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Posts Tagged ‘farming’

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Photo: Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District
Some California dairy farmers, concerned about their farms’ effect on global warming,
are working on long-term carbon sequestration.

My recent post “Farmers Turning Waste to Energy” described an effort to combine food waste with cow manure and convert methane gas to electricity. But as Earle noted in Comments, burning methane ultimately means more global warming. He recommended helping farmers put carbon back in the ground in ways that also improve the farm’s bottom line. It’s happening in California.

I went online and found this report at the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) website.

“As much as one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere driving climate change has resulted from land management practices on agricultural lands.

Carbon farming, an array of strategies designed to promote long-term carbon sequestration, holds the potential to significantly reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases by capturing carbon in the soil and plant material, while enhancing soil health and productivity.

“The RCD and its LandSmart partners are working to develop a carbon planning component to the comprehensive conservation plans developed through the LandSmart program, identifying practices that would … provide multiple benefits for climate change resiliency, by reducing atmospheric CO2 levels while improving soil health, water holding capacity, and crop and forage production. …

“Practices such as hedgerows and windbreaks [also] work to both sequester CO2 while enhancing on-farm wildlife and pollinator habitat. …

“With the use of a wide variety of beneficial practices, Sonoma County farmers have the ability to reach our County’s goal for greenhouse gas reductions. … In the words of our Executive Director, Brittany Jensen, carbon farming is a regional tactic to address a global problem.

“ ‘By helping farmers make carbon farming a part of their daily operations, we have the opportunity to work on a global problem – climate change – and make a local difference.’ …

“The Ocean Breeze Dairy has been operated by the producer Jarrid Bordessa, a fifth-generation dairy operator, since 2003. In those last 16 years, his business model has shifted to grass-fed, certified organic milk production, and he is the right place to do just that. The Valley Ford dairy covers 310 acres of coastal grassland and over 4,500 feet of perennial stream.

“In the 2018 annual newsletter, we shared an article about Ocean Breeze Dairy, their distributor, Organic Valley, the Carbon Cycle Institute and the RCD developed a Carbon Farm Plan for the property, identifying opportunities to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, the RCD was successful in securing a California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soils Program Demonstration Project to implement two of the practices identified in the plan and to engage with local farmers and ranchers through public workshops.

“The two practices being implemented are the application of compost and the restoration of riparian habitat along lower Ebabias Creek, the primary tributary of Americano Creek, whose watershed estuary, the Estero Americano, drains into Bodega Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Considered one of California’s most unique coastal wetland types, the Estero Americano contains a diverse assemblage of wetland communities and estuarine habitats.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm
Run by a collective of black, brown, and Jewish people, Soul Fire Farm works to end injustice within the food system and offers trainings for people of color to learn essential agricultural skills,

I’ve been reading a sad book by Sarah Smarsh called Heartland. It’s about generations of her family on a small Kansas farm, and the subtitle tells it all : “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” So far she hasn’t said anything about today’s young people returning to the land with enthusiasm, which blog followers know is one of my interests. I’m into the chapter about giant agribusiness taking everything over.

But I know there are more stories out there offering hope for small, sustainable farming. Today’s story is about an upstate New York farm that focuses on helping black and brown people learn agricultural skills and fight food injustice.

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Leah Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and joins host Steve Curwood to discuss her new book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, and her journey as a woman of color reclaiming her space in the agricultural world. …

“CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about your journey falling in love with nature and farming, and how it has led you to create your book, Farming While Black.

“PENNIMAN: Well, nature was my only solace and friends growing up in a rural white town. … In absence of peer connection, I went to the forest and found a lot of support and love in nature. And so, when I became old enough to get a summer job, I [was] able to land a position at the Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts, where we grew vegetables to serve to folks without houses, to people experiencing domestic violence. And there was something so good about that elegant simplicity of planting, and harvesting, and providing for the community. That was the antidote I needed to all the confusion of the teenage years. …

“I feel connected to the whole ecosystem, but the plants are incredible. They have these secret lives that we can’t see, or even imagine. So take, for example, the trees of the forest, right? There’s a underground network of mycelium that connects their roots, and they’re able to pass messages and warnings. They pass sugars and minerals to each other through this underground network. And they collaborate across species, across family. And so, when we tune into that, I think we learn something about what it is to be a human being and how to live in community with each other in a way that if we’re not connected to nature, we sort of lose that deeper sense of who we are, who were meant to be.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is not only a how-to guide for folks who are interested in pursuing a path similar to yours, but it also, well, it has some history, sociology, environmental lessons all wrapped up in this package. Why did you add those additional stories and information in with your guide, rather than it, well, having it be strictly a manual?

“PENNIMAN: Well, I wrote this book for my younger self. So, after a few years of farming, I would go to these organic farming conferences, and all the presenters were white. … In putting together this book, I was really thinking about myself as a 16-year-old and, all the other returning generation of black and brown farmers who need to see that we have a rightful place in the sustainable farming movement that isn’t circumscribed by slavery, sharecropping, and land-based oppression, that we have a many, many thousand-year noble history of innovation and dignity on the land. …

“The raised beds of the Ovambo and the terraces of Kenya, and the community-supported agriculture of Dr. Whatley, those are to remind us that, you know, we’ve been doing this all along, and we belong. …

“CURWOOD: You have a waiting list of people who want to come to Soul Fire Farm and learn how to do this? …

“PENNIMAN: This was something that just surprised me because I thought I was just a weirdo out here, I was going to start this farm with my family, grow food, provide it to those who need it most in the community. And that was going to be it. And I got a call our first year from this woman, Kafi Dixon in Boston who said, you know, through tears, I just needed to hear your voice to know that it was possible for a woman like me to farm, and that I wasn’t crazy, and that there’s hope. Right? And that was the first of thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails to come of folks saying, ‘I need to learn to farm, I want to do it in a culturally relevant, safe, space. I want to learn from people who look like me.’ …

“We’re living under a system that my mentor Karen Washington calls food apartheid. So, in contrast to a food desert as defined by the US Department of Agriculture, which is a high poverty zip code without supermarkets, right, a food apartheid is a human created system, not a natural system like a desert. … There are consequences to that. We see in black and brown communities a very high disproportionate incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, even some learning disabilities, and poor eyesight. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most intriguing sections of your book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is this explanation of how you can clean up lead-contaminated soil, which you find in so many places in the urban environment. You have a very practical guide as to how you can use natural plants to chelate, that is, to remove lead from the soil, so that it’s safe to grow food there. I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else. …

“PENNIMAN: There’s an incredible plant, it’s an African origin plant called Pelargonium or scented geranium, and it’s a hyper accumulator. So, you can plant it, you acidify the soil, you plant it and it will suck the lead out and store the lead in its body. So, then you can dispose of that plant in a safe place. …

“CURWOOD: And what do you think people of color lost when we lost contact with the land?

“PENNIMAN: Certainly not all folks of color, right? Right now, about 85 percent of our food in this country is grown by brown skinned people who speak Spanish. And … it’s a belief in West African cosmology that our ancestors exist below the earth and below the waters, and by having contact with the earth we’ve received their wisdom and guidance. And with the layers of pavement, and steel, and glass, and the skyscrapers, it’s harder to feel that contact. … When folks come to Soul Fire and get their feet back on the earth, what I hear time and again is, I’m remembering things I didn’t know that I forgot.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Thomas Newman
Jennifer Sharrock, left, is a beginning farmer in Palmer, Alaska. When she needed land to expand, she was matched with land owner Jan Newman through the Alaska Farmland Trust.

I’ve posted a few times about beginning farmers and, in particular, Letterbox Farm in rural Hudson, New York (here). Sandra’s niece and her partners at Letterbox Farm are perfect examples of a hopeful trend in farming: young people getting serious about agriculture and bringing in new and sustainable approaches. It’s incredibly hard work, but they love it.

Today’s post is also about young people getting into farming and is part of a Christian Science Monitor series on the topic. Reporter Sarah Matusek addresses young farmers’ need for land and creative ways older farmers can provide it.

“Jan Newman became an accidental alpaca farmer. She took up knitting in the 1990s at home in Palmer, Alaska, to supply her first child with natural-fiber clothing, and one thing led to another. She innovated again in 2013 when she founded Grow Palmer, a public food program that plants edible gardens around town. These days, Ms. Newman is pondering retirement. …

“Jennifer T. Sharrock is just starting out. She left an insurance career this year to pursue market farming and permaculture full time through her Seeds and Soil Farm. The beginning farmer began teaching permaculture design three years ago, but her popular classes quickly outgrew her space. Buying more land wasn’t financially feasible.

“So she placed an ad in Alaska Farmland Trust’s FarmLink program, a kind of ‘dating service’ for land seekers and owners. When Ms. Sharrock received an answer to her ad, her heart skipped a beat. She saw it was from Ms. Newman, whom she’d met through Grow Palmer. They also turned out to be neighbors.

“ ‘It’s a match made in heaven,’ said Ms. Sharrock, who has started on four acres of Ms. Newman’s property.”

The two women’s agreement is unlike other FarmLink arrangements.

” ‘There’s actually no money changing hands,’ says Ms. Newman, who calls the younger farmer’s regenerative agriculture plan ‘the best stewardship possible.’ …

“Land-link pairings like the one in Palmer represent one possible step toward solving a nationwide puzzle – how to help experienced farmers exit out of agriculture while building an on-ramp for new producers.

” ‘I get a sense there are more young people who don’t necessarily have farm backgrounds, who are taking agriculture entrepreneur courses, and they are starting to jump into farming,’ says Jim MacDonald, an economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Along with access to capital, access to land is one of the greatest hurdles faced by beginning producers in the United States. One sign of the barriers to entry: The average U.S. farmer’s age has taken a long-term climb over the past several decades, now reaching 57.5, according to the USDA’s latest census figures. While there has been some increase in the number of producers under age 35 – partly due to how the census now defines them – this group remains vastly outnumbered. …

” ‘As someone retires, that’s an opportunity for two or three other young people. There’s no shortage of people that want to farm,’ says Michael Langemeier, an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University in Indiana. …

“In Alaska, 46% of the state’s producers are beginners – the largest share of any state. Amy Pettit, executive director of Alaska Farmland Trust, says the demand for more locally grown food is one of the factors pulling new farmers north. …

“But buying land for many new farmers remains out of reach. … Land availability is another concern. ..

“ ‘There is a sense of urgency,’ says Tim Biello, who coordinates the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network in New York. ‘The history of our use of agricultural lands suggests that we’re not getting more.’ …

“Launched by the American Farmland Trust, Hudson Valley Farmlink Network is among the most active, with 175 matches since 2014. Mr. Biello, the network’s coordinator, attributes the success to individual attention and relying on the localized expertise of 17 partner organizations. …

“Mr. Biello says that matches shouldn’t be the only metric for measuring a land-link program’s impact. He points instead to the trainings, events, and one-on-one assistance that have reached more than 10,000 farmers and farmland owners. …

“Ms. Newman hopes the new farmer will remain on the land long term.

“ ‘I just can’t wait to see this evolve,’ says Ms. Newman. ‘It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened on the property since our alpacas left.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Sean Powers
Karen refugee Moo Paw shows the vegetables she’s grown at the Neighbor’s Field in North Carolina.

I’m always interested in what Karen refugees from Myanmar (Burma) are doing as they adjust to new lives in the United States — especially as I know Mia, a Karen woman in one of the Rhode Island English classes where I volunteer.

At the radio show Living on Earth (LOE), there’s an interesting Karen farming story from producer Sean Powers of Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Bitter Southerner podcast.

“BOBBY BASCOMB [LOE managing producer]: The United States has long been a place for political refugees to seek safety and put down roots, in some cases literally. In Comer, Georgia, a community garden called the Neighbor’s Field is helping refugees work through their trauma by working the land. …

“POWERS: It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in Comer, Georgia. Moo Paw is feeding her chickens, hens, goats, and ducks. There’s even a donkey. You could say they’re kind of like her babies. She is one of the many refugees at the Neighbor’s Field, who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar. That’s the country formerly known as Burma. …

“She says Burmese soldiers kidnapped her father, and used him as a porter to carry food for them. After leaving Myanmar, Moo Paw lived in a refugee camp in Thailand before moving to the United States with her husband and children. They relocated to the Atlanta area, before settling here in Comer. Her son, Tahay Than, says moving to Comer was to satisfy Moo Paw’s green thumb.

“TAHAY: My mom, where she lived in Burma or Thailand, she always liked to plant. You know, working the farm. So, when she farms, that makes her feel like she is home or something, like in a home country, mother country or something. So that’s why she moved to Comer. …

“PAW: My garden. Here vegetables. Here grass. Me planted the cucumbers this year. Here sweet potato. Very beautiful.

“POWERS: It’s that beauty that takes Moo Paw back to memories of her family. She and her son Tahay say in Myanmar, farming for their family was a way of life.

“PAW: My grandmother planted rice, peanuts. Chili, corn.

“TAHAY: Most of the time, everybody who lived in Burma, they would plant in order to survive.

“POWERS: And that makes this garden all the more meaningful. The vegetables growing here, they don’t look like your typical produce that you would find at most supermarkets in the United States. That’s because the seeds come from Myanmar and Thailand. …

“POWERS: The flavors growing in Moo Paw’s soil are just a small part of the pie. There are two-dozen plots of land at the Neighbor’s Field that are being rented by refugees from Myanmar. For a large plot, it’s a hundred dollars a year. Rebecca Smith [who versees the day-to-day operations at the Neighbor’s Field], says it’s been incredible to see how working the farm helps build community. …

“SMITH: They’re just amazing foragers, they can figure out how to cook everything and make it taste good, and it’s just stuff that we think are weeds. Like sometimes people will be out here just butchering a pig for a celebration or Moo Paw’s out here feeding her chickens and people in the garden and you just feel like you’re in a different world, not Comer, Georgia.”

More at Living on Earth, here. In North Carolina, too, there are Karen refugees working on farms. Read this at Transplanting Traditions.

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Photo: Tom Banse/Northwest News Network
This laser unit is one of six that repel thieving birds from the blueberry fields of Meduri Farms near Jefferson, Oregon.

Are you familiar with the arch-criminal Moriarity, featured in Sherlock Holmes stories? “Moriarity” is what my husband called every devious catbird that got through his garden defenses last summer, eating many of the best berries. No sooner had my husband patched a piece of netting that the birds had sneaked through than they collaborated with one another to extend some tiny opening. And then they would get all tangled up and have to be rescued. (As Kim says, “Catbirds have such disorganized feathers.”)

Suzanne suggested the Scare-Eye Bird Chaser she had seen at a Rhode Island farm, but New Shoreham is too windy for a balloon defense.

A plastic hawk interested the grandchildren, but Moriarity was bored.

Next year it might be necessary to think about lasers.

Tom Banse writes at NPR, “During every berry-picking season in the Pacific Northwest, blueberry and raspberry growers fight to prevent birds from gobbling up the crop before harvest. This year, some farmers are trying something new to scare away the thieving birds: lasers.

“Justin Meduri manages a large blueberry farm and cherry orchard outside Jefferson, Ore. Birds like both fruits.

” ‘Flocks can move in of up to 2,000 to 3,000 starling birds,’ Meduri says. The starlings gorge themselves and knock down berries right as the crop is ready to pick. When he didn’t take countermeasures, Meduri says the damage was ‘inconceivable, huge. We had almost a 20 to 25 percent, maybe even 30 percent damage loss.’

“Meduri says he previously hired a falconer to protect his fields. But the falcons were expensive, temperamental and sometimes flew away. Then last year, he became one of the first farmers in the U.S. to install automated lasers. … Meduri is thrilled with the results.

” ‘[The lasers are] running right now as we speak. You’re out here in over 175 acres of blueberries,’ he says, punctuating the observation with a staccato of hand claps. ‘There’s not one bird that you see flying around.’ Meduri says that had any birds been in the bushes, the clapping would have made them come out. …

“[Laser maker] Bird Control Group started out in Europe, for the most part using lasers to shoo pesky birds away from industrial sites and airports. In the U.S. market, the agricultural industry appears to be the most promising.

“[Director of North American business development is Wayne] Ackermann says some of his initial sales have come from farmers trying to appease neighbors. …

“The silent lasers proved a friendlier — and sometimes better — bird repellent than traditional tools such as propane cannons or squawk boxes. The lasers are also friendlier than using poison or a 12-gauge shotgun.”

On second thought, the price is prohibitive for a backyard gardener, and not enough is known about whether the lasers are harmful to the birds. Researchers at Purdue University are studying that very question. So stay tuned for that — and for more on the misadventures of Moriarity.

The story is originally from the Northwest News Network. You can read the rest of it here.

Photo: Scare-Eye Bird Chaser
Another possible bird-control option if you don’t live in a windy region.

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Fishers Island is located at the eastern end of Long Island Sound. Long a summer enclave for the wealthy, it may soon become known for a seaweed farm in Fishers Island Sound.

When my three-year-old grandchild was upset because the seaweed snacks were all gone, I knew the world had changed. Seaweed snacks? Yes, indeed. Seaweed has become big in the US. It’s not considered an exotic food anymore.

At the Connecticut newspaper the Day, Joe Wojtas wrote recently about one of the many entrepreneurs moving into seaweed.

“A local man is seeking approval from state and local agencies to run a sugar kelp farm in Fishers Island Sound about one mile southeast of Enders Island.

“Thomas Cooke of LionMind Ventures LLC is seeking a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to install up to 10 long lines, each 500 feet long and anchored at each end and in the middle. The kelp seeds are embedded in the ropes when they are put out in the water and then harvested six months later after the plants have grown to 12 feet or more. Cooke said the work will begin in late October and end in May, which means it will not occur during the busy recreational boating season in Fishers Island Sound. …

“Cooke, who now lives on Masons Island and is an attorney, director for a professional choral group and the former Simsbury town administrator, … said he learned about kelp farming a few years ago, when he heard a program on the popular TED Talks series about a New Haven-based organization called Greenwave and its executive director, Bren Smith, who farms kelp in the Sound.

“ ‘It’s really good for the Sound,’ Cooke said about kelp farming. ‘It removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide and leaves a much healthier body of water.’ …

“The uses for nutrient-filled kelp include food — growers like to call it sea greens and not seaweed — cosmetics and fertilizers, just to name a few. Cooke said Greenwave works with kelp farmers to provide seed, find buyers and provide technical advice.

Everyone says it’s the new kale but I think it tastes better,’ he said.

More at the Day, here. I blogged about a Rhode Island kelp farmer here.

Photo: NOAA Fisheries
Here’s what sugar kelp looks like. There are different kinds of kelp, but this is the kind mentioned in the story.

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Illustration: Ben Kirchner
Raduan Nassar was 48 and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer.

I liked a recent article in the New Yorker about a Brazilian who left the writing life to become a farmer. Did literary perfectionism stress him out too much, or did farming just seem more real?

Alejandro Chacoff has the story.

“In 1973, the Brazilian writer Raduan Nassar quit his job. After six years as editor-in-chief at the Jornal do Bairro, an influential left-wing newspaper that opposed Brazil’s military regime, [he left] and spent a year in his São Paulo apartment, working twelve hours a day on a book, ‘crying the whole time.’ In ‘Ancient Tillage,’ the strange, short novel he wrote, a young man flees his rural home and family, only to return, chastened and a little humiliated, to the place of his childhood.

“ ‘Ancient Tillage’ was published in 1975, to immediate critical acclaim. … In 1978, a second novel appeared in print; Nassar had written the first draft of ‘A Cup of Rage’ in 1970, while living in Granja Viana, a bucolic neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It, too, was received euphorically, winning the São Paulo Art Critics’ Association Prize (ACPA). …

Last year, Nassar’s two novels were translated into English for the first time, for the Penguin Modern Classics Series. …

“Nassar was forty-eight and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he gave an interview with Folha de São Paulo, the country’s biggest daily newspaper, in which he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer. … The following year, he bought a property of roughly sixteen hundred acres and began to plant soy, corn, beans, and wheat. …

“Nassar said that farming had always been his main occupation, whereas writing had ‘just been another activity.’ But his life in agriculture did not begin smoothly.

“ ‘For the first six years, we got killed; there were only losses.’ … Like his characters, he appears to have found solace in manual labor. ‘My life now is about doing, doing, doing,’ he told an interviewer, in 1996, when asked how he was faring after his literary retirement. …

“Both [Luiz Schwarcz, the editor-in-chief of Companhia das Letras, the country’s main publishing house,] and [Antonio Fernando de Franceschi, a poet and critic who became a close friend of Nassar’s,] believe that Nassar’s decision to quit came not from a waning of interest but from literary perfectionism. ‘He’s a guy who devotes himself so much to the craft that I think it’s hard for him to feel rewarded,’ Schwarcz said.” More here.

I intend to track down his books.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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Photo: The Economist

Reversing desertification in Africa has to be one of the biggest challenges ever attempted. But if we believe that the longest journey starts with a single step, then the continent’s long journey is off to a good start.

According to the Economist, “Building a wall of trees across the width of Africa is a tall order. Solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification poses a greater challenge still. But more than 60 years after it was first proposed, just such a project is underway at the edge of the Sahara. …

“In 1952 Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, proposed planting a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara. The trees would block the wind and sand that move southward from the desert and improve the quality of the soil by binding sediment together and adding nutrients to the mix.

“Although Mr Baker was unable to convince others of his plan during his lifetime, the idea has since taken root. In 2005, Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited Mr Baker’s proposition, seeing in it an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental problems afflicting the Sahel-Sahara region.

“An estimated 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the region’s land for their livelihoods, but 40% of it is degraded—worn away by soil erosion, human activity and scorching temperatures—leaving much of it unfit for use.

“In 2007, Mr Obasanjo gained the support of the African Union. The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched the same year. Today some 21 African countries are involved in the project, which has grown in scope. Trees have been planted, but building a wall of them is no longer the priority.

“Instead, the wall of trees has become a vehicle for a wider goal: countries in the region working together to tackle climate change, food security and economic growth. Recent projects include abating soil erosion and improving water management in Nigeria, agri-business development in Senegal and forestry management in Mali.”

More at the Economist.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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Photo: BBC
BBC
Africa’s Sophie Ikenye visits a fish farm in Kenya.

The BBC recently called my attention to a surprising new trend in Africa: Young people, who used to flock to urban office jobs and spurn farming, are beginning to see the attractive side of a return to the land.

Sophie Ikenye writes, “Six years ago Emmanuel Koranteng, 33, gave up his job as an accountant in the US and bought a one-way ticket to Ghana. He now has a successful business growing pineapples in a village one-and-a-half hours away from the capital, Accra. He says that even when he was far away from the farm, it was always in his thoughts.

“Across the continent, Dimakatso Nono, 34, also left her job in finance … and moved from Johannesburg to manage her father’s 2,000 acre farm three hours away in Free State Province. She says she wanted to make an impact. …

” ‘At the beginning, we were not sure about what the animals were doing and where they were in the fields, so for me it was important to ensure that every single day, every activity that we do is recorded.’

“Life on the farm has not been easy. … Both young farmers have found it difficult to get funding for equipment. For this reason, Mr Koranteng has decided to stay small.

” ‘If you are small and you don’t have funding, don’t try to do anything big. It’s all about being able to manage and produce quality because if you produce quality, it sells itself,’ he says.

“But there is to be made money in farming. A World Bank report from 2013 estimates that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030 if they were able to access to more capital, electricity and better technology.

” ‘Agriculture has a bright future in Africa,’ says Harvard University technology expert Calestous Juma. And it also means making the finished product, rather than just growing crops and selling them. ‘The focus should be … from farm to fork, not just production,’ he says.”

Check out one farming entrepreneur’s approach here.

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Photo: Lancaster Farming

Wish I could remember where I first saw that this Ephrata-based magazine had a story on a farm that I have been driving past for 30-plus years without knowing much about it.

Sarah L. Hamby writes at Lancaster Farming, “Since 1999, the Farrell family has lived and worked at Sunset Farm, transforming nearly 150 acres into a well-known destination for freshly baked pies, heirloom tomatoes, and quality, all-natural meats not just for sale to the public, but also served at dozens of beach-front restaurants.

“Located on a four-lane highway in the south end of Narragansett, a small beach town in Rhode Island with a population that doubles during the summer months, Sunset Farm is one of a kind.

“In 1986, the Narragansett Land Trust was established to preserve open land in the largely developed Rhode Island town. …

“In 1991, historic Sunset Farm, established in 1864, along with Kinney Bungalow, a turn-of-the-century landmark and picturesque spot for weddings, was acquired by the town. … Since 2013, both the farm and bungalow have been on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The farm has been so successful that in 2014 the family signed a 25-year lease with the town of Narragansett. In return for taking care of the farm, the Farrells live rent free, though they do pay utilities. Maintenance and restoration work is part of the job, too, and must be up to historical standards.

“If you ask farmer and landscaper Jeff Farrell why he and his family applied to be caretakers of Sunset Farm, the last working farm in Narragansett, he will answer you with the candor and humor of most who work the land for a living.

“ ‘I lost my mind.’

“Ethan Farrell, who is now 25, has put a marketing degree from Johnson and Wales University to work at Sunset Farm. His phone constantly rings with calls from local restaurants and delivery trucks. … Last July, he started a food truck designed for local festivals and events, bringing his own flare to the farm-to-table movement. …

“The family donates to the local food pantry, supports area events for veterans and charities, and recently introduced gift certificates to increase activity from the local community.”

Read about the challenges of being the only farm in a tourist town at Lancaster Farming, here. And do check out Sunset Farm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SunsetFarm505 — or  at http://www.sunsetfarm1864.com.

Photo: Seth Jacobson
Kinney Bungalow is available for events.

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Sweet potato evangelism has won the World Food Prize. I learned about this at National Public Radio, which has a regular feature on eating and health called the Salt.

Dan Charles reports, “One summer day in 2012, on a long drive through northern Mozambique, I saw groups of men standing beside the road selling buckets filled with sweet potatoes. My translator and I pulled over to take a closer look. Many of the sweet potatoes, as I’d hoped, were orange inside. In fact, the men had cut off the tips of each root to show off that orange color. It was a selling point. …

“In Africa, that’s unusual and new. Traditionally, sweet potatoes grown in Africa have had white flesh. …

“Those orange-fleshed sweet potatoes along the road that day represented the triumph of a public health campaign to promote these varieties — which, unlike their white-fleshed counterparts, are rich in Vitamin A. [In June], that campaign got some high-level recognition at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department. Four of the main people behind it will receive the 2016 World Food Prize. This prize is billed as the foremost international recognition of efforts to promote a sustainable and nutritious food supply.

“This year’s laureates are Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth (Howdy) Bouis. Three of them — Andrade, Mwanga and Low — worked at the International Potato Center, which is based in Peru, but has satellite operations in Africa. Bouis worked at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. …

“In recent years, researchers have documented health improvements among villagers in Mozambique and Uganda, simply because they chose to eat sweet potatoes with orange flesh.” More at NPR.

Don’t you love the orange truck? I call that multichannel messaging.

Photo: Dan Charles/NPR
Maria Isabel Andrade is one of four researchers honored with the World Food Prize for promoting sweet potatoes that are orange inside to combat malnutrition.

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One place that refugees are making a life for themselves is in Kansas City, Kansas, where some are bridging their current and former lives through farming.

Oluwakemi Aladesuyi reports at National Public Radio, “In the midst of boxy yellow and brown public housing, beyond the highway and past empty grain elevators, sits Juniper Farm. It’s spread over nine acres on the Kansas side of Kansas City.

“As their children play on the grassy knoll behind us, four women sit at a plastic picnic table speaking in Karen, a language spoken in parts of Myanmar [Burma].

“They’re students at a program called New Roots for Refugees. The program aims to teach the basics and business of farming [in America] to refugees over the course of four years. At the end, many of the graduates are ready to start farms of their own.

“It’s a joint effort between Catholic Charities and Cultivate Kansas City, a nonprofit that encourages locally grown food and urban agriculture. …

“Many of the men and women at New Roots come from Myanmar or Bhutan. Some were farmers in their homelands. But farming on the outskirts of Kansas City is different: the land, the crops and even the weather. …

“Many who’ve come here are happy to have escaped violence. But adapting to life in a new country, with a different language and customs, is still difficult. Many refugees struggle economically. …

“August Gaw [is] 25 years old and often translates for her mother, Beh paw Gaw, who graduated from New Roots a few years ago. …

“August used to come here to help her mother. But now Beh paw has her own 3-acre farm which she runs with her sister. Last year the operation made more than $10,000. The potential to make money is important; many refugee families live below the poverty level.” More here.

Read the story if you have time. One striking aspect: farm manager and adviser Sam Davis, an African American, experienced real intolerance when moving to Kansas from Arkansas, but to one of the Karen women, who had seen extreme isolation of different ethnic groups in Myanmar, America seems prejudice-free.

You might also be interested in this article on Karen people who were relocated to Waterbury, Connecticut. Written by John Giammatteo, it appeared in Communities & Banking magazine in 2012.

Photo: Oluwakemi Aladesuyi/NPR
Beh paw Gaw is a New Roots graduate and a Karen refugee from Myanmar. Now she has her own three acre farm which she runs with her sister.

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In October, Tim Faulkner of ecoRI wrote that for the local celebration of National Food Day, “there was plenty to celebrate about Rhode Island’s food industry. During a downtown food festival, leaders and pioneers in the local food movement explained how they are connecting Rhode Island’s restaurants and culinary arts sector with farming, education, environmentalism, entrepreneurism and social justice.

“This effort was best demonstrated by Julius Searight, founder of a new food truck and mobile soup kitchen. Searight’s Food4Good held its grand opening during the Oct. 24 Providence Food Day Festival, selling chicken waffle sandwiches and baked potatoes. Proceeds from food sales are expected to fund about 400 meals a week for the needy.

“Searight, 26, grew up as a foster child in Providence and graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 2013. He got the idea for the hybrid food operation after volunteering at local nonprofits and wondering what it was like for his biological mother to get fed.

“ ‘I really just saw the need to give back to those in need,’ he said.

More here.

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
Julius Searight is the founder of Food4Good food truck and mobile soup kitchen. Every $5 dollars earned buys two meals for people who need them.

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