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Interview: Biointensive method continues to help farmers reap ultra-productive harvests, boost soil health

John-JeavonsStill Growing Strong

John Jeavons is known around the world as the leading exponent of the small-scale, sustainable agricultural method he has trademarked as Grow Biointensive. Working from the heart of Mendocino County, California, he is a tireless advocate, developer and researcher of intensive growing. Over the years he has proven that the title of his best-known book, How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine, is no exaggeration. As he tells below, Jeavons has been hard at it for over 40 years, yet he still talks about his work with unabashed enthusiasm and passion.
— Chris Walters

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Sweet Rewards: Growing Berries on the Suburban Farm

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Ripening ‘Red Lake’ red currants.

by Michael Brown
Growing up in central New Jersey, I’ve seen large expanses of former farmland transformed into seemingly endless residential sprawl. While this doesn’t bode well for open space (as well as a host of other things), it does present opportunity for those able to attract these new potential customers. One way is by creating a suburban farm. Such a farm, on less than an acre, allows spry and innovative farmers to use small size and proximity to markets to their advantage.

Eight years ago, after my youngest child neared the end of high school, I decided to expand my love of gardening into a business. I started off small — about a tenth of an acre in part of my backyard. I named my suburban farm “Pitspone Farm” — from a Hebrew word meaning very small. Over the years I slowly expanded, until at this point I’ve more or less taken over my entire backyard, about one-third of an acre.

From time to time customers come to my farm to pick up produce or visit my operation. Invariably I’ll get a call as they sit in their car in front of my house: “Hi, I’m not sure we’re in the right place. This looks like a residential area.” At that point I usually come out from the back to greet and reassure them that they are indeed in the right place. From the front my home looks like a typical residence. All the action is in the back.

My goal has been, and continues to be, to explore the model of a small-scale suburban farm, both as an income producing entity and as a contributor to the food supply. This model might be of interest to people in several types of circumstances:
1. Not everyone is lucky enough to find large, affordable acreages for farming. However, many of us living in the suburbs have easy access to enough land for a suburban farm.
2. A suburban farm can be a useful way to transition into larger acreage, by establishing markets and experimenting with various crops.
3. A small suburban farm allows one to work a farm while holding down an additional job.

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Down the Wormhole: Customizing Biological Methods for Large-Scale Farming

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JR Bollinger in his corn, head-high by 4th of July.

by David Yarrow

At the end of 2015 I talked to Missouri bootheel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbonsmart farming principles and practices. In his first year fully committed to biological agriculture, Bollinger cut conventional fertilizers by 50 percent and applied blends of biocarbons, minerals and microbes. Soils, plants and yields are all showing positive results.

Bollinger is the fourth generation to farm on 3,500 acres in the southeast Missouri Delta, with the family’s main crops being corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.

“In 2012, I first dabbled in biological farming on a reclaimed coal mine,” he said. “A gentleman with microbial products first tickled my brain about dead soil. He challenged me to find an earthworm. I went looking, and …none. I noticed there wasn’t much life. The soil looked like moondust, vacant of life.”

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Interview: Fungi Guru Tradd Cotter Talks Mycoremediation, Mushroom Farming and Developing Research

Wild World of Mycology

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

image001 (21)The field of mycology represents a  critical next frontier in biology. Relative to the plant and animal kingdoms, mushrooms have been largely neglected by science and yet they hold enormous promise for healing people and the planet, if you believe Tradd Cotter and others in his tribe. Fungi offer tremendously important applications in many realms of material life, from agriculture to medicine, from environmental cleanup to manufacturing and waste management.
Cotter calls it mycotopia.

In the new generation of passionate mycologists, Cotter stands out as a brilliant leader and restless innovator. He is a keen observer of and experimenter with all things mycological, an inveterate inventor who combines intuition and careful study with a wildly creative streak and is a much-in-demand lecturer who entertains and motivates while he educates. His first book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation has garnered outstanding reviews.

Cotter is a microbiologist, professional mycologist and organic gardener who has been tissue culturing, collecting native fungi in the Southeast and cultivating fungi both commercially and experimentally for more than 22 years. In 1996 he founded Mushroom Mountain, which he owns and operates with his wife, Olga. The company, his platform for exploring applications for mushrooms in various industries, currently maintains more than 200 species of fungi for food production, mycoremediation of environmental pollutants and natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. He’s particularly fond of coming up with low-tech and no-tech cultivation strategies so that anyone can grow mushrooms on just about anything, anywhere in the world. Mushroom Mountain is expanding to 42,000 square feet of laboratory and research space near Greenville, South Carolina, to accommodate commercial production, as well as mycoremediation projects. Tradd, Olga and their daughter, Heidi, live in Liberty, South Carolina, in the northwestern part of the state.

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Manure Odor/Fly Management: Engaging the Farm’s Ecological Advantage

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Jeff Henry demonstrates official application form of soft rock phosphate.

by James C. Silverthorne

Now is the right time to modify fly prevention programs with this natural linkage in mind: Manure odors and fly populations are at their highest levels during summer’s warmth. During summer in livestock shelter areas, with even small accumulations of fresh and decaying manure, the odor-fly relationship is causative as manure and urine odors attract some types of flies. Two corollaries to this dynamic include: Fresh air, free of manure odors/volatiles, does not attract flies, and manure not producing odor does not attract flies. Can an ideal manure management/fly prevention program for livestock shelter areas exist in farm practice? The ideal program results in a livestock shelter area (barn, stables, loafing shed) so free of flies, full of fresh air and chemically safe that one could comfortably picnic there with family and friends. Our image of ideal success— the livestock shelter as picnic zone — guides us to its establishment in the real world. What are the most effective foundational materials and methods for the ideal manure odor-fly prevention program, our “castle-in-air” picnic zone?

REAL FOUNDATIONS
They are: (1) a cluster of standard low-risk fly-prevention tools to decrease an existing fly population. Several weak items working together can support each other’s actions; (2) an emphasis on decreasing fly attractant levels typical in livestock areas (the volatiles produced by manure, urine, decaying bedding material and spoiled hay/feeds), thereby preventing fly population increase and usually ensuring its decrease. Decreased concentration levels of fly attractant volatiles also make the program easier to accomplish by decreasing the need for the prevention items in (1). Further, with consistently very low levels of manure’s attractant volatiles, area fly traps’ attractant baits become relatively more effective.

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Interview: Grace Gershuny on the Past, Future of Organics

GraceGershunyReflections of a Revolutionary

Interview by Mark Keating

Grace Gershuny is widely known as an author, educator and organic consultant. A back-to-the-land Vermonter since 1973, she began her longtime involvement with the organic grassroots movement by organizing regional conferences and developing an early certification program for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
In 1994, USDA recruited Gershuny to serve as its lead organic standards specialist where over the following five years she helped lay the foundations of the National Organic Program. Co-author of The Soul of Soil, a seminal work on practical organic soil management, her new book is entitled Organic Revolutionary: A Memoir of the Movement for Real Food, Planetary Healing and Human Liberation. Still raising her own vegetables and chickens, Gershuny currently teaches in the Green Mountain College online Masters in Sustainable Food Systems program and serves on the board of the Institute for Social Ecology.

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