Feeding 7 Billion People

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice at a storage facility near Olivehurst, California.

Farmer Doug Thomas holds rice © Drew Kelly for The Nature Conservancy

 Thanks to Cara Byington and her colleagues at Cool Green Science:

When They Said They Wanted to Rethink Agriculture, They Meant It

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Real Food, Silicon Valley-Style

Square Roots, on the site of the former Pfizer building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where produce is grown in 10 shipping containers using only enhanced water and LEDs. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Ruffled feathers of slow food pioneers aside, Kimbal Musk’s projects focus on the link between food and community and his passion to make real food accessible to more people.

Kimbal Musk, 45, got rich working in tech alongside his older brother, Elon. Now he wants to do for food what his brother has done for electric cars and space travel.

Although Mr. Musk has food ventures humming along in Colorado, where he lives, as well as in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, he has become enamored of places like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio — parts of the country he believes are the ripest for a revolution in eating and agriculture…

Mr. Musk is promoting a philosophy he calls “real food,” which nourishes the body, the farmer and the planet. It doesn’t sound much different than what writers like Michael Pollan and everyone who has ever helped start a farmers’ market or community garden have preached for years.

But Mr. Musk has big ideas about what the Silicon Valley crowd likes to call the food space, which is as exciting to him as the internet was in 1995. “We’ve never seen this kind of innovation around food,” he said.

In short, he wants to create a network of business, educational and agricultural ventures big enough to swing the nation’s food system back to one based on healthy, local food grown on chemical-free farms.

“Food is this beautiful gift we give each other three times a day,” he’ll often tell a crowd, “but you couldn’t design a worse food system than what we have.”

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Seeds of Change

Lebanese workers at the seed bank in Terbol. Mr. Shehadeh’s organization, Icarda, moved operations out of Syria after the war broke out. Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

How a Seed Bank, Almost Lost in Syria’s War, Could Help Feed a Warming Planet

TERBOL, Lebanon — Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat. He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

Mr. Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their “wild relatives” from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here. But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Mr. Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or Icarda, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather and war.

Icarda, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. But a drive to produce thirsty crops also drained Syria’s underground water over the years, and it was followed by a crippling drought that helped to fuel the protests that erupted into armed revolt against the government in 2011.Icarda, in turn, became a casualty of the war. By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya. Icarda’s trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were looted and eaten. Mr. Shehadeh and the other scientists eventually sent out what they could — including a few of the sheep — and fled, joining half the country’s population in exile. Continue reading

Beans, Beef & Key Questions Related To Our Planet

James Hamblin is the perfect messenger for complicated messages, like the ones he usually delivers on scientific and especially medical topics. It is difficult to say why, but taking him too seriously is difficult. So even with challenging questions like the one in the three minute video above, and the one in the article he published on the same topic a couple months ago, his approach is the opposite of intimidation:

If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.

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Soybeans in a silo at a cattle feed in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil

Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”

It’s not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body. Continue reading

Is This The Future Of Agriculture?

hfh-logo_1Automated machines growing the first arable crop remotely, without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground. ​

Nicola Twilley, a contributing writer for newyorker.com and the author of the blog Edible Geography, is also a co-host of the Gastropod podcast that we link to from time to time. She has brought our attention to an “underfunded initiative” which, considering what looks like a shout out from Monsanto on the initiative’s website, we read with simultaneous wonder and dread:

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A Field Farmed Only by Drones

Across the United Kingdom, the last of the spring barley has been brought in from the fields, the culmination of an agricultural calendar whose rhythm has remained unchanged for millennia. But when the nineteenth-century poet John Clare wrote, in his month-by-month description of the rural year, that in September “harvest’s busy hum declines,” it seems unlikely that he was imagining the particular buzz—akin to an amplified mosquito—of a drone. Continue reading

The Origin Of Feasting

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A life of hunting and gathering had advantages over one of farming and settlement. Illustration by Golden Cosmos

John Lanchester’s article, pondering technology versus science, gives fire its due in the course of reviewing a new book about how hunting and gathering gave way to progress. At the same time, Lanchester raises reasonable doubts about the gains:

book-scott-grain…We don’t give the technology of fire enough credit, Scott suggests, because we don’t give our ancestors much credit for their ingenuity over the long period—ninety-five per cent of human history—during which most of our species were hunter-gatherers. “Why human fire as landscape architecture doesn’t register as it ought to in our historical accounts is perhaps that its effects were spread over hundreds of millennia and were accomplished by ‘precivilized’ peoples also known as ‘savages,’ ” Scott writes. Continue reading

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Partnering with programs like the Atlanta Community Food Bank Garden Program and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to bring bird friendly and healthy food education to youngsters connects well with our ethos. Citizen Science participation starts early. We hope our readers will share with public and private K-12 schools!

SCHOOL GARDEN GRANTS to grow healthy, happy, nature-connected kids!

School gardens provide an exciting context for cross-disciplinary learning and a wonderful opportunity to engage students in hands-on activities, project-based learning, and citizen science. Kids benefit from gardens in academic, physical, emotional, social, and behavioral ways. We are excited to support teachers’ efforts to engage kids in outdoor learning and all its benefits!

We will award 20 grants to teachers within the United States who strive to take the classroom outside, reconnect students with the natural world, and teach them valuable concepts and skills that integrate across all subjects. In partnership with our amazing sponsor, Alaska Fertilizer, we’re thrilled to support 20 teachers with a $500-$2,000 grant, gardening supplies, and BirdSleuth’s Habitat Connections kit. Funds can support a new garden or the revitalization of an existing one. In addition to funding food/veggie gardens, preference will be given to bird, pollinator, native habitat, rain, and other natural projects. Continue reading

The Fourth Estate Asking Questions About Sustainable Agriculture

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Wade Dooley, in Albion, Iowa, uses less fertilizer than most farmers because he grows rye and alfalfa, along with corn and soybeans. “This field [of rye] has not been fertilized at all,” he says.
Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) and Dan Charles for doing their job, keeping the questions coming, even on topics we think we know the answers to:

Does ‘Sustainability’ Help The Environment Or Just Agriculture’s Public Image?

Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

“This is the liquid nitrogen tank,” Deppe explains. “It’s a million-and-a-half gallon tank.” Continue reading

Sunlight and Seaweed

Daniel Poloha/shutterstock.com

Thanks to the Conversation for highlighting the potential of this inspiring technology.

How farming giant seaweed can feed fish and fix the climate

Bren Smith, an ex-industrial trawler man, operates a farm in Long Island Sound, near New Haven, Connecticut. Fish are not the focus of his new enterprise, but rather kelp and high-value shellfish. The seaweed and mussels grow on floating ropes, from which hang baskets filled with scallops and oysters. The technology allows for the production of about 40 tonnes of kelp and a million bivalves per hectare per year. Continue reading

Prairie Land Livestock

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Farmer Wendy Johnson markets hogs, chickens, eggs and seasonal turkeys. She also grows organic row crops at Joia Food Farm near Charles City, Iowa. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Thanks to Harvest Public Media, Amy Mayer and the folks at the salt over at National Public Radio (USA):

How, And Why, Some Farmers Are Bringing Livestock Back To The Prairie

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight mesh-covered plastic frame that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets. Continue reading

Entrepreneurial Conservation Through Seaweed Farming

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Michael Graham at his seaweed farm in Monterey Bay. ‘This is like a backyard farm where you can sell your goods at a farmer’s market.’ Photograph: Katie Fehrenbacher

Bayer, Bees Beware

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Researchers monitored the health of these wild bees, from the species Osmia bicornis. They nest inside small cavities, such as hollow reeds. Courtesy of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Thanks to National Public Radio’s special forces, aka the salt, for their ongoing search for interesting news and stories related to the intersection of nature and food:

Pesticides Are Harming Bees — But Not Everywhere, Major New Study Shows

In the global debate over neonicotinoid pesticides, the company that makes most of them has relied on one primary argument to defend its product: The evidence that these chemicals, commonly called “neonics,” are harmful to bees has been gathered in artificial conditions, force-feeding bees in the laboratory, rather than in the real world of farm fields. That company, Bayer, states on its website that “no adverse effects to bee colonies were ever observed in field studies at field-realistic exposure conditions.” Continue reading

Diversifying & Betting The Farm

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

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

The Gamble Of The Farmers That Raise Our Chicken

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

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

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

Ammonia, Who Knew?

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

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

Sustainable Education

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

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

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

The result?

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First Day at Chan Chich

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

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

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Climate, Agriculture & Disruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love Peach

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

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

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

The South Faces a Summer With Fewer Peaches

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

The Wonders Of Trees Never Cease

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

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

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

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