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Soil Restoration: 5 Core Principles

Imagine there was a process that could remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, replace it with life-giving oxygen, support a robust soil microbiome, regenerate topsoil, enhance the nutrient density of food, restore water balance to the landscape and increase the profitability of agriculture. Fortunately, there is. It’s called photosynthesis.

THE POWER OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS

In the miracle of photosynthesis, which takes place in the chloroplasts of green leaves, CO2 from the air and H2O from the soil, are combined to capture light energy and transform it into biochemical energy in the form of simple sugars.

These simple sugars — commonly referred to as photosynthate — are the building blocks for life in and on the Earth. Plants transform sugar into a great diversity of other carbon compounds, including starches, proteins, organic acids, cellulose, lignin, waxes and oils.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains are packaged sunlight derived from photosynthesis. The oxygen our cells and the cells of other living things utilize during aerobic respiration is also derived from photosynthesis.

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Campus Composting

In 2009, with my retirement from Ohio University looming, I didn’t think my personal involvement in the construction and start-up of a class 2 campus composting facility would develop into such a large operation. Class 2 compost (according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency) consists of yard, agriculture, animal, or food waste, plus a bulking agent.

To get this project underway, thousands of yards of dirt on the campus’s periphery had to be moved to prepare the site and many yards of concrete were poured to construct the base of a metal pole barn, which would eventually house the composting machine.

Hauled by truck from Ottawa, Canada, the enormous composting machine was unloaded by crane and placed on the concrete pad.

The vertical posts were installed and metal siding attached. For power, electricity was connected and the solar array installed. Today, the Ohio University Composting facility also boasts a solar thermal system and waste oil heaters that use leftover oil from the university’s facilities operations. Skylights provide indirect lighting. The entire facility is self-sustainable. With a 10 kilowatt-per-hour built in 2009 and a 31.1 kilowatt-per-hour system added in 2012, the solar array produces more energy than is used in the operation.

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Shiitake Mushrooms as Specialty Crop

The flavorful shiitake mushroom is native to Asia where it has been harvested wild from forestlands for centuries.

Commercial production was introduced in the 1930s first by inoculating select logs, and later by growing mushrooms on sterilized sawdust, which sped up production. As its taste and nutritional value become more and more known and desired in North America, shiitake mushrooms present another possible niche farm crop to consider.

Shiitake can be sold in a variety of ways, including as fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, pre-inoculated shiitake logs or sawdust blocks for backyard or tabletop shiitake mushroom growers and of course as value-added culinary products that contain the mushrooms. Even the resulting “mushroom compost” can be a valuable product. For actual spawn production, a sterile or at least very clean laboratory-type environment is preferable.

But the purchase of spawn is relatively inexpensive. Also, in some states, a certified kitchen is required to produce and sell value-added food products such as mushroom soup, but the production needs of the other shiitake products can usually be set up on a typical working farm.

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Barn Owls for Pest Control

Using barn owls for natural rodent control is gaining traction among farmers and those in other agricultural sectors. This has come about from increasingly critical environmental issues regarding chemical use in the field for rodent population control. To reduce poisons and other invasive methods of pest management, one of the most beneficial owls on the planet is being called upon as an expert rodent assailant.

Barn owls are noted for being fond of nesting but the lack of nest sites, including the loss of tree habitats, has become a major reason for the decline and non-productivity of this owl species.

When hole-nesters cannot find suitable places to breed, the population decreases notably.

Farmers have been putting barn owls on patrol for prey, including moles and gophers, as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) alternative.

Barn owls exhibit some of the best hearing among birds of prey. They have a white heart-shaped, monkey-faced appearance, and are distinguished by whitish or pale cinnamon underparts and rust-colored upper plumage. Velvety feathers allow them to approach their prey silently in darkness.

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Ketogenic Diet: Fighting Back Against Cancer

Nasha Winters is a naturopath based in Colorado and the co-author of a lucid, persuasive book called The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. She is an articulate, energetic and unstoppable advocate of the ketogenic diet as a therapy for cancer and a host of other maladies. Ketosis — not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition — is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides most of the energy. Ketosis is a nutritional process characterized by serum concentrations of ketone bodies over a certain level, with low and stable levels of insulin and blood glucose. Longer-term ketosis occurs when people stick to a food regimen that is extremely low in carbohydrates and can be medically induced to treat a patient for diabetes or epilepsy. Along with a growing cohort of medical practitioners and ordinary citizens, Winters believes it holds the key to reversing some of the scourges that threaten to bankrupt our health care system. Herself a cancer survivor, Winters approaches her work with the fervor of one who knows it in her bones. She graciously made time for a long chat in between seeing patients, lecturing and writing.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Understanding Cancer from a Metabolic Level

Photo courtesy of Kyla Jenkinson, PhotoDivine

ACRES U.S.A. What do you think is the biggest barrier to our understanding of cancer? For many years we’ve been hearing that millions of dollars are being spent and many millions more are needed for research. There are occasional stories of research breakthroughs and less frequent stories of significant new therapies. Yet cancer marches on. It is a subject of fear and incomprehension for most people.

NASHA WINTERS. Yes, exactly. I don’t know if I have the answer, but I have my thoughts and a quarter-century of personal experience with thousands of patients and hundreds of colleagues. First of all, when you hear the big C, when you hear “cancer,” it conjures up terror. It conjures up fear, and it conjures up a certain value and belief system. In the United States the only people who are allowed to say they treat cancer are oncologists and dental surgeons. Even your family practitioners are not allowed to treat cancer. It’s a turf war, if you will. If somebody’s diagnosed with cancer, they have to be referred to an oncologist. Well, that’s great. Oncologists know a lot about the actual cancer cell, the cancer cell cycle and the tumor itself, but frankly, they do not have any training in the terrain, in the medium in which that cell or tumor grows. That’s where we have the biggest disconnect and biggest loss in the past 70 years of cancer treatment, certainly since Nixon declared War on Cancer in the early ’70s. We have not made any headway. Just to back up and give a few statistics, one in two men and one in 2.4 women in the United States are expected to have cancer in their lifetime. When you have cancer in places like the United States, you also have a 70 percent chance of having a recurrence. Not only do you get to deal with it once — you have a high likelihood of dealing with it again. We’ve seen a 300 percent increase in brand-new secondary cancers in patients who’ve already been treated for cancer. Months to years later, they have brand-new cancers that are not related to the original diagnoses, and we find those are secondary to the treatments they received the first go around. Continue Reading →

Corn Mazes as Profit Generators

“If you build it, they will come.” Several years ago, these words seemingly fell upon the ears of John Kondilis-Hashem, an ambitious young farmer whose skills have graced Bella Organic Farm since 2008. With an eye for business prosperity and a hand for organic cropping, Kondilis-Hashem keenly studied the methods through which neighboring farms were boosting profits and sales. Upon assessing the local competition, he soon realized that his Oregon-based operation was lacking one critical ingredient.

The corn maze at Sweetfields Farm in Florida is designed, cut and maintained by the owners to keep costs down.

“(Conventional) farms were all offering corn mazes — an attraction for drawing in crowds to their businesses,” he said. “We realized we were one of the only farms in the Portland area not doing one.”

But once the owners of Bella Organic built it — amid the steamy summer of 2010 — the premonition soon rang true. Today, visitors come in droves from the greater Portland region and beyond to lose themselves in the farm’s green-cropped labyrinths, a fun fall diversion from football and leaf-raking.

Although farms typically charge between $10 and $20 per visitor for a two-to three-hour meander through the pathways, the maze itself has not been the primary moneymaker in the case of many organic and sustainable farms.

“We make a little bit of money from the admission prices, but not a great deal,” said Kondilis-Hashem. “Rather, the purpose of the corn maze is to simply lure people to the farm. And boy has it ever. Once we get folks to come out, they end up spending an entire day here and purchasing many of the other things that we offer. We run the maze in conjunction with our pumpkin patch — and that’s where we really clean up. I’ve seen people come here and end up carting out six or seven pumpkins at a time. But the corn maze is what reels them in.”

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