Archive | July, 2015

Meet an Eco-Farmer: Rama Farm

Rama Farm Eco-Farmer

Marilynn Lynn, Rama Farm

Why did you begin farming?

As a young child I recognized that I was happiest when pulling weeds or picking backyard raspberries. This understanding inspired a life-long pursuit of back-to-the land self-sufficiency.

Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?

If the definition of eco-farmer is one who works with nature instead of against her than that would apply to our farming philosophy since the beginning.

What do you enjoy most about farming?

There is joy in every aspect of farming. Highlights include watching a new customer’s surprise when they bite into a peach and juice runs down their chin, seeing the miracle of alpaca births and devotion of the dams, picking a ripe piece of fruit that you have cared for since it was a tiny bud in an unopened flower, and being surrounded by the authenticity of plants and animals. Continue Reading →

Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life — Increasing Soil Organic Matter through Organic Agriculture

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

Better infiltration, retention and delivery to plants helps avoid drought damage. Organic is on the left, conventional on the right. Photo courtesy of Rodale Institute

by André Leu

This year has been declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I am particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gardening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promoted this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green manures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter (SOM) as one of the primary management techniques.

Numerous scientific studies show that SOM provides many benefits for building soil health such as improving the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that provide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decomposition of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutrients needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environmental problems. Continue Reading →

Bringing Butterflies Back


Native plants grown alongside a Walla Walla vineyard attract and sustain butterflies as well as natural enemies of pests.

Over the years, loss in natural habitat has seen the decline in numbers of around 50 species of butterflies in eastern Washington. But in a recent Washington State University study published in the Journal of Insect Conservation, researchers found that vineyards that create nearby natural habitats have three times the number of butterfly species and four times more butterflies than conventional vineyards.

WSU researchers recorded 29 separate species in “habitat- enhanced” vineyards, compared to nine species in conventional vineyards. In terms of raw numbers, they counted on average 20 butterflies in habitat-enhanced vineyards compared to five in conventional areas.

David James, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Entomology, said butterfly increase was not the goal of the return of natural habitats. Instead, growers want to reduce pesticide usage. But as a side benefit, these vineyards are seeing the return of other inhabitants that had declined when natural habitat was removed.

To help control pests, they plant native sage-steppe shrubbery in and around their vineyards. These native plants, such as desert buckwheat shrubs, attract “good” insects like parasitic wasps, said James. Wasps feed on mealybugs and other “bad” insects that can be harmful to the vineyards.

“Conservation of butterflies is becoming an issue because all species are declining,” said James. “The habitat has been taken away by agriculture. This is a way of giving back. We’re showing that an agricultural industry can live alongside the natural ecology and help preserve and conserve it.”

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Teff Grass as Alternative Forage for Horses

teff erte_002_lhp

Bermudagrass has long been popular as forage for horses, but teff grass has potential as an alternative. Teff is not only palatable for the horses but they’ve shown some preference for it in certain situations, according to a study at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Teff has become popular in the western United States as a horse forage but not yet in the rest of the nation. “There seems to be indecision about it as far as I can tell,” said Ken Coffey, an animal science professor who supervised the study. “It’s getting easier to get seed for it now than in the past, so more people are trying it under different conditions to see if it will work or not.” The researchers compared horses’ preference for teff at four different growth stages with that of Bermudagrass harvested at two maturity stages. The results showed that the horses preferred the teff grass harvested at vegetative growth stages over even vegetative Bermudagrass.

This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Interview: Failure to Protect the People — Advocate, Author Steven Druker Explores the Uncontrolled Experiment of GMOs in Our Food Supply

Steven Druker Interview

Steven Druker

Steven Druker interviewed by: Chris Walters

What are genetically engineered foods doing to us? The most chilling thing about the decades-long uncontrolled experiment in mass consumption of food disrupted at the cellular level is that we cannot know — that’s why the term “uncontrolled experiment” is actually an oxymoron. The “massive enterprise to reconfigure the genetic core of the world’s food supply,” as attorney and activist Steven Druker describes it, amounts to a train wreck of historically unprecedented proportions. Law, ethics and science lie smoldering on the tracks while hundreds of scientists and journalists who ought to know better contribute tirelessly to what may be the greatest disinformation campaign since Edward Bernays invented public relations almost a century ago. As the man whose lawsuit against the FDA at the end of the ’90s shook loose piles of incriminating documents, Steven Druker plays a crucial role in the fight against this great mistake. His new book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, combines the genres of memoir, policy paper, legal history and scientific primer to arrive at something like a definitive account of the GMO wars. As he recalls, policy warrior was a role history thrust upon him. Druker majored in philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a special award for Outstanding Accomplishment and went on to earn his Juris Doctor from U.C. Berkeley. He was elected to both the Law Review and the legal honor society. Not too many years later, biotechnology intervened, and nothing was ever the same.


ACRES U.S.A. This book comes at the end of a long road for you. Where did it begin? Continue Reading →

Pollinators: Bees and Other Insects Will Increase Farm Production

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch feeding areas and managing migration corridors.

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch feeding areas and managing migration corridors.

Supporting resident and migrating pollinators, including bees, not only aids a critical link in the natural ecosystem cycle, but a farm’s production can increase substantially with the presence of ample pollinators.

By giving pollinators safe shelter, water and a supplemental food supply in addition to nectar supplied by crops, their activity on the farm can increase. It’s helpful to remember that while pollinators include the more familiar honeybees and mason bees, they also include various other animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that there are more than 100,000 different animal species (they say the numbers may be as many as 200,000) which play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on the planet. The most common ones are the insects which include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies and beetles. But they report that as many as 1,500 species of vertebrates, including birds and mammals such as hummingbirds and fruit and nectar-eating bats, also serve as pollinators.

Though butterflies and moths pollinate somewhat differently than honeybees, the more familiar pollinators, they’re still a vital link in nature’s overall pollination plan even though a few of their caterpillars can become pests to farmers growing certain crops.

Butterflies, in general, have very good vision and can also see the color red, which bees cannot, according to the USDA Forest Service. They’re also able to detect ultraviolet light which further helps them find nectar. Butterflies taste with their feet and prefer bright colored flowers that are open during the day and that have wide landing platforms whether the flowers are in close clusters or larger singles. While perching on the flowers, pollen collects on their legs and wings as they hunt around for nectar. Not as much pollen is touched and stuck to their long legs and wings as does pollen on bees, but their flight range is often further, allowing them to spread the pollen they do collect throughout a larger region.

Monarchs, specifically, are known to seek out milkweed to lay their eggs. Their caterpillars feed only on milkweed (meaning they leave farmed crops alone) and milkweed also offers nectar to other important pollinators. But as adults, monarch butterflies need a steady supply of other nectar plants. And with monarchs being migratory, the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) points out that the timing of the blooming plants needs to correspond with the timing of the monarchs’ arrival. Therefore, even if a list of favored monarch nectar plants is planted and nurtured on the farm, climate change and other variables could mean those plants’ blossoms open too soon or too late to feed the butterflies when they are passing through. The MJV website,, has articles and links for rural landowners interested in aiding both the western and eastern monarch populations.

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch (larva and butterfly) feeding areas as well as helping to manage their migratory corridors. According to MJV, agricultural fields used to be an important source of milkweed for monarch caterpillars because historically, native milkweed grew alongside crop plants. The widespread use of herbicides and herbicide- tolerant crops diminished much of the milkweed growing on farmlands. Though milkweed can tolerate light tilling, it can’t survive herbicides. MJV suggests that farmers plant native flowers in fallow fields, hedgerows and farm field margins which combine early, middle and late blooming species with blossoming times that overlap. If possible, they suggest allowing native milkweed to either grow in unused portions of the farm, or to use either no-till or low-till farming techniques and allow more milkweed to grow alongside crops.

Though the cost of the initial native milkweed and flower planting, including the time itself to plant the pollinator habitat, can be an obstacle for some farmers, others may be able to synergize their monarch (or other butterfly and moth pollination projects) with agritourism to at least indirectly benefit the farm’s bottom line. CSA farmers, for example, can request help, donations and feedback from their members regarding the farm becoming a monarch or butterfly habitat. Farms that benefit financially from positive public exposure can use the project to attract media attention. The MJV also offers information on Citizen Science projects CSA members can take part in. Farmers involved in farm-to-school programs may be able to coordinate farm tours with area teachers and classrooms. The tours can be fee-based at cost-per-head, or can be used as a method to sell other on-farm products directly as a result of visitors coming to the farm to see the monarch habitat. And of course, a native nectar garden also feeds other pollinators which can directly enhance the production of many farm crops.

Various moth species contribute to butterflies’ pollination for daytime bloomers as well as for plants with flowers that open at night. In one extreme case, the crop cannot survive without its partnership with a specific moth. The yucca plant which is grown and sold far from its original native habitat depends on the yucca moth for survival. The adult yucca moth doesn’t seek nectar because its lifespan is so short. But after mating, the female moth carefully scrapes off pollen from yucca flowers, holds the pollen in a lump under her “chin,” then purposefully and carefully deposits pollen into the stamen of a flower.

Not only that, she makes sure the pollen is deposited in a different flower from the one she collected it from to ensure cross pollination. She eventually lays her eggs in the flower, and though some of her young will consume a few seeds, the number of yucca seeds eaten in general does not put a dent in the number of seeds that will be formed because of her pollination. She can even detect if a flower already has eggs laid in it and if so, she moves on to another flower, which makes sure no flower will have too many of its seeds eaten because of too many larvae. Though yucca plants are grown and sold far beyond their area of origin, even into Canada, the moths have managed to follow them and adapt to the newer climates.

This report appears in the July 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.


For those interested in adding habitats or gardens specifically for pollinators, the following sources offer free or low cost guides.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers basic overviews for planting pollinator gardens and building bee nesting blocks. From there, it offers links to more in depth information and instructions; pollinators/pollinatorpages/yourhelp.html.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology offers a low-cost publication on attracting native pollinators. It provides information and resources on how to plan for, protect and create habitat for native bees in agricultural settings. The full-color digital version is currently $4.95. The black and white print edition is currently $7.95; attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=75.

When planting for pollinators, native plants are usually encouraged. Landowners can contact their local or state Native Plant Society for names of and resources for appropriate species.

The Pollinator Partnership of the NAPPC offers free eco-regional pollinator planting guides and resources for pollinator gardens and lists the types of blossoms the various pollinator species groups (bees, bats, etc.) prefer;

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offers a number of documents and leaflets on conserving pollinators; pollinators/NRCSdocuments.html.

Some state’s cooperative extension services offer guidance on planting for local resident and migrating pollinators. To find extension services in any given state, visit the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s extension page;