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Archive | September, 2018

From Grass to Glass: Organic Dairy Farming

Maybe it’s a chance remark heard from a fellow farmer or an epiphany that comes while attending a farming conference. It lands on fertile ground and a way of looking at things, a way of being in the world, shifts. For Evan Showalter a book his father picked up — Gary Zimmer’s The Biological Farmer — launched him down the path he’s on, which includes providing milk for Organic Valley’s Grassmilk brand.

Evan Showalter produces Grassmilk for Organic Valley on his Virginia farm. Photo by Russell French for Organic Valley.

He came to the book in 2007. At the time, Showalter, of Port Republic, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, had returned from working in construction and landscaping to the dairy farm where he grew up. There, he had managed a renting farmer’s conventional dairy herd of 80 to 100 cows. As he and his father considered the prospects for dairy, Showalter decided not to buy that herd and to focus instead on produce and corn for silage and grain; he also continued haymaking. He took over renting from his father in spring 2008.

Showalter, who had planted genetically modified crops and sprayed glyphosate because that was what he knew, was interested in biological farming, so Zimmer’s book came to him at the right time. When he returned to the farm he began to phase out synthetics and by 2009 began to apply for certification for some areas of the farm.

Between 2009 and 2011, Showalter began routinely testing soils and working with consultants. He saw a rapid shift in soil balance as he sold crops and had no animals on the farm to cycle nutrients. Continue Reading →

Appreciating Wild Mushrooms

Hunting and eating edible wild mushrooms is an extremely popular culture in some countries, but most people in the United States associate them with stomach issues, trips to the hospital and even death. Clearly, there is a need for education on the subject, and with that education, a new world of potential food delicacies will be opened. Example after example in life tells us that knowledge is power, and certainly, knowledge of edible wild mushrooms is no exception.

A beautiful reishi mushroom — notice the swirls on the cap, an identifying feature.

If your foraging experience of mushrooms consists of trespassing across grain-fed cow pastures on moonlight nights, then might I suggest looking for the edible ones in broad daylight; it’s much safer. And speaking of the hallucinogenic Psilocybins; one of the deadliest mushrooms in North America called the Deadly Galerina (Galerina spp.) resembles them, and there have been numerous unsuspecting partakers of that forbidden mushroom who accidentaly ate the deadly mushroom instead.

Spore prints are one of numerous ways to investigate the identity of a mushroom, and you can’t identify the color if you can’t see it. You simply place a fresh mature mushroom cap, gills down, on a piece of paper for a day or two allowing it to release its spores. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Dirt Hog

By Kelly Klober

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Dirt Hog, written by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2007, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Hogs are actually very social animals and are quite safe and easy to handle, as long as you avoid situations that are too forced or overly rushed. Most farmers, for example, will feed the animals over a fence not because of any perceived ferociousness, but because hogs have a tendency to function as a group and curiously crowd around any source of activity near them.

Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober

Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober

Make the animals in a lot or pasture aware of your approach by whistling, humming, or talking to them softly. One of my first jobs on the farm was as the officially designated hog caller. I thought it was a sign I was growing up, but my high, youthful voice uttering “whoa, sow” simply carried farther. I was a bipedal “hog whistle” of sorts.

The hog on the range in many ways functions as a free agent. It isn’t a wild or uncontrolled animal, but in some respects the hogs do get closer to nature and their animal origins.

Continue Reading →

Reversing Climate Change through Regenerative Agriculture

By Andre Leu, International Director of Regeneration International

This year’s Acres U.S.A. Conference features numerous speakers, who can show how we can reverse the disruptive effects climate change by adopting best practice regenerative production systems. These systems will also make our farms and ranches more productive and resilient to the current erratic climate disruption that we are all facing.

Andre Leu international director of Regeneration International

Andre Leu is the international director of Regeneration International

The increasing erratic and disruptive weather events caused by climate change are the greatest immediate threat to viable farming and food security. We are already being adversely affected by the longer and more frequent droughts, and irregular, out-of-season and destructive rainfall events.

The world is already around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the industrial revolution. The energy needed to heat the atmosphere by 1.8 degrees is equivalent to billions of atomic bombs. I am using this violent metaphor so that people can understand how much energy is being released into our atmosphere and oceans and why we will get more frequent and stronger storms wreaking havoc in our communities.

Continue Reading →

America’s Native Bamboo

Mention the word “bamboo” and visions of China, panda bears and exotic jungles readily come to mind for most of us living in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the majority of the 1,450 species of true bamboo found throughout the world originate in Southern and Southeastern Asian countries, with a few scattered species found in Africa and the beech forests of Chile in South America.

River or giant cane is the largest and most noticeable of the three native types of bamboo.

Some bamboo species grow more densely than any forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as a small tree, while others are as diminutive as a clump of native big bluestem prairie grass to which all bamboo is related. In fact, bamboo belongs to the true grass family Poaceae which contains some 10,000 recognized species and represents the fifth-largest plant family on Earth.

The United States is home to three very distinct native species of bamboo, which are collectively known as cane.

Native Bamboo: Cane History & Ecology

When the first Europeans set out to explore the New World they encountered massive canebrakes so dense they were nearly impenetrable. These natural obstacles were so massive that explorers had to navigate around them, sometimes for miles. While cane was present in much of the southern and southeastern half of the United States, the largest canebrakes in North America were found along the edges and floodplains of major rivers such as the Mississippi and its tributaries. Continue Reading →

Branching Out: Farmers Embrace Alternative Orcharding

The time is ripe to take a new look at orcharding design and function. Around the country, from Michigan’s cherry trees to New York State’s apple and peach crops, orchards have been hit with crop losses after late frosts during the past few seasons. Disease pressures, such as those impacting the Florida citrus industry, are another major concern. In circumstances such as these, growers who aren’t diversi­fied may have lost their primary in­come for the year.

Seaberry (sea-buckthorn) is one of many crops grown at Hilltop Community Farm.

The sustainability of a system de­pendent upon one cash crop, along with the lack of diversity inherent in such systems, combined with increas­ing concerns about the amount of chemicals used in conventional fruit and nut production, has led a new wave of orchardists to explore alterna­tive methods of growing fruit.

Forward-thinking growers are uti­lizing a variety of means to reinvent the way an orchard grows. They are cultivating rare, unusual or native fruits, growing in a scale-appropriate manner and addressing orchard di­versity through polyculture and mim­icking natural ecosystems. Continue Reading →