Posts Tagged ‘farmer’

Photo: World Farmers.

Immigrants to the US, if they were farmers in their home countries or just want to grow food they can’t find here, may end up working in agriculture. And as this University of Rhode Island professor’s research shows, many are joining the new wave of urban growers.

Frank Carini reports at ecoRI News on John Taylor, associate professor of agroecology at URI, who recently received a $973,479 award from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture for his research.

I had to look up that new-to-me field of study. The Soil Association says that “agroecology is sustainable farming that works with nature. Ecology is the study of relationships between plants, animals, people, and their environment – and the balance between these relationships. Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principals in farming. [It] promotes farming practices that mitigate climate change … work with wildlife … put farmers and communities in the driving seat.” Read all about it here.

Carini writes, “The $973,479 award from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture was one of 12 to receive funding through the institute’s Urban, Indoor, and Other Emerging Agricultural Production Research, Education and Extension Initiative. The agency’s $9.4 million in grants are part of a broad U.S. Department of Agriculture investment in urban agriculture, funding research that addresses key problems in urban, indoor, and emerging agricultural systems.

“The project will bring together Taylor’s research with immigrant gardeners and farmers in Rhode Island, Julie Keller’s agriculture-focused work with diverse communities, Melva Treviño Peña’s work with immigrant fishers, and Patrick Baur’s work on food safety and urban agriculture. …

“Although always a part of city life, urban agriculture has recently attracted increased attention in the United States, as a strategy for stimulating economic development, increasing food security and access, and combating obesity and diabetes.

“Food justice is about addressing access to healthy and affordable food for low-wealth and marginalized communities. It seeks to ensure the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown, accessed, distributed, and transported are shared equally.

“Many neighborhoods in metropolitan areas, including in Rhode Island’s urban core, have little to no access to fresh food or full-service grocery stores — a situation often referred to as living in a ‘food desert.’ Other marginalized communities are surrounded by ‘food swamps,’ areas in which a large amount of processed foods, such as fast food and convenience-store fare, is available with limited healthy options.

“One solution to this environmental justice problem is to encourage the growing of local food. Developing effective policies and programs demands as a first step the accurate mapping of existing urban agriculture sites, according to Taylor. He hopes to provide that template.

“Taylor and colleagues at URI, the University of Maryland, and the University of the District of Columbia will soon begin mapping the alternative food provisioning networks of immigrant communities and communities of color in three East Coast cities — Providence, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. — to better understand these networks.

“He hopes this transdisciplinary research will reap new information about alternative food provisioning networks in the Northeast, evaluating their impact on food system outcomes, and identifying opportunities for policy support. …

“At URI, Taylor’s ‘home garden’ is a quarter-acre plot at the Gardiner Crops Research Center [at] the bottom of the Kingston Campus. His plot, visible from Plains Road, represents in microcosm the immigrant foodways he will be studying for his research during the next few years.

“At URI’s Agrobiodiversity Learning Garden and Food Forest, he grows crops that are integral to the food traditions of Rhode Island’s diverse communities: South American sweet potatoes, Mexican tomatillos, Haitian tomatoes, Mediterranean herbs, Asian bok choy, and produce from an African diaspora garden. Taylor tends the garden with students in URI’s Plant Sciences and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems programs and URI master gardeners, demonstrating how sustainable farming reinforces community-building.

“With the learning garden, he follows a lead set by generations of immigrants who moved to Providence and cities like it, bringing their growing practices, and sometimes seeds, with them. …

“A descendant of five generations of Pennsylvania farmers, he grew up on a 100-acre integrated crop-livestock farm near Pittsburgh. Taylor began gardening at the age of 6 and started a market garden while in high school. He left the farm to attend the University of Chicago … then managed federal education studies for 10 years before returning to school to study horticulture and practice landscape architecture.”

More at ecoRI News, here.

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Sam Knowlton is an interesting guy who specializes in improvements to coffee growing — improvements that help both farmers and the environment.

According to his SoilSymbiotics website, he “offers a practical, principle based suite of consulting and education services to farmers and growers seeking to increase crop quality, yield and soil health.”

On Twitter, @samdknowlton recently posted a photo of a shady coffee farm with the words, “The typical coffee farm applies about 200 kg/ha of synthetic nitrogen (N) each year, an excessive amount. I worked with this farm to phase out synthetic N and cut a total of 195,000 kgs of annual applications. The trees are healthier, higher yielding, and the coffee tastes better.”

I went to Knowlton’s blog to learn more. In a typically intriguing post, he wrote, “To make it rain, plant more coffee trees.

“Coffee-growing regions are quickly becoming hotter and drier while at the same time losing substantial tree cover. Trees and forests create and maintain their ideal conditions by producing rainfall, and coffee excels as a crop of economic significance that thrives as part of a forest-like system. 

“Coffee farms cover 11 million hectares of ecologically sensitive land worldwide. Many of these farms are the last bastion of standing trees in landscapes that would otherwise be deforested and dehydrated. As part of an integrated agroforestry system, coffee trees are the key to preserving and expanding tree cover and maintaining and repairing regional water cycles.  

“Contrary to commodity crops like corn and soy, which are ecologically unfit for the fields where they’re planted, coffee is the ideal crop for most of the ecosystems where it grows. As an understory species, coffee trees prefer a shade story above them. They grow most vibrantly within a web of companion plants among their drooping branches adorned with waxy emerald leaves and bright red cherries. Coffee trees offer the unique possibility of planting a productive crop in a forest-like system of complimentary trees of multifunctional use like hardwoods, nitrogen fixers, fruits, and nuts. 

“Grown within an integrated agroforestry system, coffee farmers can produce abundant high-quality yields while simultaneously regenerating soil, water cycles, and overall ecosystem function. 

“The problem is most coffee farms are far from this ideal. The few successfully implementing integrated systems are relatively unknown compared to the standard coffee industry narratives dominated by pessimism and non-solutions. …

“In several coffee-growing countries, coffee trees represent a large share of the remaining tree cover. Between 1970 and 1990, approximately 50% of the shade trees associated with coffee farms in Latin America were lost. Globally, coffee farms have lost 20% of their shade trees since the mid-1990s, and countries like Costa Rica and Colombia lost between 50% and 60% of shade tree cover. This is a consequence of intensified production, where coffee trees grow in full sun and bare soil. The loss of shade is accompanied by the increased use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, further disturbing the ecology of these areas.  

“The textbook description of the water cycle presents the ocean as the primary source of condensed atmospheric moisture and ultimately falls as rain. Missing is the role of trees as veritable water fountains, pulling water up from the soil with their extensive root systems and releasing that moisture into the atmosphere through the microscopic pores of their leaves. This arboreal version of sweating is the process known as transpiration. A single tree can transpire hundreds of liters of water per day, and a forest, with its extensive, layered leaf surface area, can transpire an amount of moisture equal to or exceeding that of a large body of water. 

“Another step is required to turn the transpired water into rainfall, and trees are once again the benefactors making it all happen. 

“Trees transpire water into the atmosphere to produce precipitation and ice particles that take shape in the clouds. Not long ago, the prevailing belief was that small mineral particles served as the nuclei to catalyze ice particle formation. However, we now know that microbes, originating from the forests below, catalyze ice particle formation and trigger precipitation at higher temperatures than inert material like minerals. In other words, clouds don’t have to be as cold for ice nucleation, and rainfall can occur in a broader range of conditions.  

“Approximately 40% of precipitation over land originates from the evaporation and transpiration of water from plants. 

Simply put, trees create rainfall. In one of the more impressive feats of low-tech terraforming, Willie Smits reforested a 2,000-hectare area of clearcut Borneo forest using agroforestry and six years later documented a 12% increase in cloud cover with a 25% increase in rainfall

“Forests don’t simply grow in moist areas; they create and maintain the conditions in which they grow by producing rainfall and shortening the length of the dry season.  When trees are removed from the landscape, the rainy season becomes sporadic, and less water is available for evaporation and transpiration, effectively turning off the source of rainfall. 

“A key theme of the theory described above is the forest structure, not just individual trees. The action of trees seeding the rain through transpiration and microbial ice nucleation is the product of a more complex forest structure and greater leaf surface area — not monocrop tree plantations. 

“While coffee has been planted as a monocrop with increasing furor in the past few decades, it is one of the only crops of economic significance that grows as part of a system that mimics the natural forest structure and dynamics of its tropical environs. The benefits of growing coffee in an agroforestry system are vast.”

More at Sam Knowlton’s blog, here. Hat tip: John.

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Photo: Ahmed Zakot.
A Palestinian farmer unearthed a Byzantine floor mosaic beneath his olive grove.

We keep learning that beautiful discoveries can still be made, even in mundane settings. Perhaps you have discovered yellowed letters your parents wrote to each other when courting. Perhaps there was an antique bottle inside a wall when you renovated.

Such items can be exciting, but it’s hard to beat the discovery a farmer in today’s stumbled upon.

Elaine Velie reports at Hyperallergic, “Salman al-Nabahin, a farmer from Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp, was trying to plant new olive trees in his orchard but something underneath the soil was standing in his way. He investigated for three months, digging out the soil with his son until they unearthed a stunningly well-preserved Byzantine floor mosaic.

“Al-Nabahin told Reuters that he searched the internet to asses the mosaic’s origins. An archaeologist from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, René Elter, later confirmed the work as a Byzantine mosaic, placing the mosaic between the fifth and seventh centuries CE. …

“ ‘Never have mosaic floors of this finesse, this precision in the graphics and richness of the colors been discovered in the Gaza Strip,’ Elter [told the Associated Press], adding that more research is needed to determine the work’s intended function.

“The Palestinian Ministry of Culture stated that investigation into the mosaic was still in its early stages and a team of national experts would partner with experts at the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to research the work.

“Gaza is situated on a thriving ancient trade route, and dozens of important archaeological discoveries have been uncovered there in the last few years. The recently revealed mosaic, however, sits less than a mile away from the Gaza-Israel barrier, which Elten said puts the discovery in ‘grave danger.’ …

“ ‘I see it as a treasure, dearer than a treasure,’ al-Nabahin told Reuters. ‘It isn’t personal, it belongs to every Palestinian.’ “

Sarah Kuta at the Smithsonian adds, “Now, archaeologists with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the French Archaeology School are hard at work studying the flooring to learn more about its ‘secrets and civilization values,’ says the ministry in a press statement.

“The mosaic features 17 iconographies of birds and other animals depicted in bright colors. Archaeologists … don’t know whether the mosaic had religious or secular origins.

“The farmer has been covering the unearthed areas of the mosaic floor with tin sheets to protect them; so far, he’s dug up three separate sections, the widest measuring 6 feet by 9 feet, according to Fares Akram of the Associated Press. In total, the land covering the entire mosaic is about 5,400 square feet, and the mosaic itself measures about 250 square feet. Some parts of the mosaic appear to be damaged, likely from the roots of an old olive tree.

“ ‘These are the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza, both in terms of the quality of the graphic representation and the complexity of the geometry,’ [Elter] tells the AP. …

“The Bureij refugee camp [is] located about half a mile from the border with Israel. Archaeologists and other experts are concerned about the mosaic’s future because of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as looting and a lack of funding for historical preservation.

“ ‘It is a spectacular find, especially as our knowledge of archaeology is sadly so spotty given circumstances there,’ Asa Eger, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, tells the Art Newspaper’s Hadani Ditmars. ‘Gaza was very important during the period of this mosaic and known for its burgeoning wine production exported across the Mediterranean.’ “

You’ll love the photos at Hyperallergic, here, and at Smithsonian, here. No firewalls.

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Photo: Svetozar Cenisev/ Unsplash.
When vegetation that beavers flood is dying, neighbors object to the smell. But often they like the lake that comes later.

There was a woman in my town who was up in arms about beavers flooding part of her property to build a dam. That is, she was angry until the odor of dying grasses dissipated and a beautiful lake appeared.

According to Catrin Einhorn at the New York Times, farmers out West are finding other reasons to appreciate the work of beavers.

She reports, “Horace Smith blew up a lot of beaver dams in his life. A rancher here in northeastern Nevada, he waged war against the animals, frequently with dynamite. Not from meanness or cruelty; it was a struggle over water. Mr. Smith blamed beavers for flooding some parts of his property, Cottonwood Ranch, and drying out others.

“But his son Agee, who eventually took over the ranch, is making peace. And he says welcoming beavers to work on the land is one of the best things he’s done.

“ ‘They’re very controversial still,’ said Mr. Smith, whose father died in 2014. ‘But it’s getting better. People are starting to wake up.’

“As global warming intensifies droughts, floods and wildfires, Mr. Smith has become one of a growing number of ranchers, scientists and other ‘beaver believers’ who see the creatures not only as helpers, but as furry weapons of climate resilience.

Last year, when Nevada suffered one of the worst droughts on record, beaver pools kept his cattle with enough water.

“When rains came strangely hard and fast, the vast network of dams slowed a torrent of water raging down the mountain, protecting his hay crop. And with the beavers’ help, creeks have widened into wetlands that run through the sagebrush desert, cleaning water, birthing new meadows and creating a buffer against wildfires.

“True, beavers can be complicated partners. They’re wild, swimming rodents the size of basset hounds with an obsession for building dams. When conflicts arise, and they probably will, you can’t talk it out.

“Beavers flood roads, fields, timber forests and other areas that people want dry. They fell trees without a thought as to whether humans would prefer them standing. In response to complaints, the federal government killed almost 25,000 beavers last year.

“But beavers also store lots of water for free, which is increasingly crucial in the parched West. And they don’t just help with drought. Their engineering subdues torrential floods from heavy rains or snowmelt by slowing water. It reduces erosion and recharges groundwater. And the wetlands beavers create may have the extra benefit of stashing carbon out of the atmosphere.

“In addition to all that, the rodents do environmental double duty, because they also tackle another crisis unleashed by humans: rampant biodiversity loss. Their wetlands are increasingly recognized for creating habitat for myriad species, from salmon to sage grouse.

“Beavers, you might say, are having a moment. In Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management is working with partners to build beaver-like dams that they hope real beavers will claim and expand. In California, the new state budget designates about $1.5 million a year to restoring the animals for climate resiliency and biodiversity benefits.

“ ‘We need to get beavers back to work,’ Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary of natural resources, said in a webinar this year. ‘Full employment for beavers.’ (Beaver believers like to note that the animals work for free.) …

“Instead of killing beavers, the federal government should be embracing them as an important component of federal climate adaptation, according to two scientists who study beavers and hydrology, Chris Jordan of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, and Emily Fairfax of California State University Channel Islands.

“ ‘It may seem trite to say that beavers are a key part of a national climate action plan, but the reality is that they are a force of 15-40 million highly skilled environmental engineers,’ Dr. Jordan and Dr. Fairfax wrote this year in a perspective article in the research journal WIREs Water. …

“When human-beaver conflicts arise, they can be addressed without killing the animals, experts say. Paint and fencing can protect trees from gnawing. Systems like the Beaver Deceiver secretly undo their handiwork with pipes that drain water from beaver settlements even when the animals keep building. Such measures are actually a more effective solution than removing the animals, according to advocates, because new beavers tend to move into empty habitat.

“If coexistence is impossible, a growing number of groups and private businesses are seeking to relocate, rather than kill, nuisance beavers.

“ ‘We put the nuisance in air quotes,’ said Molly Alves, a wildlife biologist with the Tulalip Tribes, a federally recognized tribal organization just north of Seattle that moves unwanted beavers to land managed by the United States Forest Service.

“The group’s impetus was a desire to expand the extraordinary habitat that beavers offer salmon, a culturally and economically important species. When they started in 2014, the Tulalip Tribes had to invoke their sovereign treaty rights to relocate beavers because doing so was illegal in their area under Washington State law. After a lobbying push, beaver relocation is now legal statewide and the tribes are advising state officials on a program to train others in best practices.”

More at the Times, here. Hat tip: John.

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Photo: Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal.
Brayden Nadeau, seen here at age 10, shows off vegetables he grew on his grandfather’s land in Auburn, Maine.

How great to see a kid who’s into agriculture! Cathy Free at the Washington Post reports on a 12-year-old farmer in Maine who got hooked on farming at age 2. There’s a lot to ponder here about what a close relationship with a grandparent can lead to.

“Brayden Nadeau was 2 when he helped his grandpa steer a John Deere tractor, and he was 3 when he helped feed the hogs and chickens on the family farm in Minot, Maine.

“At age 5, when he was asked by his kindergarten teacher what he hoped to do for a living one day, nobody was surprised when Brayden said he was going to be a farmer, said his mother, Kari Nadeau. …

“Brayden, now 12 and in seventh grade, is already on his way to achieving his career goal. On his own initiative, he does much of the work on his grandfather Dan Herrick’s 25-acre farm, and on the 275 acres that neighbors let Herrick use to grow hay, Kari Nadeau said. Brayden plants, tends and harvests produce, and sells his bounty.

“For the past two years, he has run Brayden’s Vegetable Stand, selling fresh food such as corn, cabbage and tomatoes. He used his savings to buy a new store structure in May 2021 for about $7,000 and install it at the edge of his grandfather’s farm. He posts live updates on Facebook about what’s fresh each day.

“He works on the farm and at his store 10 hours a day in the summer, and four hours a day (mostly after school) when school is in session. He’ll restock his store before school at 7:30 a.m. and leave an honor box for customers to drop in their money.

“Brayden said he puts most of his earnings into savings, but uses some of the money to add improvements to his veggie stand, such as a new floor.

“ ‘I’ve become his employee,’ joked Herrick, 64, adding that he still harvests hay on the farm but has allowed Brayden to take over most other responsibilities. ‘I taught him the basics, and he took it from there. … Brayden pretty much runs the show now. [He] knows how to use the equipment better than I do.’

“Brayden said it’s his favorite way to spend his days. ‘I really enjoy it — even getting up at 5 in the morning,’ he said. ‘I’m not into video games and goofing around on my phone like some of my friends. I’d rather be busy on the farm.’ …

“Maine was among the top five states with declining farmland between 2012 and 2017, according to a survey done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In rural towns like Minot in southern Maine, many families eventually sell their farms or stop working the land because their children find other ways to make a living, said Herrick, who has farmed for most of his life.

“ ‘It’s a hard job, and you really have to enjoy doing it,’ he said. …

“Brayden’s sense of duty to the farm has also helped to foster a close relationship with his grandparents, said his grandmother, Marie Herrick, 60.

“ ‘Nobody has ever asked Brayden to do this — there’s just nowhere else he’d rather be,’ she said. ‘It’s been a joy all these years to watch him learn everything he can from Dan.’

“At 6:30 every morning, one of Brayden’s parents drives him two miles to the Herricks’ farm, and he goes to work.

“Brayden said he feeds the livestock (100 chickens, 60 pigs, 30 laying hens, 20 turkeys and six cows), cleans stalls, picks ripe produce and gathers eggs. Then he stocks the shelves in his vegetable stand, which he operates until Thanksgiving.

“Every spring, he said, he starts his vegetables from seed, then puts them into the ground. To make the task of caring for the plants easier, he recently bought a drip irrigation system with money he’d saved from his produce sales. …

“His customers said they look forward to seeing what he has to offer each day, from broccoli and tomatoes to eggplant and summer squash. Brayden also sells bacon and sausage made from his grandpa’s hogs and loaves of his grandma Marie’s fresh zucchini bread, as well as jars of her zucchini relish.

“ ‘Zucchini is probably the favorite thing I plant,’ he said. ‘It’s always been amazing to watch something grow from an itty-bitty seed.’

“Some of his customers feel the same way about watching Brayden grow.

“ ‘He’s the hardest-working kid I’ve ever known,’ said customer Wendy Simard, 48, who was also Brayden’s reading teacher at Minot Consolidated School. …

“Simard said that when she taught Brayden in first grade, he was drawn to books about farming, and liked drawing pictures of tractors, pigs and cows.

“ ‘Now he comes in to tell our pre-K students all about vegetables, and he’ll bring in a baby pig at the end of every year to show the kids,’ she said.”

More at the Post, here.

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In Tanzania, women farmers appearing on a TV show called in English “Female Food Heroes” are bringing attention to the importance of their work and the barriers to expansion.

Oxfam America reporter Coco McCabe writes about contestant Edna Kiogwe, “She grew up in a farming family and knows well the hurdles they face, especially women farmers who, in her country, own only a small fraction of the land. …

“It’s that inequality — and the lost opportunities buried beneath it — to which Kiogwe and 14 other women farmers helped to bring attention this year as contestants in the fifth season of a highly popular reality TV show shot in Tanzania and aired across East Africa. Called Mama ‘Shujaa wa Chakula ,’ or ‘Female Food Heroes,’ the Oxfam-sponsored show celebrates the vital contributions women farmers make in feeding the planet, and highlights the challenges many encounter on a daily basis, including limited access to land, credit, and training opportunities. …

“In the village of Kisanga, where ‘Mama Shujaa wa Chakula’ was filmed [in 2015], the 15 contestants learned a great deal about the struggles local farmers face in feeding their families. Each of the women stayed with a village family for the duration of the three-week shoot, and daily contests included designing tools that could be useful to Kisanga farmers, interviewing them about their agricultural challenges, and putting together skits to help bring attention to those hurdles. …

“Kiogwe [now] spends most of her time in Dar es Salaam, a coastal city about a two-and-a-half hour drive away, where she lives and works as a civil servant. But her city life belies her village roots — and her keen interest in farming. Unlike most women in Tanzania, Kiogwe owns her own land, given to her by her forward-thinking father on her wedding day. She harvests corn, cassava, rice, and sugar cane, carefully aligning her 28 days of annual leave from her city job with peak work times on her small farm in the Morogoro region. …

“ ‘I want to make agriculture like a business,’ says Kiogwe. … With a little effort, greater value can be added to the fruits farmers grow, for instance.

“ ‘Change it from fruit to juice, we can sell it … We can add value to maize — maize flour for porridge — and you can have a good label and good packaging and compete with international businesses. That is my dream.’ ” More here.

According to OXFAMCloseup, the nonprofit’s quarterly magazine, the episodes shot in Kisanga, Tanzania, aired in five countries and had 14 million people tune in. The magazine adds, “Versions of the program are now being produced in Ethiopia and Nigeria, and some finalists have become involved in local, national, and even global farmer advocacy.”

Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam America
Edna Kiogwe helps her host family with the morning chores in Kisanga, where the TV show “Female Food Heroes” was filmed in 2015.

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When dollar bills of any denomination get too beat up to use, the federal government shreds them. For a long time, the various Federal Reserve banks gave out small bags of shredded money to visitors as a souvenir — always a big hit with kids.

But for the last few years, shredded money has been used as compost in gardens. Here’s a story from Seth Archer at Business Insider about the new approach.

“Have you ever wondered what happened to currency that gets damaged? If you have a paper shredder in your home, you already have a pretty good idea. But that’s just the start….

“The New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve shreds $6 million in cash each day. They mainly shred bills that are dirty, taped, graffitied or otherwise unfit to be used as cash.

“The bills are shredded to a fine texture to make compost. … The cash is transferred to a compost facility, where it is mixed with other materials to make nutritious plant food.

“After the compost is made, it is sold to local farmers, who use it to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

” ‘It is very fulfilling to be growing using a material that would otherwise go to waste.’ — Simond Menasche, founder and director of Grown On.”

More here.

Photo: Great Big Story

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Heifer Project is a charity founded by Dan West, “a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary refugees once a day was not enough. And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?”

Recipients of Heifer Project’s cows, chickens, pigs, and other assistance commit to giving the offspring of the donated animals to others in need. That way the giving grows and spreads.

Recently, Heifer Project has been helping poor farmers in Guatemala make enough from their cardamon crops to live on.

Editor Jason Woods, has the story in the nonprofit’s magazine, World Ark.

“Miguel Xo Pop farms his own plot of land. Everyone in the Sierra de las Minas depends on two crops, cardamom and coffee, to survive. Xo and his family are no different. Traditionally, the cloud forest’s climate helps the two plants thrive, but in the past few years a pair of plagues cut cardamom prices in half and reduced coffee income to nothing.

“Recently, Xo joined a Heifer International Guatemala project that will help him keep the pests away from his cardamom while adding more crops to his farm, but the project is still in its initial stages, gaining momentum. So for now, Xo spends a quarter of a year away from his wife and five kids to earn money.”

More on the lives of the farm families, here.

The reporter also describes how an altruistic businessman moved to a “double bottom line,” one that includes charity.

“A couple of years ago, McKinley Thomason was searching for a way to use his Nashville-based spice business to make a positive impact. After hearing about Heifer International’s burgeoning work with cardamom, he knew he had found his organization.

“Shortly after contacting Heifer, Thomason’s company, The Doug Jeffords Co., started donating 10 cents to Heifer Guatemala for every seasoning blend sold from their J.M. Thomason line. But Thomason’s passion for Heifer’s work in Guatemala moved him to do even more.

“Thomason has been acting as a project adviser to Guatemalan farmers, sharing his market knowledge and technical expertise in the world of cardamom. He is also making connections and introducing Heifer Guatemala to other like-minded spice companies that could support this or other projects.”

More at Heifer Project, here.

Photo: Dave Anderson

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In a move that will benefit the environment, farmers are placing increased emphasis on the quality of their soil and cutting back on ploughing. It took a kind of soil evangelist to create the revolution.

Erica Goode has the story at the NY Times.

“Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. …

“Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

“He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, ‘green manures’ and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

“Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

“He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. ‘Nature can heal if we give her the chance,’ Mr. Brown said.” More here.

Sounds like wisdom that even a backyard farmer could embrace.

Photo: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
“My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” [says Texas farmer Terry] McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland. 


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Martha Bebinger had a great story at WBUR recently. It’s about an immigrant from Burundi with a mission.

“There were still drops of dew on the stalks of thick, spear-shaped leaves Fabiola Nizigiyimana slashed and tossed into a box one early morning.

“ ‘We call them lenga lenga, in our language,’ she said, laughing the words. “They are [a] green.’

“The 40-year-old single mother of five farms a one-acre plot in Lancaster. She’s one of 232 farmers who share the 40-acre Flats Mentor Farm. Last year, Nizigiyimana helped found a co-op that teaches farmers, many of whom can’t read or write in English or their native tongue, how to turn their plots into a business.

“They get help with packaging and selling their goods to local restaurants, ethnic food stores and farmers’ markets, many of them creating budgets and balance sheets for the first time.

“Nizigiyimana [was] honored for her work … at a White House ceremony after being selected as one of 15 USDA Champions of Change, who represent the next generation of farmers and ranchers.”

Read about all that this optimistic, cheerful woman has overcome and what challenges lie ahead for her business here.

Photo: Martha Bebinger/WBUR
Fabiola Nizigiyimana helped found a co-op that teaches farmers how to turn their plots into a business.

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John’s web surfing has been turning up topics he knows I’d like, too, and he takes the time to send a link. An article he sent from Modern Farmer describes why scientists are studying cows’ hairstyles.

Anne O’Brien writes, “While a bovine couldn’t care less about a hair whorl gone awry, it may be prudent for the farmer to take note. Turns out there is some serious science behind hair whorl behavior and brain development.”

Hair whorls on cows’ foreheads, O’Brien reports, “may be more than an aesthetic quirk. About two decades ago, animal behaviorists began to notice a connection between crazy hair whorls and crazy animals.

“Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and author of the best-selling book Animals in Translation, first noticed a connection between the location of a bull’s hair whorl and whether the animal was excitable when handled by humans. Studies showed that location — meaning above, between, or below the eyes — as well as shape of the whorl could be, to some extent, a predictor of excitable behavior in cattle. …

“How, then, are hair growth patterns and temperament related? It all has to do with brain development, says Dr. Amar Klar, head of the Developmental Genetics Section within the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland.

“ ‘Our skin and the nervous system come from the same layer of cells in embryonic development, the ectoderm,’ Klar says.

“As embryonic cells migrate to form a developing fetus, skin and brain cells are closely intertwined, particularly at the scalp. …

” ‘When we were looking at brain laterality and the location of internal organs, hair whorls also came up,’ Klar says. His research has shown that within the human population, the majority is right-handed and demonstrates a clockwise hair whorl.

“Livestock seem to mimic this handedness. A study from the University of Limerick in Ireland in 2008 demonstrated that horses with clockwise hair whorls were significantly more likely to move toward the right, or begin a gait with the right-sided hooves — in essence, these horses were right-handed.” More here.

Photo: Temple Grandin
Scientists have been exploring the connection between the cow’s hair whorl and its behavior.

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Did you know that plants can protect themselves from predators?

Writes Douglas Quenqua at the NY Times, “It has long been known that some plants can respond to sound. But why would a plant evolve the ability to hear? Now researchers are reporting that one reason may be to defend itself against predators.

“To see whether predator noises would affect plants, two University of Missouri researchers exposed one set of plants to a recording of caterpillars eating leaves, and kept another set of plants in silence. Later, when caterpillars fed on the plants, the set that had been exposed to the eating noises produced more of a caterpillar-repelling chemical. …

“Plants exposed to other vibrations, like the sound of wind or different insects, did not produce more of the chemical, suggesting they could tell the difference between predator noises and atmospheric ones. The researchers published their work in the journal Oecologia.” More here.

I have an idea. How about farmers, instead of using genetically modified seed to protect plants, just pump recordings of crunching predators into their fields so that the plants could protect themselves?

As they say where I work, “More research is needed.”

The NY Times posted this Pieris Silhouette video by mubondlsc
Can you hear the crunching of the caterpillar?

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Photograph: http://americanflatbread.com/lareau-farm. Lareau Farm is home to American Flatbread in Waitsfield, Vermont.


A few of my readers will see “Waitsfield, Vermont” and think “skiing.” That’s because they were skiing there a couple weeks ago.

But this post is about the man who launched American Flatbread in Waitsfield in 1985, franchising his restaurant concept in other states and using his business success as a platform to advocate for the environment and other causes.

“In the fall of 1979,” writes Mike Ives for the Christian Science Monitor, “George Schenk stuffed all his worldly possessions into his pickup truck and moved from upstate New York to central Vermont. After settling in the sleepy ski town of Waitsfield, he began working as a dishwasher, freelance photographer, and live-in baby sitter.

“He also apprenticed at local restaurants and learned from chefs who were cooking in ways that emphasized local and regional ingredients. By 1985, Mr. Schenk was selling his own ‘flatbread,’ a variation on the brick oven-style pizza he’d eaten as a teenager, topped with Vermont produce.

“Serving nutritious food, he realized, was a good way to promote the kind of community values he’d absorbed in his Connecticut childhood and the ecological principles he’d embraced in his previous careers as a farmer and forester. …

” ‘I felt as though the environmental dimension of food needed a voice,’ Schenk recalls.

“Today, American Flatbread operates three popular Vermont locations, exports frozen pizzas nationwide, and is franchising its restaurant concept in other states.

“But profit isn’t Schenk’s only priority: For more than two decades he has donated thousands of his flatbreads to the poor and sick. He’s also held an average of eight benefit bakes each year to raise money for those in need.”

Although his political views and “civil disobedience” actions have often raised hackles, the people who know him best defend him.

“They insist his commitment to his employees and community is sincere and unwavering,” writes Ives. ” ‘I don’t always agree with George, but I always appreciate him,’ says Amy Shollenberger, former executive director of Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group. ‘He loves everybody, wears his heart on his sleeve — and walks his talk.’ ”

Read more.

Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto
George Schenk founded American Flatbread pizza as a way to showcase local produce and advocate for both community and global causes.

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There are people who want to grow crops but have no land and people with arable land that lies fallow, and never the twain shall meet.

Oh, wait a minute.

“Susan and Paul Shay bought their four-acre dream spread years ago, with the idea of returning some of the land to farming,” writes Michael Prager at the Boston Globe.

“Meanwhile, when Seona Ngufor immigrated to America 10 years ago, she held onto the idea she would take up farming — as in her native Cameroon — if only she could get access to a farmable plot. …

“They were brought together by an unusual matchmaking service that uses geographic information system mapping data to pair would-be farmers with property owners who have extra land.

“The matching service is the work of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a nonprofit organization in Lowell that trains farmers in organic growing and helps them find a plot to work. …

“New Entry uses GIS mapping data to screen for potential farm plots. The map sets contain a long list of criteria to distinguish individual parcels. … The system is so sophisticated it can pick out suburban homesteads with large patches of unused land, so New Entry was no longer limited to looking at obvious candidates, such as existing farms. …

“Once New Entry identifies sites, it approaches agricultural officials in the towns involved to work with landowners interested in turning over property to farmers.

“In Groton, for example, New Entry and the town’s agricultural commission hosted an information session with property owners. …

“ ‘There was a lot of information, a lot of resources,’ said Susan Shay, 63, a programmer and analyst at a medical malpractice insurer in Boston. …

Program director Rebecca Weaver “brought Ngufor, 56, who had taken the New Entry training program, to meet the Shays. …

“The Shays were so eager to see some of their land used for farming that they drove an easy bargain: rent of $1 a year, in exchange for a free go at whatever is growing.”

To see how New Entry’s maps identify potential farm space and to read the whole story, see the Globe article, here.

Photograph: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Susan Shay (left) leased land she owns in Groton to Cameroon native Seona Ngufor for farming. Ngufor has just completed her first growing season.

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In case you missed it, last week Prince Charles’s campaign to sell British wool in the United States brought 30 lovely sheep to Bryant Park in New York (where surprising things seem to happen on a regular basis).

Erin Durkin described the happening in the NY Daily News:

“The Bryant Park lawn looked more like the Sheep Meadow Thursday as a flock of wooly livestock took over the famous green space for the day.

“The thirty sheep were brought in to launch the Campaign for Wool, an effort by Prince Charles to promote the wool industry in the United States. …

“The Bryant Park Corporation signed off on the event — the first time they’ve ever hosted ‘live animals of this quantity,’ according to spokesman Joe Carella — after the local community board voted unanimously in favor of hosting it.”

Well, you know, we have a lot of nice sheep right here in the U.S. of A. Do you have a neighborhood park? If Prince Charles is too busy, maybe a local farmer would show off some sheep. I could see this attracting a lot of attention around Easter.

Bally Duff Farm in Chepachet, Rhode Island, for example, raises Black Lincoln sheep. Other Ocean State farms are listed here.

The Prince of Wales can afford giveaways, and that could be a challenge for local farmers. Enter to win a wool mattress from his campaign, here. Extra photos here.

Photograph: Diane L Cohen
Bryant Park was transformed into a wool installation to celebrate the launch of HRH Prince of Wales Campaign for Wool in the USA.

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