If there’s one vital, but underappreciated, subject in the conversation about climate change, it’s waste: how to define it, how to create less of it, how to deal with it without adding more pollution to the planet or the atmosphere.
But experts say these aren’t necessarily the biggest problems. Reducing the damage from waste might require expanding the traditional definition of waste — not just as old-fashioned garbage, but as a result of wild inefficiency in all kinds of systems, which often results in emissions of greenhouse gases, among other problems.
From our perspective, many agricultural “developments” deserve quotations. The Agricultural Industrial Complex of Monsanto and their ilk more frequently serve to further their own economic gain rather than preserve species or better the health and livelihoods of the farmer or consumer.
Preserving the genetics of fruit and vegetable species down to their paleo-botanical ancestry is an entirely different story, and may be our best chance to overcome the obstacles of harsher and harsher weather conditions.
Like other small farmers and researchers, Brad Gates is trying to ensure a future for the tomato by breeding hardier varieties and persuading more Americans to grow their own.
NAPA, Calif. — In a borrowed van, Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms sped south on Interstate 680 with hundreds of fuzzy tomato seedlings bumping around in the back, their trembling leaves, warmed by the sun, filling the cab with the smell of summer. It was one of a half-dozen deliveries on his to-do list.
Born and raised in Northern California, Mr. Gates has been organically farming tomatoes in the region for 25 years, working on small leased plots and introducing new varieties with cult followings, like the dark, meaty Black Beauty and the striped, rosy-pink Dragon’s Eye.
For most of that time, he sold his tomatoes to top restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But a few years ago he completely rethought his work. Galvanized by climate change, he joined a growing number of farmers who are trying to find a future for their threatened crops — in his case, the queen of the farmers’ market.
Mr. Gates now grows thousands of tomato plants each year, selling the young ones to local shops and the seeds all over the country through his website and catalogs, encouraging people to grow their own at home. He believes that the tomato’s survival and continued deliciousness depend on the plant’s diversity, and he considers breeding hardy, cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties an essential part of his work — not just to provide food, but also to expand the number of places where the plant can flourish. Continue reading
Lotus flower first appeared in these pages years ago, but its seeds were never mentioned. Time to correct that. We missed the opportunity to mention this book when it was first published–we missed the enthusiastic review–but better late than never. Thanks to the folks at Gastropod for the shoutout in a recent episode that gives Thor Hanson and his book their due:
When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste?
While on the topic of food, thanks to Dustin Solberg and Cool Green Science for this:
Quite a few years back, while working the wheat harvest in the middle of Oklahoma, I met a leathery skinned farmer. He lived through the dusty, hardscrabble, droughty years of the Great Depression, and experience had taught him plenty. I still recall his silver belt buckle, his straw cowboy hat, and the funny joke he told me about the buffalo on a buffalo nickel, which I can’t repeat here. He wanted me to know, and so told me in no uncertain terms, that there’s one way, and one way only, to plow a field.
We were standing then in the fresh golden stubble of a wheat field. It was hot. We’d just finished combining and after a day of steady motion we were finally still, the diesel engines at rest. I can still recall the animated force in his muscly hands – he made his fingers into the tines of a chisel plow – to make his point as vividly as I recall what he said: “You’ve got to set the plow deep.”
The trouble was, he was wrong.
Thanks to FT’s Sarah Murray for this story–Organic farming’s growth only part of answer to food sustainability:
The approach has an impact far beyond its scale but questions remain over yields
While only a tiny proportion of the world’s agricultural land is devoted to organic farming, some argue that it punches above its weight in contributing to more sustainable farming practices. “Its influence goes far beyond the 1 per cent of land that is managed organically,” says Verena Seufert, assistant professor at the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU University Amsterdam. “It is influencing the debate by highlighting food sustainability and how big an impact the food we eat has on many of our environmental problems,” she says. Yet while some believe that organic agriculture could play a bigger role in helping feed the world, environmental advocates see it as one option in a number of more sustainable approaches to farming. Continue reading
…For centuries, American farmers grew hemp for fiber, oil and many other uses. George Washington cultivated it at Mount Vernon to mend fishing nets…
Thanks to Malia Wollan, in her Tip quite straightforwardly titled How to Grow Hemp, I know more today than I did then:
…Practice your explainer, which should go something like this: Marijuana and hemp are varieties of the same species of cannabis plant, but hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of the mind-altering tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC, and will not get you high…
There is more, but not a lot more. Continue reading
In Ethiopia and other developing nations, scientists are working with small-scale farmers on trials to see which seed varieties perform best in changing conditions. These initiatives are enabling farmers to make smarter crop choices in the face of rising temperatures, drought, and more extreme weather.
In Ethiopia’s undulating, high-elevation grasslands, farmers — most of them working parcels of only two to three acres — produce more wheat than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. They accomplish this feat in the face of chronically short supplies of high-quality seed. Still, Ethiopia’s record harvest of 4.6 million metric tons in 2017 didn’t satisfy the country’s needs, forcing it to import an additional 1.5 million tons of wheat. Continue reading
Preparing ahead for a meal to be cooked today, I was reading this recipe, whose image (below) was competing for my attention with the image above. The picture above is eye-catching, at least to me, a visual cue leading me to the type of meal I should be thinking about more often. It is a big picture picture. I have red lentils in the cupboard, and I intend to prepare them today, so the recipe won the race for my attention.
The story by National Public Radio (USA) waited. It is about diet, with the kind of explanatory information that motivates me to find lentils more appealing, and to understand why meals like this should dominate the weekly menu:
What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.
Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it’s better for both.
So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it’s far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day. Continue reading
As much as I thought I learned in the last year about coffee, I got a hint just now, reading the article below, how steep my learning curve remains. 124 species of coffee? So much to hunt, so little time! Thanks to Somini Sengupta for this story:
Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.
He has recorded how a warming planet is making it harder to grow coffee in traditional coffee-producing regions, including Ethiopia, the birthplace of the world’s most popular bean, arabica. He has mapped where farmers can grow coffee next: basically upcountry, where it’s cooler. He has gone searching for rare varieties in the wild. Continue reading
Thanks to Jim Robbins and Yale e360:
CRISIS ON THE COLORADO: PART I
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off. First in a series.
The beginnings of the mighty Colorado River on the west slope of Rocky Mountain National Park are humble. A large marsh creates a small trickle of a stream at La Poudre Pass, and thus begins the long, labyrinthine 1,450-mile journey of one of America’s great waterways.
Several miles later, in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Kawuneeche Valley, the Colorado River Trail allows hikers to walk along its course and, during low water, even jump across it. This valley is where the nascent river falls prey to its first diversion — 30 percent of its water is taken before it reaches the stream to irrigate distant fields.
The Never Summer Mountains tower over the the valley to the west. Cut across the face of these glacier-etched peaks is the Grand Ditch, an incision visible just above the timber line. The ditch collects water as the snow melts and, because it is higher in elevation than La Poudre Pass, funnels it 14 miles back across the Continental Divide, where it empties it into the headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River, which flows on to alfalfa and row crop farmers in eastern Colorado. Hand dug in the late 19th century with shovels and picks by Japanese crews, it was the first trans-basin diversion of the Colorado. Continue reading
Them refers to the kinds of mammals in the photo above. Us refers to us humans. In keeping with yesterday’s post, Oliver Milman’s op-ed provides an excellent reminder that virtually all mammals living on planet earth today are we humans and the animals we farm for eating. There are still other species of mammals holding on, if barely, but they are being pushed to extinction largely due to the amount of meat we eat. Another good reason to go vegetarian, or vegan, or more simply just eating much less meat:
Eating meat has a hefty impact on the environment from fueling climate change to polluting landscapes and waterways
Recycling or taking the bus rather than driving to work has its place, but scientists are increasingly pointing to a deeper lifestyle change that would be the single biggest way to help the planet: eating far less meat. Continue reading
WASHINGTON — If the world hopes to make meaningful progress on climate change, it won’t be enough for cars and factories to get cleaner. Our cows and wheat fields will have to become radically more efficient, too.
That’s the basic conclusion of a sweeping new study issued Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. The report warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.
The challenge is daunting: Agriculture already occupies roughly 40 percent of the world’s land and is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. But with the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with many millions of people eating more meat as incomes rise, that environmental impact is on pace to expand dramatically. Continue reading
Thanks to Emma Brockes for this article, another in this important Guardian series:
In the latest from our series on biodiversity, the Blue Hill chef says we’ve got sustainable agriculture wrong. It’s not a question of sacrifice, but deliciousness
How does it taste?” says Dan Barber, regarding me expectantly in the garden of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in the Hudson Valley just north of New York. I am gnawing the crust of a large piece of bread that has been grown from Barber Wheat, a hybrid seed developed by Barber and his partners to be nutrient dense, high in yield and – a radical thought in seed breeding, apparently – full of flavour. (Whereas clapped out old seeds might yield 30 bushels an acre, Barber Wheat will stretch to 95). The bread is simultaneously light, and dense, and intricate in flavour in such a way that I can’t think of a single word to do it justice. Barber, who at 49 has the manic energy of someone for whom no plate of food will ever live up to the ideal in his head, looks at me gloomily. “That’s the whole problem with food writing,” he says.
There are bigger problems in the food world. With the possible exception of “financial regulation”, there can be few more deadly phrases to the casual reader than “sustainable agriculture”, a heavy-weather issue most of us recognise as increasingly important but nonetheless killingly dull. This is where Barber, who set up his restaurant in 2004, is hugely persuasive, a charismatic leader who, if you talk to him for an hour while walking around the kitchen and bucolic surroundings of Stone Barns, will have you genuinely excited about crop rotation, and soil conditions, and the fact that the food industry is a dying behemoth reliant on low-yield, agronomically risky seeds that produce ever more tasteless and nutrition-less food.
“There’s never been a time where there’s been such a wholesale decline in frozen processed food,” he says. “Ever. The only units of those companies that are actually increasing market share are prepared vegetables that are not processed.” Which isn’t to say we are all rushing into the open arms of the nearest farmer’s market, although it is Barber’s mission, through his restaurants, to change this. Continue reading
I have been linking to stories about urban farming more frequently, and it has been an interest since Milo first posted this during our second year living in India. A resource I have for staying attuned is the Urban Farm podcast. The most recent episode is about one of the pioneers of organic farming, and depending on your interests may be worth a listen. The images in the video above will help you decide whether listening to the podcast is a good investment of time. Click the image of the book, which he talks about in this episode, to go to the publisher’s description and click the banner immediately below to go to the farm’s website:
Eliot has over fifty years’ experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry. He is the author of The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest,The Winter Harvest Handbook and an instructional workshop DVD called Year-Round Vegetable Production with Eliot Coleman – all published through our friends at Chelsea Green.
Eliot and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, operate a commercial year-round market garden and run horticultural research projects at their farm called Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine.
In This Podcast:
In 1988, Eliot Coleman literally wrote the book on being an organic grower and has been an invaluable resource for organic gardeners and farmers for three decades. He only started growing food because it sounded like an adventure; and he learned how through books and making friends with farmers around the world. We learn who inspired and taught him, how he uses livestock on his farm, how he virtually moved his farm 500 miles to the south for the winter, and more. Continue reading
In our quest to brighten up each day with a story, a picture, or personal observation that helps us better understand the world around us, Doreen Carvajal is our source for this story in the New York Times from the former hometown of several of our long-time contributors:
PARIS — It’s a swift ride by elevator from Galeries Lafayette’s perfume section to the grand department store’s 10th-floor luxury farm with its signature scent of sage, rosemary and compost.
The rooftop garden, lush with climbing plants, tomatoes, marigolds and strawberries, is part of a plan to transform city farming into a deluxe shopping attraction for customers yearning for an exclusive green refuge — and perhaps a taste of beer brewed from the store’s homegrown hops. Continue reading
Thanks to Madelyn Beck:
As life expectancy increases, farmers are staying in the business, but there’s still a need to plan for what happens when they die. At the same time, young farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds are looking for the space to grow their own careers.
A land transfer may seem simple, but challenges abound: How do retiring farmers connect with beginning farmers? When does a farmer confront death? How can smaller farm organizations fit into the ever-growing 1,000-acre farm scene?
Past the likeness of Western movie icon John Wayne etched in stone, a ways down North John Wayne Road and at the end of a long dirt driveway is Kim Curry’s place. A few of the farm’s seven dogs meander up to the gate to bark at anyone who pulls up, while chickens and occasional escapee piglet scrounge for food around the yard.
The Curry Family Farm is near Springfield, Illinois, but unlike most of that area, it has green, rolling hills, a few creeks and a few ponds. It’s been in the family since 1886.
“It’s just so restful and relaxing out here. We’ll have to show you the pigs,” Curry said. “They’re all eating.”
The 59-year-old lives there with her sister and niece, but the three of them can’t keep up with it all, especially because she has a full-time state job working with disability claims.
So, she is selling about 80 acres, which she said “really has potential with someone with younger, more energy.”
And that’s where it gets tricky for people trying to offload land in Illinois, which doesn’t have an online system like several other states — Iowa, Nebraska and Montana, for example — that specifically links older farmers with newer ones looking for land.
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)…