:
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
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.
It 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.
The 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:
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.
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.
“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
You 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.
Farm.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.
This 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:
Chic stems and tender greens thrive deep below Worth Street on the rolling shelves of Farm.One.
Hydroponics 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
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:
The cultivated blueberry was born in South Jersey, and today its heirloom descendants can still be found on little farms sprinkled among the big producers.
HAMMONTON, N.J. — Jeanne Lindsay often apologizes for the semi-wild state of her pick-your-own blueberry patch, which she runs on the farm her in-laws started in 1941.
It’s no wonder: Since her husband died four years ago, Mrs. Lindsay, 75, has to manage the 16-acre homestead mostly by herself. It doesn’t help that she tends to compare her 65-year-old plants — antique blueberry breeds like juicy Weymouths, Jerseys tall enough to provide shade and six tart-fruited Rancocas — to the perfectly trimmed bushes at her neighbor’s giant farm across the street.
Yet it’s precisely the old-fashioned imperfections of Lindsay’s Farm that make its moss-carpeted rows worth the trip for regulars, many of whom now bring their children.
“Some people come just for the Rancocas,” Mrs. Lindsay said. “They’re good pie berries.”
From late June until the end of July, this corner of South Jersey, known as the Pinelands, is the blueberry epicenter of the Eastern United States; this flat region of sandy soils is where commercial cultivation of the berries began a century ago. Continue reading
Our 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.
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
Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:
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
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:
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
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:
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
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:
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