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Posts Tagged ‘farmers’

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Photo: Noah Nasiali-Kadima
Noah Nasiali-Kadima, foreground, takes a selfie with members of the Africa Farmers Group during a tour of a member’s farm in Machakos County, Kenya. 

I was reading in the Boston Globe yesterday about a guy who, after surviving a life-threatening brain aneurysm that his doctor misdiagnosed, launched a new career as an activist for aneurysm patients. You have to hand it to such people.

In another example, see what Diane Cole of National Public Radio (NPR) learned when she interviewed an African farmer who turned a major cabbage liability into something much bigger than cabbages.

“Making lemonade out of life’s lemons is one thing. But what could Kenyan IT consultant-turned-farmer Noah Nasiali-Kadima do with the 75,000 fresh cabbages he had been stuck with?

“That was the dilemma he faced in 2016, when the buyer with whom he had a contract simply walked out on him, refusing to pay and leaving him with six acres of ripe cabbages that had cost most of his savings to produce.

“He was uncertain how to proceed, to whom he could turn for help or whether to give up altogether. So he came up with a different idea: That year, he started a Facebook group so that he and other farmers — including new ones like himself, and experienced farm veterans — could discuss and come up with solutions to problems just like this.

“The Africa Farmers Group now has 138,000 online members in Kenya and throughout Africa. He has also organized in-person educational seminars in countries across the continent including South Africa, Nigeria, Somalia and Zambia. The goal is to help farmers learn the skills they need to succeed, by providing forums in which they can share their own stories of success and failure, and offer their peers empathy, encouragement and practical tips. In recognition of his work, in September 2018, Facebook awarded him $1 million as part of its Facebook Community Leadership Program. …

“We spoke to him as he was preparing to participate as a speaker at the Food Tank New York City Summit, a two-day conference sponsored by the sustainable agriculture advocacy group Food Tank. … This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

“First of all, whatever happened to those 75,000 cabbages?
“I sold some, and some went bad on the farm. I gave some away to schools.

“Drought has left almost 3 million people there facing acute food insecurity. How can local farmers be a part of the solution?
“We have a lot of food shortages and food waste. There is a disconnect between the farmers producing the food and then getting it to market and to the people. No one is consulting the farmers themselves about, ‘How much can you produce, what do you need to help you to produce more?’ …

“You started out in technology in 2001, in programming and network management. How did agriculture come into the picture?
“I started out just to make some extra money since the tech space had become saturated. My father is a sugar farmer, and my father-in-law is a tomato farmer. One day in 2007, I was with my wife and my father-in-law and I said to him, ‘I want to be a farmer.’ He looked at me, like, ‘Are you really serious?’ And I said yes. He gave me and my wife a small piece of land, one-quarter of an acre, near his own farm, which is about an hour away from Nairobi. …

“At first this was a side career, a way to make an extra coin. … We started with green bell peppers, switched to tomatoes and watermelons and other crops, one of them cabbages.

“Then you faced the cabbage fiasco in 2016. Was that a turning point for you?
“I thought, this shouldn’t happen to any farmer. How come I can’t sell this produce? I did not know how to market or pitch what I had, or explain the particular quality or type of cabbage I had. …

“I saw how farmers were suffering. We have very many NGOs and very many tech solutions being funded but none that involve the farmers. I also wanted to make a difference, to see if I can start a group with farmers around me where we can talk about problems, who is buying what, what they are doing that is working and what is not. And I just opened a group on Facebook.

“The target was to sign up 3,000 farmers in three months. By the end of those three months, we had 16,000 farmers from across Africa. Some said, ‘Please post in English because I cannot speak Swahili!’

“It was a venue where farmers could talk to each other. I set up weekly online conversations with expert farmers from different regions who have worked with different kinds of soil and crops. Farmers listen to other farmers, so people could ask, ‘What were the challenges, how can we learn from you?’

“Now we have 138,000 members and growing. We also have more than 100,000 offline members in areas where internet connectivity is a challenge. Our motto is sharing is caring.

I have seen farmers who had given up. Then they hear from other farmers who have been through similar experiences. They see what they can do different.

“They learn they can contact this agronomist for more information about this problem, or try a different crop at this time of year, or maybe a particular variety that will do better in a particular climate, or maybe the soil is not right. These are success stories. They learn how to keep going or start again.”

Read more on how the initiative has grown and flourished, here.

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Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
Farmers Domingo and Nilsa Romano are grateful for the physical and emotional support of the volunteers with the NGO El Departamento de la Comida in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico never received the level of help it needed from the federal government after Hurricane Maria, but neighbors and volunteers pitched in to help. In my post from December, I quoted Public Radio International’s inspiring story on women farmers cooperating to make a comeback. A Living on Earth report from September 2018 shows volunteers helping out a range of small farmers.

BOBBY BASCOMB: “Even before hurricane Maria uprooted trees and people, Puerto Rico imported roughly 85% of its food. After the storm, that number shot up to about 95% imported food, if you could get it. Many people were forced to skip meals and eat … canned food for months. Nine months after the storm, one of the only places to find locally grown food on the island is farmers markets like the Saturday market in Rincon. …

“Sonia Carlo’s nearby farm is slowly recovering from the storm. Today she’s brought pineapple, papaya, mushrooms, and the kale she’s explaining to a customer. … Sonia says things are just starting to turn around for her family and the farm. They are finally harvesting again and her farm-to-table restaurant, Sana, opened just a few weeks ago. But hurricane Maria was devastating for them. The storm destroyed her home. She had to send her three children to Florida to live with family while she and her husband, living in their car, rebuilt the battered farm.”

SONIA CARLO: “We got really trashed. All of our production for years of tropical trees like mango trees and passion fruit trees, they all died and they all were blown away. We had trees that were a hundred years old. … Since the hurricane was a cyclone, it brought some salt water and some sand with it, so everything that was in its path, it looks like you threw herbicide.” …

BASCOMB: “Across the island tall fruit trees were the most heavily damaged food crop. Root vegetables that could hide underground did OK. Ground plants like pineapples were among the first to recover and fast growing vegetables like salad greens were easy enough. After the hurricane visitors came to Puerto Rico with their suitcases full of seeds to donate to farmers. Sonia says they actually could have started growing again relatively quickly.”

CARLO: “But since we didn’t have any electricity, we couldn’t pump water out and we didn’t have any gas, so we were unable to grow food because we don’t have gas to pull out the water from the water pump.” …

BASCOMB: “To understand why this lush tropical island with year round sunshine and rain imports nearly all of its food you need to go back to the 1940s and a US initiative called Operation Bootstrap. … Adnelly Marichal is the documentarian for the Resilience Fund in Puerto Rico. She says Operation Bootstrap transformed Puerto Rico from a largely agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing and tourism. They did that with a patchwork of government tax incentives and access to US markets. The farming that remained was not on the household level but on a larger, industrial scale.”

ADNELLY MARICHAL: “Now suddenly, it’s about making money so therefore you need to grow things like sugar and coffee, and that’s great, but those are not things that people can eat.”

In Las Marias, up in the mountains on the western half of the island, Farmer Domingo Antonio Romano, 75, runs a small farm with his wife, Nilsa.

BASCOMB: “Root vegetables like yams were really the only food crops that didn’t get torn away by the 155 mile an hour winds of Hurricane Maria. They were one of the only food crops the Romanos could still harvest and eat after the storm. … Domingo and his neighbors still had months to go before the roads would be cleared or the electricity restored. He says in that time they came to rely on each other for help.” …

DOMINGO ANTONIO ROMANO: “After Maria, the trees came down and we could see our neighbors and we got to know each other. After the hurricane, there was a lot of empathy between the people, and everybody helped each other.” …

BASCOMB: “Five volunteers from a grassroots non-profit group called El Departamento de la Comida, the Food Department, are here to camp out on the farm for a week and do any work that needs to be done: clear land, plant crops, fix fences and repair the roof. The volunteer Food Department is organized into groups called brigades and are dispatched all over the island. As many as 20 people at a time descend on a farm for a week bringing with them seeds, tools, building supplies, and the man power to get a farm back up and running.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

Video: The Puerto Rico Resilience Fund

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Photo: Paige Pfleger/The World
Puerto Rican farmer Daniella Rodríguez Besosa says Hurricane Maria “was also a call to action. Nobody else is going to help us. We need to help ourselves.”

Americans expect and deserve government help when there is a natural disaster, and often they get it. But Puerto Rico was pretty much out of sight, out of mind after Hurricane Maria. I do know someone who went there to help with logistics as part of a Federal Emergency Management team, but I also know several someones who lost everything and came to the mainland with their children.

Puerto Ricans who stayed behind have been managing as best they can. I was impressed with Paige Pfleger’s story at Public Radio International (PRI) about women farmers working together to build resilience.

“High in the mountains of Puerto Rico,” Pfleger writes, “a group of women struggles to keep their balance as they drive pickaxes deep into the earth of a hillside guava orchard. They’re digging a narrow trench called a swale on the steep terrain of this 7-acre farm. It’s a low-cost, low-impact way to retain rain water and reduce erosion in a place where both can be a challenge.

“With a swale ‘you end up storing most of your water in the soil itself, so the plants can access it whenever they need it,’ said Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, who has her own farm nearby. Besosa is part of a group called the Circuito Agroecológico Aiboniteño — all farmers, mostly women — who’ve been working together since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 to help each other’s farms recover and become more sustainable

Maria ‘was an eye-opener for a lot of people,’ Besosa said. ‘It was also a call to action. Nobody else is going to help us; we need to help ourselves.’

“Farms in Puerto Rico were devastated during Hurricane Maria. It’s been estimated that 80 percent of the crops on the island were destroyed, and $1.8 billion of damage was done to agricultural infrastructure.

“ ‘The best part from this hurricane crisis was this, that we get to organize to help each other recover,’ said Janette Gavillan, the owner of the guava orchard the Circuito is working on.

“Gavillan is a retired chemistry professor and is relatively new to farming. But she says working with the Circuito has taught her ways to be more sustainable. …

“Since Maria, the Circuito’s members have come to see sustainability as synonymous with resilience and independence. They hope that if they’re able to rely only on themselves, they’ll be better prepared for the next big storm, or at least be better able to recover. …

“A few miles from Gavillan’s farm, Jessica Collazo works a small plot dotted with baby chicks and thin beds of fruits and vegetables. … Collazo and her husband support their family by selling their produce at local markets, but she says after Maria, they had to start from zero.

“ ‘We were left with nothing,’ Collazo said. The storm washed her crops, seeds and soil over the side of the mountain.

“The brigade of local farmers helped her clear fallen trees and get new seeds. Circuito members also built banks on the edges of the mountain and dug swales that Collazo hopes will reduce the damage from the next hurricane.

“ ‘On my own, that would take me months,’ Collazo said. ‘But with help, it took only a few hours.’

“Collazo hopes the expertise and extra hands of the Circuito members will help her family reach its goal of building a completely self-sustaining farm. She says she wants to dig her own well so she doesn’t have to depend on the government for water, and install solar panels so she doesn’t have to rely on the local electric utility.” More at PRI, here.

I can’t help thinking of the Little Red Hen (“All right, then, I’ll do it myself!”) and wondering if it’s unfair to say that this is more likely to be a woman’s experience than a man’s. In any case, it’s the women farmers arming themselves against a sea of troubles here. I hope that like the Little Red Hen, they reward themselves.

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The original idea when the grandchildren visited my workplace was to walk to the new Boston Public Market, but it was too far and there were so many other interesting things along the way.

We will go as a family another day, but I thought I would zip over there Thursday and take some pictures. I arrived at 8 a.m. The market is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 8 to 8, and since the activity wasn’t in full swing, it was a good time to look around.

The Boston Public Market is not as big, as noisy, or as messy as the famed Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia (and there are no Amish), but it shows real promise. Although the market was fairly quiet at 8 a.m., there was already a line at MotherJuice and George Howell’s Coffee — people getting revved up for work at Government Center and environs. At a farmstand, I bought two small squashes. Fifty cents.

The Vietnamese restaurant Bon Me had a counter, and I saw local honey, fruits, vegetables, artisan cheese, and crafts. The crafts gave me pause as the market is supposed to be mainly an outlet for regional farmers, and much as I love crafts, I have seen them overwhelm another farmers market. As long as there is a good balance, it will be fine.

Note the vegetable soft toys in the children’s play area.

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Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., is well known as a hub for entrepreneurship. So the school was the logical place to help start-ups offering farmers distribution services, marketing, and the like learn how to grow their business. A training was held at Babson at the end of December, and the New York Times covered it.

Stephanie Strom writes, “In spite of the surging demand for locally and regionally grown foods over the last few years, there is a chasm separating small and midsize farmers from their local markets.

“But a growing number of small businesses are springing up to provide local farmers and their customers with marketing, transportation, logistics and other services, like the Fresh Connection, a trucking business providing services to help farms around New York City make deliveries. …

“The Fair Food Network, a nonprofit organized to improve access to better food, recently held a second ‘business boot camp’ in Wellesley, Mass., for tiny companies working to increase ties between communities and local farmers, which culminated in a contest to win some $10,000. …

“For farmers selling products to a number of customers, there are so-called food hubs like Red Tomato, which connects its network of farms to existing wholesale distribution systems to make deliveries of locally grown fruits and vegetables to groceries, produce distributors, restaurants and schools in the Northeast. …

“Not all ways of improving consumer access to local and regional farm production involve distribution, however. Blue Ox Malthouse, for instance, is making malt from barley grown in Maine as a cover crop. Normally, farmers plow barley under or sell it cheaply for animal feed.  Blue Ox has given them a new and more lucrative market, though, buying up barley and turning it into malt in hopes of selling it to Maine’s thriving craft beer businesses. …

“It’s good for the farmers, who get a better price for a product they often just plowed under, and it’s good for the craft beer business, where brewers are always looking for points of distinction,” [founder Joel] Alex said.”

Read about some other great services for small farms here.

Photo: Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Mark Jaffe of the Fresh Connection picks up fresh eggs from a farmer’s stand in Union Square, Manhattan. He will make deliveries to restaurants and groceries.

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“How will the world find the water to feed a growing population in an era of droughts and water shortages?” asks Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 by way of the Christian Science Monitor.

“The answer, a growing number of water experts are saying, is to forget big government-run irrigation projects with their mega-dams, giant canals, and often corrupt and indolent management.

“Farmers across the poor world, they say, are solving their water problems far more effectively with cheap Chinese-made pumps and other low-tech and off-the-shelf equipment. Researchers are concluding that small is both beautiful and productive.

“ ‘Cheap pumps and new ways of powering them are transforming farming and boosting income all over Africa and Asia,’ says Meredith Giordano, lead author of a three-year research project looking at how smallholder farmers are turning their backs on governments and finding their own solutions to water problems. …

“Such innovations are becoming a major driver of economic growth, poverty reduction, and food security, says her report, “Water for Wealth and Food Security,” published by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a research center based in Sri Lanka.

“The report says better support for this hidden farmer-led revolution could increase crop yields threefold in some places …

“But such help could be a while coming, because much of the revolution is happening out of sight of governments and international organizations. In Ghana, the study found, small private irrigation schemes cover 185,000 hectares – 25 times more land than public irrigation projects. ‘Yet when I asked the agriculture minister there about these schemes, he hadn’t even heard of them,’ says Colin Chartres, director of IWMI.”

Read more.

Photograph: Noor Khamis/Reuters/File
Boys from Nalepo Primary School draw water using a manual pumping machine in a semi-arid region south of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

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