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Posts Tagged ‘subsistence’

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Photo: George Chernilevsky
A basket of wild mushrooms in Ukraine. Hunting mushrooms is a popular activity in Eastern Europe. And it’s good for the environment.

Danger, wild mushrooms! That’s what I was taught and that’s what I taught my kids and grandkids. But it’s only because the only way I know if mushrooms are edible is if they are in a supermarket bin. In places like Eastern Europe, however, identification skills are learned young.

A story from UN Environment explains why using forest products like mushrooms is important both for subsistence living and environmentally sound forest management. (Boy, how I wish I’d known all this about Bulgaria when I was in sixth grade and had to write a fancy report: there was no information anywhere.)

“Wild mushroom picking in Eastern Europe is more than a tradition. It is a social event. Every year, in late summer and early fall, thousands of people roam the woods for the biggest, most perfect specimens. They take their children along to teach them which mushrooms are edible and which are poisonous, which are ripe and which should be left for another week or so, passing on generations-old teachings and care for the woods. In the evenings, families share their harvest around a plateful of tasty, butter-fried delicacies. Together, they celebrate their love for the forests, sharing the best spots they found and recalling the animals or birds they sighted along the way.

“Forests are among the most valuable treasures on earth: they supply energy from timber, help with water regulation, soil protection and biodiversity conservation. Yet in traditional forest management, trees are still primarily viewed as a source of wood. All other products derived from wooded lands — such as honey, mushrooms, lichens, berries, medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as any other products extracted from forests for human use — are considered of secondary importance.

“Non-timber forest resources, however, have far-reaching benefits for millions of households, both in terms of subsistence and income. These by-products go into food and everyday items like cosmetics or medicines. The protection of their environment is therefore a vital need.

“Bulgaria, whose forests cover more than a third of its land area, is one of Europe’s richest biodiversity hotspots. Brown bears, lynxes and wolves can be found in its woods, which also harbour hundreds of bird species as well as a great variety of tree types, including beeches, firs, spruces and oaks.

“The country has a long tradition of forest management practices. Large-scale monitoring programmes are in place, and local communities are known to keep a close eye on the natural environment. Together, these factors have allowed national authorities to make the most of their biodiversity.

“Over 90 per cent of the annual yields of wild and cultivated herbs are sold as raw material to Germany, Italy, France and the United States, making Bulgaria one of the world’s leading suppliers in this sector. By gaining expertise in the protection and sustainable use of non-wood forest products, they have become a model for other Balkan countries. …

“Around 80 per cent of the developing world’s population use these products for health and nutritional needs, notes Anela Stavrevska-Panajotova, Project Coordinator at the Connecting Natural Values and People Foundation. The practices and skills learned from Bulgarian experts are crucial to work on identifying non-wood forest products and pilot testing in [places that have not protected their resources].

“Educating local office managers and the business sector on the sustainable use of forest resources is a cost-effective solution to address climate change. Sustainable resource use helps to improve the state of forests and habitats and, by extension, ensure economic and food security for local communities.

“In addition, forests act as carbon sinks and can remove pollutants from the atmosphere, making them a highly versatile tool to fight air pollution and mitigate climate change. Every year, they absorb one third of the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels worldwide.” More here.

By the way, an amazing book about subsistence living, Ramp Hollow, permanently changed everything I thought I knew about history. Recommended.

 

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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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The Christian Science Monitor series People Making a Difference (“ordinary people taking action for extraordinary change”) has so many great leads, I have to restrain myself from using one every day. The Monitor staff don’t write all the stories but, like me, harvest from hither and yon.

This story, about “sack farming,” is from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which I wouldn’t have known about either but for the Monitor.

Caroline Wambui writes, “Central Kenya’s Nturukuma region is not kind to farmers – its erratic rainfall, desert vegetation, and drying riverbeds push most people into making a living through trade rather than agriculture.

“Jane Kairuthi Kathurima toiled for years as an animal herder in the semi-arid conditions of Laikipia County, but struggled to feed her family – until she discovered sack farming, which has transformed her life and those of her children.

“ ‘Being in an environment where food was scarce and lacking in nutrition, I had to find an alternative way to survive,’ said Kathurima. …

“Sack farming involves filling a series of bags with soil, manure, and pebbles for drainage, and growing plants on the top and in holes in the sides. The sacks allow people to grow food in places with limited access to arable land and water.

“Two years after setting up her sack farm, Kathurima now grows enough vegetables – including spinach, lettuce, beets, and arugula to feed her family and sell the surplus to the community. … Now she is supporting other food-insecure farmers by encouraging them to think differently.

“The group behind sack farming in Kenya is GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a global network of women-led groups which help women solve problems in their communities by changing the way they do things.

“Rahab Ngima Githaiga, vice chairman of one of the GROOTS member organizations, says sack farming has empowered women and changed lives by improving family nutrition and enabling children to go to school.”

More here.

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Caroline Wambui
Jane Kairuthi Kathurima cuts kale at her sack farm in central Kenya. She grows enough vegetables to feed her family, selling the surplus to the community. 

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Once upon a time, mine workers were paid in paper chits that could be redeemed at the company store. (Remember the song “Sixteen Tons,” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “I owe my soul to the company sto’ “?)

A while back I saw a story in the NY Times about refugee gardens, and there was a picture of someone using wooden coins to buy produce. It turned out that people were not being paid in wooden coins as miners were paid in paper. Instead, the City of San Diego was encouraging poor residents to pursue good nutrition by giving them wooden coins for shopping at farmers markets.

The coins were really just a footnote to Patricia Leigh Brown’s story, which focuses on a national movement to help immigrant farmers get back into the occupation they know best.

“Among the regular customers at [San Diego’s] New Roots farm stand are Congolese women in flowing dresses, Somali Muslims in headscarves, Latino men wearing broad-brimmed hats and Burundian mothers in brightly patterned textiles who walk home balancing boxes of produce on their heads.

“New Roots, with 85 growers from 12 countries, is one of more than 50 community farms dedicated to refugee agriculture, an entrepreneurial movement spreading across the country. American agriculture has historically been forged by newcomers, like the Scandinavians who helped settle the Great Plains; today’s growers are more likely to be rural subsistence farmers from Africa and Asia, resettled in and around cities from New York, Burlington, Vt., and Lowell, Mass., to Minneapolis, Phoenix and San Diego.”

Read how it works. (And click on the slide show to see the wooden coins. My eyes were drawn to them because my father’s favorite “good-bye” line to toddlers always was, “Don’t take any wooden nickels”!)

Photo: Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times
Khadija Musame, right, with a customer from Somalia at the New Roots Farm stand in San Diego.

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